15 May 2015 18:53 IST

‘Indians do well in the Silicon Valley but don’t in the Indus Valley’

Some industrialists are training young graduates to give manufacturing a leg up

The manufacturing sector has faced shortage of quality engineers for a long time. Some industrialists have taken the sector's woes seriously and are making an effort to train young graduates to help boost the industry through finishing schools for engineers. Such finishing schools aim at creating skilled engineers for electronics, aviation, aerospace, defence and other sectors.

The Bengaluru-based Drona School of Engineering Practice is one such finishing school that was launched recently. It aims to train students for the indigenous manufacturing companies with a focus to enhance the skills and employability of engineers in core sectors.

G Raj Narayan, Chief Mentor of Drona and Founder and MD of Radel Group: “Manufacturing is not only making a product — it is design, conceptualisation, prototyping, development, documentation, collecting feedback and much more."

Drona offers a unique Apprenternship (Apprentice – intern) programme that trains fresh engineers in design and manufacturing, with mentoring provided by Raj Narayan and other industry veterans. Trainees are provided with hands-on work experience and exposed to live projects.

Concerned about skill development of Engineers, Narayan said, “While institutes have been set up to create skilled workforce at the technician-level, there are very few schools to ready engineers to for the opportunity of 'Make in India.' Drona is a unique initiative towards this goal.”

A growing number of students are flocking to such schools to gain exposure to industry requirements, and the expertise needed for their careers.

The 2020 deadline

India's manufacturing sector growth rate has been dismal, though steadily improving. The sector’s contribution to India's GDP is a mere 16 or 17 per cent. MN Vidyashankar, who heads the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association, said that if India did not improve its manufacturing and technology sectors by 2020, the import costs for these products would be higher than what the country spends to import crude oil.

A study conducted by DRONA School of Engineering Practice, one such finishing school, showed only four to seven per cent of the 1.5 million-odd engineers that graduate every year from India's 3500 engineering colleges are employable. The core engineering sectors lacked engineers who have practical, hands-on experience, and the demand for such engineers is only rising. The studies also said employers were not satisfied with the fresh graduates they appointed because these engineers lacked thinking, analysing and creating skills.

“Indians do well in the Silicon Valley but don’t in the Indus Valley,” quipped Vijayshankar speaking at a panel discussion during the launch of DRONA.

With Prime Minister Modi himself making the clarion call of ‘Make in India,’ the need for indigenous institutes which can train competent engineers who can drive the programme is only growing, and such finishing schools believe they can deliver on what they promise.

"Engineers need not only true design knowledge, but the man-and-machine connection to create great machines; such institutes are apt to give them the required exposure,” said AKN Prasad, Head, MDC – Executive Education, WE School.

Engineering graduates choose such schools to gain soft skills and analytical skills. These institutes seek to give students a logical ability to tackle problems. Their ambitious programmes include a combination of lectures, workshops, projects and internships. These institutes also offer programmes that range from a few weeks to a few months.

But why is there the need for such schools?

The problem, industry experts feel, is engineering colleges spent all their time in finishing the syllabus. There is no time for colleges to focus on training in soft-skills or provide hands-on training to their students.

“It very difficult cope in the industry since we only have theoretical knowledge and that isn't very helpful. Not many industries provide internships. If an institution can assure jobs then it will surely be helpful,” said Roshan Bhute, a student of Srinivas Institute of Technology in Mangaluru.

Some students, however, feel a finishing school isn’t necessary if they could grasp what was already being taught to them in colleges. Melver, a student of a top engineering college in Bengaluru, said his college trained him well enough and a good internship was enough to give him the hands-on expertise he required.

Students also said they wanted integrated industrial training along with their core curriculum. This, they said, would help the industry and the students as well.

Those who went to finishing schools were happy with what they experienced. They appreciated the practical approach to the learning and the skills they could acquire because of that. “We were encouraged to do things hands on rather than read through books. All facilities to build a model aircraft were sufficient provided,” said Hemavathy V, a student who participated in the programme. With engineering graduates growing just as rapidly as the industry’s demands, students, tech institutes and industrialists need the extra skill for that competitive edge. Lack of infrastructure and industry exposure is driving many students to leave engineering for other, more lucrative courses. Most of India’s engineers also go abroad to seek better opportunities.

Whether finishing schools would help solve the problems of students and the industry, reduce the migration of skilled engineers to other countries and help the cause of ‘Make in India’ is still to be seen.