Indians opt for engineering to get ‘any job’

New Delhi: Most Indians have a stereotype that if someone has opted for engineering, they are secure in their future job. The truth is though bitter.

As per a forecast by a leading head hunter, six lakh information technology (IT) professionals may lose their jobs over the next 2-3 years. Studies suggest that almost half of those who graduate from the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) take their skills to work in financial markets and consulting.

Faculty members and higher education experts suggest students don’t opt for engineering courses just to become engineers and to start designing new engines for cars, extending the lifetime of a battery, building the next big software giant or taking part in the “Digital India” programme.

Most of them simply want a job — any job and given a choice, a job with the government.

The latest CSDS-KAS Youth Study, released in April 2017, found that 65% of Indian youth would prefer a government job; just 7% wished for a job in the private sector. The lure of a government job is obvious: job security, allowances and better pay at the entry level.

According to a report by Hindustan Times, 3,288 engineering colleges exist under the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), more than double from the 1,511 colleges ten years ago. While IITs, the best that the country has to offer. But apart from the coveted civil services examinations, government jobs hardly figure on the list an IIT undergraduate.

Where do IIT grads end up?

Using 2013 placement statistics of IIT-Bombay, Milind Sohoni, a computer science professor at the institute, found that 45% of the BTech students took up jobs in finance and consulting, 24% in IT and 8% in FMCG and non-IT. Just 22% took up jobs in engineering and technology, which Sohoni argues is the most relevant sector to IIT-Bombay’s mandate and training.

Then why a rush for BTech?

“Given the returns to and the costs of investing in education, individuals make rational investment choices with respect to education,” Michael Spence said in his 2001 Nobel Prize lecture. “Employers have beliefs about the relation between the signal and the individual’s underlying productivity,” he went on to say.

What this means is that employers use an engineering degree as a “signal” that the graduate is more talented and capable compared to those who don’t possess one, regardless of whether college education has any direct relevance or implication for the job being offered.

In the Indian labour market, a professional degree in engineering, which is more focused on empirical ability than arts and humanities, has higher “perceived” economic returns.

But if everyone becomes an engineer, then the signalling function of the BTech degree falls, and employers have no way of distinguishing technically proficient professionals from those who are engineers simply in name.

Colwin Fernandes, chief technology officer of Opcito Technologies, says this has already begun. “Engineering graduates are completely lost. The whole idea is that people seem to be that they think they are entitled to a job. If you are unemployable, you are not competing in the IT job market,” he said.

Fernandes warns that the labour market is changing rapidly due to advances in automation technology. New jobs will come up, he said, but Indian engineers may not be able to take them up. “Layoffs will happen. Graduates need to make themselves layoff-proof.”