Bangalore, India Even as India's software industry brims with confidence at the imminent economic recovery in the United States, a recent meeting called by the Indian government raised questions about the industry's ability to meet its future manpower needs.
Manpower development for the information technology industry has been identified as a key area of the government's 10th five-year plan, covering 2002 through 2007, and a task force has been formed comprised of senior government officials, industry executives and academics. Its first meeting was held in September and its recommendations are to be handed over to the government by the end of this month.
The timing of the task force's formation was fortunate, said F.C. Kohli, the former head of Tata Consultancy Services, India's largest software exports firm, who is widely known as the father of India's software industry. While India is producing large numbers of engineers each year, Kohli said, their quality is a cause for worry. Only a few engineering colleges here the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institute of Science and a few others are producing world-class engineers, Kohli said. A countrywide broadband network connecting these colleges with at least 60 others must be put in place so that the number of top-notch graduates produced each year currently about 3,000 rises tenfold, he said. Distance learning and virtual classrooms will help improve the quality of the software and hardware engineers coming out of the colleges, Kohli said.
Citing another concern, Kohli said that India is producing too few doctorates in IT. There is also a need to provide incentives to motivate more research, he said.
Kohli's concerns were echoed by Pratik Kumar, vice president of human resources at Wipro Technologies, who said that the capabilities of India's graduates are a reason for worry. In addition to the computer skills that engineers already possess, there is a need to build strong technical skills and domain expertise, Kumar said.
Rajendra S. Pawar, chairman of the National Institute of Information Technology, a software services and computer education firm, said it may not be possible to make linear projections of manpower demands, and urged that a flexible system be designed. In addition, government and industry efforts need to be linked, he said. No representative from India's Ministry of Human Resources was at the meeting, but such a presence is necessary if there is to be better coordination and implementation of recommendations, Pawar said.
Pankaj Agrawala, joint secretary of the Department of Information Technology, said that a robust and flexible manpower development plan that addresses specialized needs must be in place to capture and utilize India's strengths effectively. To facilitate continuous growth, manpower needs ought to be planned in advance and continuously adjusted, he said.
Others voiced concerns about India's booming software services industry growing complacent, especially with the rebound now happening. Companies in the United States and many other countries outsource work to Indian concerns, but those firms should not lose sight of the fact that in five or six years, there will be more automation and technology advancement. The country needs to be prepared for such advances, Kohli said.
A governmental working group had earlier identified other problems facing India's software and hardware industry. These include a shortage of proper teaching staff, outdated computer hardware and a lack of funds to equip colleges with the hardware and software needed for proper technical education.
According to estimates by the National Association of Software and Service Companies, India's projected demand for software and hardware engineers by 2008 is 7 million: 2.2 million software engineers and 4.8 million hardware engineers.
Meanwhile, the industry here is complaining about employees' leaving to take jobs in other companies. The attrition rate has been rising in the last few months, sources said, sparked by the uptick in high-tech hiring in India.