Engineering graduates are steering the service industry

This trend, of engineering graduates moving towards the services sector, points to the evolving nature of job markets

February 20, 2024 12:59 am | Updated 12:59 am IST

‘The analytical prowess, problem-solving abilities, and structured thinking ingrained in engineering graduates make them highly sought-after in sectors that may not traditionally be perceived to be engineering-centric’

‘The analytical prowess, problem-solving abilities, and structured thinking ingrained in engineering graduates make them highly sought-after in sectors that may not traditionally be perceived to be engineering-centric’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images

In a rapidly evolving global economy, the services sector has emerged as a significant player, contributing 53% of India’s Gross Value Added (GVA) versus the 28% of the industry sector. This dominance, of services, is also evident in employment distribution — 31% of employment is generated in the services sector versus 25% in industries. This massive growth is fuelling the demand for entry-level employees across the spectrum of the services sector. This growth is not just limited to IT services, but is more broad based. The organised Indian service sector, that comprises retail, telecom, consulting, hospitality, banking and health care, has been growing consistently. Further, for each of these sectors, India is also the offshore hub, delivering these services for the entire world through captive and third party shared services and Global Business Services (GBS).

The market reality

This massive service industry needs continuous supply of skilled manpower which is being fulfilled from a rather unusual education stream — engineering. According to Statistica, only 57% of engineering graduates are employable. An All India Council for Technical Education commissioned report highlighted that less than 60% of available engineering seats have enrolment. Another industry report claims that about 80% of graduate engineers end up in a non-technical job which is unrelated to their field of education.

It is not surprising to find a number of engineering graduates in India steering towards the services sector not merely due to an ideal alignment of skills and job demand, but propelled by the dynamic and burgeoning nature of service-oriented opportunities and a lack of relevant jobs for their skills in their core sector. As a result, over the last decade, a large number of engineers are employed in non-technical sectors such as banking, insurance, hospitality, health care and retail across a variety of roles such as sales, customer service, back office operations, logistics and supply chain management.

This shift highlights a nuanced reality. Engineers are increasingly finding employment not solely based on a precise match of skills but due to the adaptability and problem-solving mindset ingrained in their education. Employers, who are faced with a dynamic market, are recognising the transferability of engineering skills, even if the roles themselves are not conventionally engineering-centric. Critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, dealing with ambiguity, adaptability and flexibility are some of the most relevant skills required to succeed in these modern organisations. The analytical prowess, problem-solving abilities, and structured thinking ingrained in engineering graduates make them highly sought-after in sectors that may not traditionally be perceived to be engineering-centric. The rising prominence of the services sector has opened avenues for these professionals to be gainfully employed in white-collar jobs.

The need for a generic course

This trend prompts a critical reflection on the evolving nature of job markets and the role of education in preparing graduates for a diverse array of professional challenges. As engineers seamlessly transition into roles such as sales, customer service and finance across a wide variety of sectors, it becomes imperative for the educational ecosystem to evolve and address this need from the service industry, and recalibrate their approach towards curriculum design and pedagogy.

Currently, services-oriented educational courses are only available in niche domains such as health care or hospitality. There is no generic course to cater to the needs of the services sector. As a result, services are consuming engineers, and to some extent management graduates/postgraduates, into entry-level jobs. Rather than focusing on bridging the gap between existing engineering education and job demand, there is a pressing need to develop generic services-oriented courses that can equip students to thrive in white-collar service environments. Just as an engineering education equips the student with the basic skills to find a vocation in an industrial setup, we need an equivalent services skill education that instils the necessary competencies to excel in the service-oriented landscape.

Such a course can offer a holistic blend of technical proficiency, soft skills, and industry-specific knowledge essential for success in service-centric roles. These courses should not only emphasise technical proficiency but also cultivate soft skills, business acumen, and industry-specific knowledge that are essential for success in the service sector.

By integrating cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of things (IoT) into the curriculum, these programmes can enhance students’ employability, particularly in emerging sectors such as fintech and edutech. Such a course would foster a cadre of professionals adept at navigating the complexities of modern service-oriented industries, with skills around process reengineering, problem solving and client management.

Structured around a diverse curriculum, this course could encompass essential subjects and skills tailored to meet the demands of today’s dynamic service landscape. Professionals enrolled in this course would gain a solid foundation in service delivery fundamentals, covering core sector overview and nuances of service delivery in a physical as well as digital environment.

Additionally, they could receive training in service management principles, process improvement methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma, and critical thinking frameworks, empowering them to optimise service processes, drive operational efficiency, and tackle complex challenges with confidence. An emphasis on client management, communication skills and ethical conduct would foster a culture of professionalism and integrity among professionals, crucial to build strong client relationships and maintain trust in service-oriented roles.

As a growth booster

The introduction of such a course — let us call it “service engineering” — holds transformative potential, offering a pathway to enhanced employability, improved service delivery, and sustained economic growth. Graduates would emerge as highly sought-after professionals, equipped with the knowledge, skills, and mindset needed to excel in white-collar service environments across a variety of industries. Moreover, the affordability and accessibility of service engineering courses would make them an attractive option for students from tier 2 and 3 cities. The recent Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 7 reported the women’s participation in the workforce to be 37%. Since services typically offer better flexibility to employees, such a course can also help enable a supportive environment for women to balance work and family commitments while contributing to the workforce.

Unlike conventional engineering programmes that require extensive hard infrastructure, service engineering courses would leverage digital platforms and virtual learning environments, significantly reducing costs and eliminating geographical barriers to education. This democratisation of education not only fosters inclusivity but also unleashes the potential of aspiring professionals from diverse backgrounds to contribute to India’s burgeoning services-driven economy. By investing in the development of a skilled workforce tailored to the needs of the services sector, India can position itself as a global leader in service innovation and delivery, driving prosperity and competitiveness in the services-driven economy of the future.

Milind Kumar Sharma is Professor at MBM University, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Sharad Sharma is Senior Associate Director at KPMG, Gurgaon. The views expressed are personal

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