Industrial Mind – Innovation in Indian engineering

All the private-public partnership projects are highly complex, high tech and  impact a phenomenal number of Indians. As more such initiatives get under way, the effort will require an enormous increase in the engineering workforce.

Corporate India is becoming professional, it is also eager to go global in several industry sectors. In the sunrise sectors, the scale  and ambition of vision are very different  from what they were about a decade ago. As these sectors transform  themselves, there is a golden opportunity  for professionals to lead this transformation-build world class companies and create enduring value.  Along with this are financial  gains. The opportunities available in India, together with the recession in the US, are in fact luring Indians working overseas back home, to join Indian companies.

This pace of growth is not without challenges. Because organizations and the environment in which they operate are changing fast, the chasm between the skills required and the skills available is widening rapidly. In the power sector additional manpower required is not able to meet the demand. In Power Generation related projects where there is a requirement for entry level people, the shortfall is about 31% . At senior levels the shortfall goes up by 34%.

There is a demand for 8000 to 10,000 engineers in the embedded software and chip design space but the supply is far less than the number. In telecom, under the wireless segment, there is an annual shortfall of 8,000 engineers.

To get better a assessment on the problem, IIT Bombay undertook a study on the engineering  landscape in India. The study aimed to answer questions such as:

Has the engineering education system been able to provide quantitatively and qualitatively engineers required for the growth of the Indian economy?

The study shows that against  the sanctioned seats of 6.57 lakh for Under Graduates in India only 40% engineering degrees were awarded in 2007-08 . This is clearly not enough! The  awarding of degrees is also not evenly distributed across India. Five states  — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala are said to  account for almost  69%  of the country’s engineers.

It is estimated that about 30% of the fresh engineering graduates are unemployed even after one year of graduation; and this  is when many sectors complain about the lack of talent. This clearly shows that there is  definite scope to improve the quality of engineering education.

Let us also look at the gender factor. At IIT Bombay, the percentage of women graduates to the total  is about 8% at the B Tech level , 9% at the M Tech  level land  about 17% at the Doctoral  level  including Science, Humanities and Management. Similar disparity exists  among the faculty – only about 10% of the IIT Bombay faculty comprises of women.

Special efforts are being made by the Government, institutions and professional organizations to rectify this, not just in India but the engineering stream around the world. Some Indian states  have provided incentives like free tuition to women studying engineering.

Overall, the study rightly points out that  India has the potential to be a leading  research and design  hub in the world. For this we need to have a mechanism to identify important areas and disciplines that should grow and develop.

Globalization has enabled a new place for India. The challenges faced by our country are new, and the market is highly dynamic and complex. In this scenario, the industry demands new kind of engineers.

This difficulty demands a new way of thinking. There are many challenges and requires Engineers to keep a track of the big picture even as they tackle specific tasks. This provides a conceptual frame work that helps to make full patterns clear and helps one to see  how to modify the patterns more effectively. This type of  thinking is tricky to most of us because we are taught to break problems  apart, to fragment the world. This initially appears to make complex tasks more manageable. When we want to see the big picture we try to reassemble the fragments and organize all the pieces.

India’s future growth will be driven not by cost but by innovation in terms of   product offerings, process efficiency,value engineering and cost reduction. This has resulted in areas, such as engineering design and product  development to become the focus.

The creation of TATA Nano, a great feat of engineering was possible because conventional wisdom was challenged. Similar handles and mechanisms  for the left and right side doors; a small engine which could be placed under the rear seat enabling a smaller overall package, putting the instrument cluster in the middle, not in front of the driver, all of these were innovations that were low cost and future oriented.

The Chandrayaan at 360 crore rupees is the world’s cheapest Moon craft. Its success is also a testament to the importance of innovation and planning in the success of low gestation drawing  board to development of projects.

All of these signal the era of Innovation in Indian engineering and they also have had the world look at us with a renewed respect.