STEM industry: On the road to bridging the widening skills gap
Skills and knowledge are one of the key drivers of economic growth and social development for any country. As India positions itself to achieve strong economic growth, availability of a highly-skilled workforce that can help organizations, across sectors, maintain their competitive capabilities, will be key. India’s talent availability is unmatched by any other country in the world — more than 3,500 engineering colleges in India produce about 1.5 million engineering graduates annually. However, despite this, the mismatch in skills particularly in STEM-related industries is a concern that needs a focus on. Building a highly-skilled workforce that can work with the ever-evolving technologies will enable companies in India to carry out critical research and development (R&D) and bring out innovative products and aftermarket services to the market.”
Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce, India & South Asia offers his insights on the industry and academia’s attentiveness to bridging the existing skills gap in India and the need for policymakers, academia, and the industry to work together to prepare young people to enter the workforce with the skills and education the businesses will require in the future.
There is a huge shortage of talent in the STEM industries in India due to the skills gap. Why do you think this is the case and what are the key skills that are missing?
The world over, technological advancements are creating fundamental shifts in STEM-related industries, leading to a demand for skills that were previously non-existent. In India, the rising skills gap can be broadly attributed to three reasons. Firstly, apart from the technical skills, there needs to be an increased focus on the applicable soft skills so that the talent that can be readily hired to plug and play. For example, critical thinking or problem-solving skills are becoming invaluable to the industries as they help job seekers widen their limited domain knowledge and hone necessary business skills. Secondly, engineering talent needs to be trained on the global skills that will make them receptive to international standards of safety and quality. Thirdly, with the evolving technology trends, the nature of jobs are becoming more specialized and high-skilled, leading to a mismatch in the current knowledge and required knowledge.
Do you think that one of the contributors to the skills gap is the mismatch between academia and industry practices and expectations?
There is definitely a gap between the academia and industry practices, especially what the industry expects from academic institutions in terms of practical knowledge transfer.
Most of the young graduates enter the workforce with only book knowledge and very few working skills. The fact that only a few Indian universities offer tailor-made courses for specific sectors is something that needs to be looked at. However, the good news is that significant efforts are underway to address this challenge. Both the industry and the academia are stepping up to bridge the existing skills gap by introducing relevant changes in the technical education system. Most of the STEM-related industries in India are forging strong links with the government, professional bodies, training providers, and education institutes to ensure that policies, trainings, and curriculum reflect the modern-day skills needs.
What kind of a partnership can the academia and the industry get into to bridge this existing gap?
As I mentioned above, the work has already started. But it will take time to overhaul the traditional models of education and rebuild new teaching methodologies, course curricula, and the general skill needs of today’s workforce. Schools are waking up to building the right foundational skills for students from an early age. Universities are creating outcome-driven and skill-based courses by linking the STEM subjects to industry requirements. Businesses are also regularly and considerably investing heavily in relevant training and recruitment, as well as learning and development programs to keep their workforce updated with technological advancements and skills. Certifications are also being considered as a viable solution for skilled workers to hone their existing knowledge.
By recognizing the responsibility to support the transition from education to the workplace, industries have already showcased their attentiveness to bridging the skills gap. Apart from providing inputs on building the course curricula and offering guidance on developing a demand-driven workforce, the industry now needs to share a clear career-progression roadmap (from entry-level to mid-level and more advanced positions) with the education and training providers. The educational institutes, in turn, can identify the high-growth industries, understand and align with the future job requirements and shape the courses and training programs accordingly. Another way for industries to participate is by creating apprenticeship programs as well as internship opportunities to build the next generation of workforce. With various changes in the workplace, employees too need to challenge themselves to learn new techniques and skills and maintain a competitive advantage.
How do you think the government or policy makers do to reduce the skills gap in the STEM industry in India?
While both training and upskilling are necessary for closing India’s skills gaps, the first priority should be for all key stakeholders — policymakers, academia, and industry, to work together to prepare young people to enter the workforce with the skills and education the businesses will require in the future.
The government’s participation at all levels is necessary to fast-paced development of skills. As India is a developing economy, the government can address the skills gap by connecting economic development, education, and workforce development more closely, and also linking their programs like ‘Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ to the needs of businesses. Secondly, by assisting industries through funding and tax credits or incentives, the government can support the concept of lifelong learning to maintain a competitive advantage. Thirdly, by setting policies for partnerships, the government can push for increased collaboration between all stakeholders to develop career-related education, identify new skills, better training modules and continue to develop the skills of the current and future workforce.
How do you think companies like Rolls-Royce are helping in resolving this disparity? What steps has Rolls-Royce considered to reduce this skills gap?
One way is to upskill the existing workforce. Globally, Rolls-Royce invests millions of pounds every year in learning and development programs to raise the standards of competitive performance; develop business acumen, management, and leadership skills; promote innovation; help employees realize their potential and contribute to increased customer satisfaction. Secondly, as one of the world’s leading industrial technology companies, we invest in building a strong pipeline of diverse talent critical to the future success of our business. We’ve set a global target to reach 6 million people through our STEM education programs and activities by 2020. Globally, we have around 1,400 Rolls-Royce STEM ambassadors who are actively involved in education programs and activities.