Though the demand for engineering courses in the IT stream has seen a minor dip in Puducherry over the years, the sector still attracts a huge number of applications and such courses are offered in every engineering college in the Union Territory (UT). But what is worrying some experts is the lack of corresponding growth in job opportunities and definitive policies by the government to attract big players in the IT sector to set up their shops in the region.

According to V. Prithviraj, the principal of Pondicherry Engineering College (PEC), though the UT was touted to become the hardware capital of India in the late 1990s, lack of sustained efforts to promote the sector saw the big companies leaving the UT and opting for other places such as Chennai where they were offered better incentives.

The number of students who get IT jobs, especially in the software front, has been bare minimum in the last few years. “Hardly a dozen get good IT jobs here. Most such students are either working in the BPO centres or are forced to leave Puducherry to find better jobs,” says Mr. Prithviraj.

His advice to the students attending the upcoming counselling for colleges in Puducherry is to look at core engineering streams where there are more opportunities in the region. “There is a resurgence of popularity in the core engineering sector and people opting for such courses will be in a better position to exploit this trend,” observes the principal.

Though government sources tell Education Plus that efforts are being taken to improve the infrastructure to attract more IT companies, evidence on the ground suggests otherwise. Many projects, such as the IT Park developed by STPI, are still pending completion and serious efforts to expedite these projects seem to be lacking. But the students believe that their failure to obtain jobs has a lot to do with the institutions as well. “There is no institution-industry interface in most of the colleges. If you do not communicate with these software companies, how you expect them to come for placements?” questions Bharath, a second-year engineering student from a private engineering college here.

The student also says that lack of interaction with business leaders is leaving them oblivious of the changing practices and emerging trends in the IT sector. “We still do not understand what the companies look for in a student when they come for placements,” he says.

The head of a private engineering college says that barely 30 per cent of the students who opt for IT courses get placed and the lack of jobs is hurting girls the most. “Most parents do not encourage their girls to move out of the town to seek jobs. With barely 50 to 100 vacancies in the industry here, most of them remain unemployed or take up jobs which have no connection with what they have studied.”

Some experts say that the low placement figures also point to the employability of students. The chairman of CII, Puducherry, M.S. Vijayaraghavan, points out that “though the students acquire the hard skills through their degrees, they lack the basic soft skills that differentiate them from the students hailing from metros.” He says that the institutions have the duty to develop the wards' social skills to enable them to sell themselves better in the market. He also believes that IT courses as such do not turn out highly employable students because of their restrictive nature. People opting for core engineering courses, he says, can shift to IT with very little effort whereas IT students find it very difficult to make headway into other industries.

In conclusion, these experts believe that the students must look at emerging areas and new courses rather than opt for the usual streams.