Excerpt from World Bank report on Engineering Employability – Apr 2011
The skills set of engineers can be characterized by three overall skills factors:
(i) Core Employability Skills (which cover generic attitudinal and affective skills, such as reliability and team-work);
(ii) Communication Skills (such as English skills, written and verbal communication), and
(iii) Professional Skills (which generally covers cognitive skills related to the engineering professions, such as ability to apply engineering knowledge; as well as design and conduct experiments and related data analyze and interpretation).
While Professional Skills remain important, employers consider Soft Skills (Core Employability Skills and Communication Skills) the most important skills. Employers look for engineering graduates who show integrity, are reliable, can work well in teams and are willing to learn.
Further, employers across India ask for a similar set of soft skills. Irrespective of the size of the company, the economic sector, or the region, the above Soft Skills (integrity, reliability, teamwork and willingness to learn) remain the important ones.
The policy implication is the need to improve the Soft Skills of graduates. This could come about by:
(i) Colleges and teachers recognizing that Soft Skills are important and include soft skills as part of the desired learning objectives that teachers should foster in their students. Technical knowledge and applicability are fundamental to engineering education; however, they are not all. Student‘s soft skills need to be honed as well;
(ii) The National Accreditation Board could enhance the importance given to soft skills in the Program Outcomes; For example, NBA does not explicitly include ―team working skills as an expected skill for an engineering graduate;
(iii) The teaching-learning process could be adjusted to include more project-work in teams and possibly receive grades as a team; and
(iv) Introduce or scale-up specific courses providing students with opportunities to enhance their English skills, communication skills or other forms of Soft Skills, for example through finishing schools (courses for graduating students focusing on specific skills in high demand).
The survey finds that colleges are doing very well meeting the demand for English skills, since the graduates are rated in English. The skill gap in English communication is the smallest among all the skills. Yet English communication is rated as the most important communication skill and higher than any technical skill. Although we understand the advantages of teaching in a local language, we recommend caution when considering changing the language of instruction from English to a regional language, because the change may put graduates from local language programs at a significant disadvantage at the job-interview.
Graduates seem to lack higher-order thinking skills (analyzing, evaluating and creating). The employers think that graduates are relatively strong in lower-order thinking skills (knowledge and understanding), but fall short when it comes to the more complex tasks such as application of appropriate tools to solve a problem, and analysis and interpretation. Employers are less than ―Somewhat satisfied with these skills. Further, these higher-order thinking skills are the most important Professional Skills. In short, memorizing textbooks for examinations is not a skill appreciated by the employers. This raises a question of fundamental importance, whether the Indian engineering education system overly trains students to memorize science and engineering knowledge, without adequately emphasizing the applicability, analysis and out-of-the-box thinking that employers look for. The Indian engineering firms increasingly require more analytical, adaptive, and creative engineers to upgrade the country‘s infrastructure, to respond to climate change and compete for higher value-added IT-orders on the global market.
Our recommendations to improve higher-order thinking skills are following:
(i) reshape assessment methods, especially exams at the large affiliating universities, to assess higher-order thinking skills and not measure memorized knowledge. This would require institutions to focus on learning rather than memorization and mere understanding. In order to do so, curricula should be designed in a way where students learn how to abstract out complex and practical issues within limited time;
(ii) reform curricula to increase the share of tasks where the student or a team of students lead their own problem identification, experimenting, and solving using engineering knowledge and methodologies;
(iii) promote teaching-learning sessions where students are actively learning and developing their own analytical and evaluating skills as compared to simply listing and taking notes. This would most likely require significantly increased academic autonomy of institutions, substantial professional development of the teacher force and recruitment, and attention to instructional skills when recruiting teachers.
Employers ask for different Professional Skills depending upon their economic sectors, the firm size and the region. To illustrate, IT companies, in general, demand creativity and strong system design skills while the knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering are less important. On the other hand, the infrastructure firms prioritize graduates with strong ability to use modern tools and the knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering, but focus less on creativity and system design skills.
This leaves an important role for institutions to prepare their graduates to meet the demand for skills from different sectors. Institutions therefore have to increase their interaction with various kinds of employers. Hence, the institutions should customize program outcomes to meet the specific demand. Further, extra-curriculum activities such as internships and involvement of institutions with community would also help students to deepen the understanding of demanded skills and respond well to particular demanded skills.