Monday, April 2, 2012

The untapped resource pool for software companies: The Polytechnic Education Saga!

Part 2: The class differentiators within Polytechnics / The untapped resource pool for software companies

It is a common knowledge that there are huge class differentiators across the Indian education system. The class differentiators that I am referring to are the ones that are created by the student's examination scores. For example, it is a common belief in Tamil Nadu that a student has to secure a high percentage score in his 10th standard to join the Science stream in 11th standard. In engineering colleges, computer science stream has the highest cut-off and is the most sought-after. Hence only the top-scorers in 12th standard or the entrance examination gets to join computer science engineering. Similarly, the Polytechnics too have their own class divide.

While computer science is the much sought after branch in engineering colleges, it is also the least in demand across polytechnic colleges. Althought it is heart-warming to see that the mechanical and automobile branches are the most sought-after in polytechnic colleges, it is also disappointing to see the low interest and enrolment levels in the computer science branch. Most polytechnics across the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have seen declining interest in enrolling in the computer science branch - this despite a comparatively low fees vis-a-vis mechanical or automobile branches and a vibrant IT industry existing in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. However, a little more probing reveals much more and throws up a few interesting questions.

Traditionally, old economy sectors such as manufacturing, automobile and electrical have been ably supported by the talent pool that emerges out of polytechnic colleges. The demand for such talent continues to exist and polytechnics manage to groom their students ably to meet this demand. With immense placement opportunities across these sectors, it is no surprise that polytechnic students make a bee-line for a Diploma in these branches.

However, the new age sectors such as electronics, IT and computer science have been depending heavily on the engineering colleges for their talent requirements. While the electronics and the IT hardware sectors have started exploring the polytechnic talent pool, the software sector continues to be hesitant in recruiting polytechnic diploma holders. Since placement opportunities for polytechnic diploma holders in the software industry are very limited, students do not find it lucrative to pursue a Diploma in Computer Science. In the absence of placement opportunities, the only other option for such students is to pursue an engineering degree in computer science. However, the prohibitive costs of an engineering education (especially in the most sought after branch of computer science) forces polytechnic computer science diploma holders to drop out of the education system itself. These students end up doing data entry and DTP work in smaller towns and cities without much scope for a software career they dreamt of.

On the other hand, the reasons for software companies to be hesitant in recruiting polytechnic diploma holders are many. One of the prominent reasons is the limited exposure that a computer science polytechnic student has. For all practical purposes, what a polytechnic student covers is equivalent to just the first year of engineering. Although they may have a higher level of practical exposure in polytechnics, the limited breadth of exposure acts as a major deterrent. Secondly, polytechnic students' communication skills (particularly spoken and written English) or lack of it also acts as a major deterrent. Thirdly, the maturity level of polytechnic diploma students are perceived to be much lesser than engineering graduates and hence unsuitable in this knowledge based industry.

In response, many polytechnics have already started addressing these issues through continuous training programmes on both technical and soft skills areas.  The polytechnic diploma holders may lack the breadth of knowledge but are traditionally considered to possess a better hands-on knowledge of the domain. I am sure the IT industry can learn to utilise this hands-on knowledge for their benefit. With the IT industry constantly lamenting about the poor quality of engineering graduates, it might be the right time for software companies to seriously consider recruiting from the diploma talent pool.While being young can mean a higher level of immaturity,  it can also indicate a higher level of mould-ability, unlike engineering graduates who come with a heavy 'baggage' and are reluctant to 'unlearn' and 'learn'.

Employability of Engineering Graduates is still a huge issue bothering the Indian IT sector.
It is time that the software industry starts expanding its talent sources to include this young and untouched resource pool. A handful of companies have already started tapping it but the roles they offer are largely tech-support or customer service. It is only fair on the industry to start inducting the diploma holders into full-fledged coding and programming roles.A hands-on training programme as part of the induction process will ensure that these diploma holders are as good as the engineering graduates. Apart from looking at this resource pool from a business productivity perspective, companies must see the social perspective of such a move. Considering the poor economic background of many of the polytechnic diploma holders, such a move by software companies can have a strong positive impact on not just the life of the student but also the entire societal system surrounding him/her.

Will software companies start seeing sense in tapping this resource pool? Will there be a positive change in the lives of many polytechnic diploma holders who pursue their education with nothing but just a dream in their mind? 

Only time will tell!

Coming up next: Part 3: The difficult life of a diploma student


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