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Reforms for a strong IT workforce

In an evolving employment landscape, the challenge is to anticipate demand and prepare manpower that is adequately skilled to perform from day one.

Reforms for a strong IT workforce

India needs a modern and skilled IT workforce to remain competitive in today's global work environment. But policies with regard to IT education are inhibiting our ability to find and retain talent. For a strong 21st century IT workforce, we need reforms.

The immediate priority for stakeholders of the industry is to understand the way technology is changing. This will shape the nature of employment in the future. The speed of technology obsolescence is far outpacing the development in IT education. It would not be an understatement that job roles that existed three years ago are non-existent today, and job roles that exist today will become obsolete in the next three years. The job designations might remain the same, but the nature of the jobs will evolve. For instance, the methods and tools that a security administrator used a few years ago is entirely different from what he uses today.
Our first need is to develop a sustainable talent pipeline of IT professionals. The major hurdle in achieving this is the gap between what IT students are taught and what the industry needs today. The IT work scenario, the world over, is changing and changing very fast. In such an evolving employment landscape, the challenge is to anticipate demand and prepare manpower for it.
Unfortunately, our IT curriculum is not geared for this. It is still heavily "theory focussed". What industry requires today is a "zero day deployment" workforce. It wants to hire people who can add to productivity figures from day one. In the past, IT organisations had the resources for extended induction training programs where new recruits were trained long-term and then put on projects. All this while the employees were paid. Also, companies could afford to keep a heavy "bench strength". Today, companies cannot afford this luxury. They cannot keep the workforce in training for long as it affects their bottom line. The need of the hour, therefore, is to develop manpower that is adequately skilled to perform from day one.
One way of doing this is overhauling IT curriculum with a generous dose of practical training and industry-linked programs. This is, of course, easier said than done. It is tough to change government-regulated bodies such as the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Though, AICTE has in recent months taken a few forward-looking steps like making three internships mandatory for technical students in course of their undergraduate studies. One needs to add here that it is not just the lack of industry exposure that makes our graduates wanting in expertise and therefore unemployable. The quality of education in many of the institutions also needs to improve for our IT graduates to compete globally and secure good jobs. Private academic institutions, which enjoy greater autonomy than government institutes, can engage with industry experts to run vocational programs relevant to industry and business. The Government has an equal stake in creating jobs and filling them with relevantly skilled manpower. The Government should be open to partnering with global skill development and certification bodies and let the candidates get trained in the cutting edge technology areas. These bodies have the expertise to alter the learning objectives to keep pace with technology development.
We must realise that developing a strong IT workforce needs to start early. Institutions of IT education -- engineering colleges to begin with as they are the largest supplier of the IT workforce -- need to embed industry standard certification programs from global technology associations such as CompTIA from their 3rd semester onwards. This would help students orient themselves towards an IT career. Of late, there has been is a drop in students opting for IT, possibly because of lack of proper orientation for this stream through their four years of study. The message that is going to the student community from all media sources is that there is a dearth of jobs in IT. Over the past decade, the IT industry has been the largest consumer of engineering students. When the message percolates through the community that the job market is sluggish, students have apprehensions in opting for engineering education. While there is some macroeconomic situation that has led to a slight dip in job openings, the ground reality is that availability is not a challenge, having the right skill set is.
Therefore, the need to the hour for IT career aspirants is to get a clear understanding of technological developments in the field of Cloud Computing, IoT, and Cyber Security and align their learning towards in that direction. Students ought to be guided through a real career path and awareness should be created on these new technologies which are and will be in demand by industry in the near future.
But simply reforming the present education systems to equip students to meet future skills requirements is not enough. All stakeholders – government, industry, and students themselves -- need to understand that talent development is critical to achieve growth and outcome.
Industry cannot afford to be mere consumers of human capital. It needs to be proactive and facilitate learning and meaningful training. The government, on its part, must encourage public-private partnership for talent development and capacity building. The British apprenticeship program is a classic example of how the academia picked up students, trained them on industry-relevant skills and placed them in organisations as apprentices. By the time the course is over, the candidate is well-trained, has added to productivity and also acquired on job the knowledge, skills, and ability (KSA). In short, this model creates a skilled employee ready to hit the job market.
Students/job aspirants need to equip themselves with the right IT certifications that can take their careers to new heights. These certifications could be related to a wide range of subjects such as data security, networking, virtualisation, storage, project management, big data, mobility and cloud network administration, and so on. Certifications-driven training should be a priority for them since certification bodies directly receive feedback from industry and launch programs that are most relevant. Also, certifications provide students with hands-on learning that can be applied to a variety of real-life situations making them more "employable".
(The writer is Regional Director, CompTIA. CompTIA is dedicated to advancing industry growth through its educational programs, professional certifications, and public policy advocacy. Views expressed are strictly personal.)

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