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Bridging the competency divide

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MORE THAN JUST KNOWLEDGE: At the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, where a finishing school for engineering graduates is set to come up.
MORE THAN JUST KNOWLEDGE: At the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, where a finishing school for engineering graduates is set to come up.

The setting up of a finishing school at the National Institute of Technology, Calicut, will provide a unique opportunity to engineering graduates from Kerala to improve their `employability' in the IT sector. J.S. BABLU details what the school has on offer for students.

The anticipated shortfall of information technology (IT) professionals in the country by 2010 is five lakh. A National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM) report says that only a small section of the large number of available engineering graduates in the country is employable. Some reports put the figure at 25 per cent of the pool, or one out of every four of them. On the other hand, opportunities have been on an upswing in the IT sector. There has been a demand for some time for greater collaboration between the industry and academia to enhance the quality of education and help the country maintain its lead in the IT sector. And NASSCOM had proposed finishing schools for engineering graduates to make them employable through short-term courses. It approached the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, which has decided to start the finishing schools on a pilot basis in eight institutions: the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) at Calicut (Kozhikode), Durgapur, Kurushetra, Jaipur, Surathkal, Trichy and Warangal. These schools are expected to open in May.

Why unemployable?

A large number of engineering graduates in the country lack the competencies expected from them for employability. G.R.C. Reddy, Director, NIT-C, says that they often lack the basics. "The finishing school will focus 60 per cent of its time on enhancing technical skills and 40 per cent will be spent on soft skills," he adds.The IT industry, in particular, is focussing on technical, communication and team skills, aptitude, career orientation, leadership qualities and medical fitness. The reports on "unemployability" speak of the lack of technical and presentation skills, English fluency and team work. Most of the graduates find it difficult to relate theory to real-life applications. They also lack the capability for abstraction. For example, take the proposition that salary is to be disbursed on the 30th of every month. If one takes it as such for February, nobody will be paid that month. The abstraction, or "n," is that the salary is to be disbursed on the last day of every month. Abstraction should be a way of life. Many engineering graduates do not know the right programming constructs to be used for specific situations. Many believe that the reason for this state of affairs is generally not the syllabus, but pedagogy. The present examination pattern, which does not test the application of knowledge, is to be blamed, they say.R. Sreeram Kumar, Professor of Electrical Engineering, NIT-C and finishing school coordinator of the institute, says the applicants will be admitted based on marks. "The course fee will be Rs. 5,000. Accommodation and food will be charged extra. The hostels of NIT-C will be open to the students," Dr. Reddy says. He says the programme will be advertised in major English newspapers and a local daily (Malayalam) soon. The details will be available on the NIT-C website, www.nitc.ac.in.The topics identified for teaching include mathematics, information systems, software engineering and project management, business and accountancy, soft skills and emerging trends such as embedded systems, image processing, geographical information systems, information security and mobile computing. Mr. Kumar says that 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the faculty will be from the NIT-C and the rest from a panel of experts from Tata Consultancy Services and Cognizant Technology Solutions. "We are doing this as a community service," Dr. Reddy says.What the finishing schools aim at is enhancement of conceptual knowledge and problem-solving skills of the students. These schools will strive at developing a right attitude and an engineering mindset in students to suit the needs of the IT industry in particular.Dr. Kumar says that the NIT-C, by starting the finishing school, will be able to enjoy the fruits of industry-institute interactions and the mental happiness of involving itself in community service. "In the present scenario, both industry-institute interaction and the community services are at a very low profile in most of the universities in our country," he says.Dr. Reddy says that if this pilot project becomes a success, other NITs will be roped in. "Selected engineering colleges from neighbouring places may also be included in due course. Faculty of these engineering colleges will be trained by the finishing school. The idea is that the curriculum is integrated by the faculty into their teaching so that there is no longer a necessity for finishing schools in future," Dr. Reddy says.

Advantages for students

The finishing school at the NIT-C is a great opportunity for engineering students in Kerala who might have missed campus placements. The industry will be supporting finishing schools by way of providing case studies and illustrative examples for the subjects. For each subject, an appropriate and simple reference book will be suggested as course material. This will be supplemented with suitable assignments and exercises. The finishing school will be conducting pre- and post-tests to evaluate the effectiveness of learning in each subject. An evaluation will be held at the end of the course with help from the industry. It is a rare opportunity for the students to reinforce their skills. They can also acquire industry-specific knowledge and skills. The students benefit not only from the faculty drawn but also from those working in the IT and IT-enabled services (ITES) industries. The students who complete the course are expected to be accepted not only in the IT industry but also in other sectors. The participants will have access to libraries of the institutes where the finishing schools are located. The programme promises periodic feedback on the performance of the students. A final mock examination will also be conducted."The companies will be coming to these schools for interviewing the students. But the programme in itself does not guarantee any employment to the students," Dr. Reddy says. As of now, the NIT-C has decided to open up the finishing school to the students of engineering colleges from Kerala. This can increase employability of engineering graduates from the State. Such schools are expected to bridge the manpower supply-demand gap by at least 30 per cent to 40 per cent.


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