Enhancing employability of India's IT workforce

Lokesh Mehra, Regional Manager, Corporate Responsibility, South Asia, Cisco Systems

In a city like Hyderabad, a BPO job may not be tough to come by. However consider the case of K. Pushpanjali, the 20 year daughter of a construction laborer who was unable to finish high school due to financial constraints. For her, a white-collar job seemed a distant dream a few years ago. After receiving basic computer and soft skills training from an IT Essentials course she works today as a call center executive at GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Council). The job has changed Pushpanjali's life and fuelled her ambitions.

Globalization and market forces are creating these opportunities across countries on a scale never seen before. Unfortunately, there is also a widening skills gap. India is poised to reap the benefits of the 'demographic dividend' but this begets the question, how can a country with a billion people be facing such a severe talent crunch? One of the reasons can be observed easily - only 17 per cent of the relevant age group in India goes on to undertake higher education. Another cause for the skill gap lies in the quality of talent being churned out. Every year, India produces more than 2.5 million university graduates, of which 20% are engineering majors. NASSCOM estimates that only 25% of these technical graduates and approximately 15% of other graduates are considered employable by the rapidly growing IT and ITeS companies.

NASSCOM predicts that India's IT sector will face a shortfall of half a million professionals by 2010 while a recent IDC report suggests India will experience a shortfall of 118,000 skilled IT networking professionals in 2008 alone. In a country of so much opportunity, Pushpanjali's success needn't be an exception.

The current state of affairs presents a compelling case for private-public partnership through industry-academia alliances to enhance talent development amongst the youth at the grassroots level. NASSCOM'S IT Workforce Development (ITWD) program was specifically designed to keep the issues and concerns of the industry as well as the challenges of the academia in mind. Many IT companies, are now partnering with engineering colleges and universities to build much-needed engagement between industry and academia, even creating universally accepted benchmarks like certifications and policy-level curriculum changes. Educational institutions can update the syllabus of professional academic courses to make them more industry relevant, with regular updates from professionals who have a deeper understanding of current business developments and technical standards.

Apart from reskilling and retooling engineers and graduates, there also needs to be an emphasis on catering to the large segment of India's youth who haven't had the opportunity to go to college. Equipping them with technology skills as well as the relevant hard and soft skills will help open a whole new world of development to them.

The Cisco Networking Academy initiative, for instance, partners with over 190 educational institutions in India delivering information and communication technology skills to improve career and economic opportunities amongst the youth in India. The free ITE course offered by the Dr. Reddy Foundation undertaken by Pushpanjali is one such example. Initiatives like these have had a positive impact on people's lives by encouraging career advancement, improving access to the Internet, supporting the growth of the ICT industry, and promoting sustainable economic development in the communities in which it operates. If leading companies from across industries can step forward to advance talent development, we could make the youth of today not only competitive, but also help in supporting long-term local sustainable development and addressing global demands.

14 year old Deepika Sharma, a student of Maharani School in Jaipur is another heartening example. Raised alone by her mother on a meager pension, Deepika has already got a head start; she can troubleshoot problems on computers with ease. Her skills are a result of the Rajasthan Education Initiative (REI), a public private partnership that seeks to accelerate IT education for teachers and school students through 32 Government District Computer Educations Centers (DCEC) across the state.

As you can see from the example of Pushpanjali and Deepika, companies can not only help underserved youth but also bridge the 'gender divide' by proving that women have equal opportunities and skills to successfully compete in today's world. Many companies like Cisco, Intel and IBM have also helped bridge the urban-rural digital divide by taking technical education to tier II cities including Kashmir, Orissa and Tripura.

With greater IT exposure to large segments of India's population in tier II and tier III cities, these areas are becoming the new focus of attention. Especially for IT marketers who are not just looking at them as markets but as regional hubs and more importantly as sources of reasonably well- educated and qualified manpower. Government plays a critical role and needs to support the growth of these cities by providing social, educational and physical infrastructure. It also needs to allocate for meaningful projects that would help enhance the pace of these developments and collaborate more with industry partnerships.

The World Development Report 2007 states that for many countries, building a workforce with higher order skills is an important part of improving the climate for investment, acquiring competitive edge, and generally maintaining an engine of growth. For India, the example of 25 year old Narsimha Reddy, son of a farmer from a small village in Nizamabad, a district of Andhra Pradesh to work as a Service Engineer and simultaneously pursue a B.Sc Degree can be the answer to solving the employability of India's IT workforce.

Let Us Help