You have the engineering degree from a reputed institute with great grades and a strong list of references, but you still don’t get the call from a potential employer. The employer rejects your application as he is looking for a trained individual who can handle the situations from day one. He does not have enough time to train you. So it’s time you enroll for a good training institute to hone your skills and increase your chances of grabbing an attractive job offer.
Bridging the skill gap
Among industry veterans, there is a clear consensus about the gap that exists between the quality of knowledge imparted by the engineering institutes and the industry requirements. In other words, the pace at which the curriculum develops in engineering colleges is slower than the pace at which the industry advances. Enrolling in a suitable training institute helps the engineering aspirants to bridge the skill gap.
“Updating the curriculum to reflect the industry’s needs is the first step. Over the last decade, technologies such as electronics and computer science have grown both in breadth and depth. It is not easy to formulate an undergraduate curriculum in these areas. It is hard to decide what to include and what to leave out. We see two extremes in our colleges today—the IITs have a single undergraduate programme in ‘electrical engineering,’ whereas most colleges have split the EE programme into electronics, telecommunication, power engineering and so on,” says Dr C.P. Ravikumar, technical director, University Relations, Texas Instruments India.
“There are equally powerful arguments for (and against) a ‘breadthoriented’ programme and a ‘depthoriented’ programme. Hiring managers who are looking out for industry-ready engineers could look for depth in a specific topic. Such managers could have apprehensions about a breadth-oriented programme. However, breadth cannot be ignored entirely since system design is becoming more and more inter-disciplinary. Perhaps, there is place for both breadth-oriented and depth-oriented programmes and colleges must evolve their programmes in cooperation with industries that hire from them. This underlines the importance of industry-academia interaction,” he adds.
Having defined a curriculum, the more important question is “how to deliver this to the students?” “Due to the rapid expansion in the field of technical education, engineering colleges in India do not have the required number of qualified faculty members. This becomes evident when an interview panel faces graduating students or when we review contest entries. There are some solutions to this problem, such as use of technologies like audio/video conferencing, use of Open Source courseware available from reputed universities, invite experts as visiting faculty, organise faculty internships, conduct faculty development programmes and so on,” explains Dr Ravikumar.
“Today, many students who do not get quality education in the colleges are depending on vocational training imparted by training institutes. Such trainings can help in strengthening a student’s resume from a job-search perspective. But training institutions cannot lay the foundation, they can only build upwards.”
— Dr C.P. Ravikumar, technical director, University Relations, Texas Instruments India
Vivek Sharma, regional vice president, GCSA-India operations and director, India Design Centres, STMicroelectronics, adds, “In India, there are some institutes which are world-class and then there are institutes which are not good at all. There is huge difference between the engineering graduates from these institutes. Good talent is coming only from a few institutes; many others are producing a good proportion of engineers but there is not enough percentage of good talent.”
Sharma continues, “It is very important that the students understand the ecosystem of the market. For this, universities and institutes need to work closely to understand the needs of the market in coming times. The universities should focus on research activities that the industry would need. To address this issue, industries can initiate bringing the university trainees and have them work for some time in their environment. Also, they can jointly set up research labs so that industries can work with the academia on projects for the market. I strongly believe it as a very meaningful way to bring the need of the industry to the university.”
Indrajit Sabharwal, managing director, Simmtronics Semiconductors, suggests for engineering colleges that “Fifty per cent of the course which is imparted should be knowledge-based, 25 per cent should be industry-applicable and the rest must be industry knowledge and training.” “Some engineering institutes are following this practice and are successful too,” he adds.
Use of technology can improve the situation. Sharma says, “Institutes usually have links with very good faculty. With technology, their accessibility can be increased. For example, some institutes which are far off can be connected and one can listen to lectures of the most talented faculty through technology. Technologies can help the institutes which are missing on good faculty and also to the institutes which don’t even have the faculty. This is one way with which we can bridge the gap. Also, universities can regularly look into the curriculum to make it more contemporary—not to say that universities should not look into the basic fundamentals. Strong fundamentals are what I strongly advocate and skills can be further nurtured by the industry. Many times universities focus on skills which can be acquired rather than the real fundamentals.”
Skills to focus
Keeping in mind the skill requirements of the industry, training institutes offer various types of specialised vocational courses in very large-scale integration (VLSI), microcontrollers and embedded systems, electronics design, automation, surface-mount technology (SMT), telecom, and hardware maintenance and repair. Through short-term courses, they prepare engineers to handle projects independently, thus enabling companies to induct new staff in a project with minimal domain-specific training.
“Realising the need for practical training in specific fields that are important to the industry, we offer hands-on training in certain subjects. Learning is through carefully designed presentations and lab exercise. The attempt is to fill the gap by covering what has been missed in the classroom.”
— Col. (Retd) N.C. Pande, joint director (training), EFY Tech Center
The demand for employable individuals is quite high in the telecom sector, which is spread across operators, integrators and vendors. Professionals with science and engineering background often need specialised training in theory and practice so that they can properly handle different types of machines and instruments in various telecom systems, both wired and wireless. Some of the niche skill sets in demand are advanced mobile technologies like 3G, mobile repairing techniques and networking.
In the automation sector, candidates require industry-focused training on various industrial automation systems like programmable logic controllers (PLCs), SCADA, HMI, drives, PLC networking, process instrumentation and panel designing. Companies in this sector are large with highly technical processes, and expect professionals to have the knowledge of complex industrial automation control systems in order to reduce the downtime of machines and troubleshoot the systems faster, helping them keep the productivity high.
Candidates willing to enter the semiconductor industry should possess technical skills in embedded systems, microcontrollers, VLSI design and sometimes in niche areas like digital signal processing (DSP).
The SMT industry is growing steadily and is likely to see a surge in the demand for trained manpower.
Robotics is going to see wider adoption in industrial plants for automated material handling and production. Engineering students can avail this opportunity by considering a course in robotics.
Jayakrishnan T., director and country manager, Energid Robotics & Machine Vision, explains, “Obvi-ously, the requirements in this field necessitate a quality learning centered around the fundamentals of physics, dynamics and mathematics in general. Specific to our company, we would like engineers to have some hardware integration experience and, of course, good software coding skills and vision algorithm knowledge too. Another thing is making the software easy to use from a non-coder standpoint. So the ability to create a good user inter-face (human factors) to simplify the process is always in demand.”
“As far as freshers are concerned, the amount of hands-on experience with robotic hardware and integration would depend on the student’s desire as well as the quality of the institu-tion. Apart from the knowledge ac-quired from the institution, a shorter learning curve with good grasping, strong mathematics and ability to con-ceptualise a solution are important. As India excels in software, we should be able to apply this excellence to robot-ics as it grows in global significance,” he adds.
PCB designing and hardware maintenance are the other skills that are always in demand in the electron-ics industry.
Where to look
Training institutes not only provide finishing touch to aspiring engineers on their practical skills but also help the industry in improving the pro-ductivity of their engineers. EFY Tech Center is one such training institute which offers courses in basic electronics, microcontrollers (ATMEL, PIC and Renesas), robotics, VLSI and PCB designing. It has alliances with leading firms like Agilent and Microchip Tech-nology. Besides conducting regular training at EFY Centers in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, it also un-dertakes training at many educational institutes.
“Students come out of the col-leges with a low exposure to electronic hardware, selection of components and use of test equipment. Project work, which is very important, is either bought or copied. Realising the need for practical training in specific fields that are important to the industry, we offer hands-on training in certain subjects. Learning is through carefully designed presentations and lab exer-cise. The attempt is to fill the gap by covering what has been missed in the classroom,” informs Col. (Retd) N.C. Pande, joint director (training), EFY Tech Center.
“Today, many students who do not get quality education in the colleges are depending on vocational training imparted by training institutes. Such trainings can help in strengthening a student’s resume from a job-search perspective. But training institutions cannot lay the foundation, they can only build upwards,” states Dr Ravi-kumar.
According to Kunwer Sachdev, managing director, Su-Kam Power Systems, “Institutes should develop infrastructure in terms of laboratories, equipment and devices to provide students with hands-on experience through experiments in various areas of engineering as per the course cur-riculum. The interface between the institute and the industry should be very strong; customised programmes may be designed to fulfil the need of the industries.”
ISM, a Bengaluru-based training institute, provides training in embed-ded systems, telecommunications and telecom skills. It claims to impart knowledge and training in areas that are in maximum demand by the industry and are usually the weakest link in the repertoire of a student. Sofcon, a Noida-based industrial automation training institute, offers hands-on training/courses in PLC, SCADA, DCS, drives, instrumentation, panel designing and networking, etc, at various centres across the country.
“Britco & Bridco has tuned a better syllabus for making even a matriculate to be industry-fit rather than a certificate holder. The syllabus explains accurate theory and covers practical tips to make the candidate capable of repairing any mobile phone handset manufactured by SM Technology irrespective of GSM, CDMA or any other new convergent product.”
— Unnikrishnan N., general manager, North Operations, Britco & Bridco
Texas Instruments (TI) runs the TI India University programme (www.uniti.in) to help faculty members as well as students. “Faculty members can benefit from our teaching CD-ROMs and manuals in the area of embedded processing and analogue system design. We conduct train-the-trainer programmes for faculty. We believe that empowering faculty is the only scalable solution to quality improvement,” informs Dr Ravikumar.
He adds, “When possible, we also help conduct student workshops. In 2010, we organised training sessions for participants of the Texas Instruments India Analog Design Contest on topics such as PCB design. This design contest is open to undergraduate students of engineering colleges across India. The second edition successfully concluded last month with over 97 teams, including an all-women’s team, participating in it. We feel that students across India do not have the same level of access to technologies.”
TI is now starting two programmes targeted at students. The ‘Summer of Analog’ programme aims to encourage colleges to conduct two-week in-house training for students based on an analogue system design curriculum that TI has developed. This programme was designed after observing the large number of students seeking internships.
“We believe that by having such a programme that can be conducted by the college at its own premises, we can help a much larger number of students. Another programme that we are starting is a student workshop on MSP430 Launchpad—a low-cost trainer kit developed around Texas Instruments’ MSP430 microcontroller,” he explains.
Established in 1998, Britco & Bridco provides training in mobile phone hardware and software in about 500 cities across the country. “We provide hi-tech training in repair of GSM and CDMA mobile handsets using state-of-the-art technology, which is supplemented by well-qualified and experienced faculty. Britco & Bridco has tuned a better syllabus for making even a matriculate to be industry-fit rather than a certificate holder. The syllabus explains accurate theory and covers practical tips to make the candidate capable of repairing any mobile phone handset manufactured by SM Technology irrespective of GSM, CDMA or any other new convergent product,” avers Unnikrishnan N., general manager, North Operations, Britco & Bridco.
“Mobile phone repair is a proven field for career aspirants. A mobile phone service engineer with proper know-how can easily earn Rs 300,000600,000 per annum or more. Also, setting up a mobile phone service centre is not a matter of huge investment. An amount of Rs 100,000-200,000 is more than enough for establishing a mobile phone service centre,” informs Unnikrishnan.
The fields of electronics and computer science have become more challenging and interesting in the last decade.
“Embedded systems have evolved as a major discipline, encompassing many technologies such as sensors, analogue, embedded processors and embedded software. At the same time, educational resources have become available at lower costs. Today, you can find free online educational content, free software tools and low-cost hardware tools. Students must take advantage of these opportunities with the help of a mentor,” suggests Dr Ravikumar.
Sharma adds, “In academics, make sure that the concepts are clear. Many a times engineers start gaining the skills but their fundamentals are still not so clear. This way, they will remain applied engineers and innovation would not be easy. My message would be simple: Please know the fundamentals very well. Acquiring skills, running tools and using the tools later to develop something is easy and not vice-versa. Therefore while pursuing engineering, go deep into the subject, understand it fully and then get exposure to tools and use them and not the other way.”
“Electronics is a sunrise industry. It is quite penetrated, growing very well and poised to keep on growing in many years to come. Therefore I would strongly recommend all engineers that having picked electronics as a career, stay with it, don’t switch it for other stream. Finally, do what you like,” he shares.
Sachdev adds, “Always keep ‘innovation’ in mind. Su-Kam expects strong practical knowledge in power electronics and electromagnetic devices.”
It’s high time that the educational institutes which are running mostly theoretical courses also start giving more importance to practical hands-on training. Ideally, all engineering students must learn to work with their hands.
The author is from EFY Bureau, New Delhi