For R. Natesan (18), photography is a passion. But he will never get to go to a swanky photography school. Both of his parents are farmers in a village in Thanjavur district.

In Chennai, he has been doing part-time jobs and studying for the past two years for only one reason – the Chennai Higher Secondary School, Choolaimedu, offers a vocational course in photography in Class XII. He was the city topper in his branch. He secured 904/1200.

For students like Natesan, vocational courses offer the possibility of a job and a shot at their dream. His dream is to join the diploma course in Diploma in Film Technology at the MGR Film Institute, Taramani. “Half get in through recommendations. But at least some are selected after an interview. I believe I can get through,” he says.

There are 15 polytechnic colleges in Chennai, according to the Directorate of Technical Education's micro website on options in the vocational stream. The site — http://intradote.tn.nic.in/ — contains information on the admission process, placement records and infrastructure in each government polytechnic college in the State.

Some of the relatively new polytechnic courses are Textile Technology, Petrochemical Engineering, Film Technology, and Prosthetics and Orthotics Engineering. The placement record in most institutes stands at 50 to 60 per cent, according to DOTE's website.

C. Ranganathan, director of the Tamilnadu Industrial Training Institute, Guindy, says that students must realise that everyone cannot get an engineering seat. “Many graduates who have passed out of relatively unknown engineering colleges are taking jobs with a starting monthly salary of just Rs.7,000-8,000. On the other hand, there is a lot of demand for electricians, automobile mechanics and AC and TV technicians. Companies are simply not able to find any technicians,” he says.

The lacuna has become so stark that the industry has started getting into the educational sphere to directly train candidates for supervisory technical positions. Maya Narasimhan, director, TVS Education Society, says “The aspiration levels are rising. Whether they can afford it or not, parents want their children to go for engineering.”

She points to industries that have put up signs such as ‘Trespassers will be hired' due to the acute shortage in entry level technical workforce. “We are targeting the floating population which cannot afford engineering courses and are looking to learn a skill that can get them a job. The attempt is to fill an important societal need,” Ms.Narasimhan adds.

Kumar Jayant, Commissioner of Technical Education, says that if one looks at non-IT placements in both polytechnics and engineering colleges, polytechnics have a better placement record. “Despite having such options, the Labour Department is finding it difficult to find candidates. Seats are going vacant even for guaranteed job training courses.”

He says that students must understand that vocational streams offer a heavy scope for growth in their chosen field since they equip students with the basic technical expertise.