Global corporations have been flocking to India thanks to the large number of English-speaking graduate engineers who join the workforce every year.

Last year there was much cheer and celebration in the engineering community when the ‘Avishkar Hyperloop’ student team of IIT Madras bagged the 'Most Scalable Design Award' at the European Hyperloop Week 2021. The team’s efforts in applying scalability and frugal engineering concepts for further development of this sustainable mode of transportation have also been recognized by other technical forums.

Engineering led industry in India has grown from previously providing only engineering support to now operating full ER&D lifecycles. As a result, India’s ER&D landscape features several Global Capability Centers (GCCs) and Engineering Service Providers (ESPs) for multinationals and Indian companies. Core R&D intensive sectors like Aeronautics, Automotive, Industrial, Power and Utilities, Defense, and Oil and Gas have over the years made India a global powerhouse for ER&D.

While the Indian industry at large needs to build on this stellar achievement, it is the smaller startups with younger entrepreneurs that have taken a bold step forward in innovation, like electric vehicle manufacturers Ola Electric and Ather Energy that sped away in pioneering an EV ecosystem in India. Ola’s mission is to not just make electric vehicles but engineer a change in mindsets towards green mobility. As India’s prospects look bright to emerge as a future global engineering innovation center, we need to examine why there hasn’t been adequate progress on this front for a country of its size, population and presence of 2,500 engineering colleges. What is the future outlook for innovation?  Where does engineering talent figure on this canvas?

The spanner in the works that’s preventing innovation at scale

When Indians have been powering many industries and the Silicon Valley in America, scalable big ideas are yet to emerge from India. Indian entrepreneurs and business leaders have thus far been risk averse due to the perceived high cost of failure. As a result, most Indian companies prefer to take the safer route and invest in innovations already proven elsewhere in the world. What also ails Indian innovation is also the lack of an ecosystem to commercialize innovative ideas.

Also, the building blocks of innovation lie in research. R&D spends in India continue to be low. While it has grown to 0.9% of India’s GDP, it is still far from the 2% target set by the government.

Sustainability is high on business agendas especially in polluting industries like power and oil and gas. The devastating consequences of human induced climate change have had far reaching impact on communities in different parts of the world. With the greater push for renewable energy to ultimately reduce coal-based power plants, the diesel power plant may in the course of time be completely replaced. To safeguard future generations, much innovative thinking is needed to drastically reduce carbon emitting coal from a country’s energy mix. 

Embracing disruption and its driving factors like competition, digitization and sustainability can push engineers and enterprises to innovate. Indian industry can then collectively brighten the future prospects of engineering in India and foster greater innovation from India.

Making the most of engineering talent for innovation

What is the future of innovation driven growth? That’s the theme of the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2022. The 15th edition focuses on the effect of innovation on productivity and the wellbeing of society over the coming decades. The report addresses a very pertinent question “Is stagnation and low productivity growth here to stay, or are we about to enter a new era, where new innovation spurts – the Digital Age and the Deep Science Innovation waves – bring about an economic uplift?” Industry practitioners and engineering academicians need to seriously ponder on this and take relevant action.

Action at the enterprise level

Diversification of talent to include more women in the ranks and a workforce from varied backgrounds to foster innovative thinking is key and a focus area that enterprises must practice. For a company, this would mean having a talent mix of regular engineers with core engineering skills like mechanical and electronics engineers, others with cross specializations including in digital technologies, and engineers who put their skills in niche areas to work like an embedded test engineer. That said, great engineers need not be only from the cream of engineering colleges in the country. Take India’s ‘metro man’ E Sreedharan. He is a civil engineer from Kerala who graduated from Government Engineering College, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh and has been credited in not only completing some of the toughest projects like the Konkan railway but also demonstrated exceptional leadership skills to complete these projects in record time. It just proves that great engineering minds can be from anywhere in India.

Then there is the aspect of a Gen X and Gen Y engineering workforce that is slowly ageing. The oil and gas industry for instance has experienced a decline in the permanent workforce due to retirement of older employees, which calls for smarter oil and gas engineering by the existing workforce and fresh hires. A number of engineers who have already graduated are unemployed or not pursuing engineering jobs due to skill gaps but could be potential engineering leaders of tomorrow if well groomed. Core sector companies must acknowledge that today’s freshers can be trained far more easily and are more flexible to learn, unlearn and re-learn and must be considered as  a cost-effective option to bridge the forthcoming talent gap. They are also digital natives who can help the ageing but valuable workforce on the digital front or trained to be good replacement hires.

A candidate friendly recruitment process is also critical to good recruitment. Most engineering companies have complex recruitment processes that are demotivating, leading to lengthy recruitment cycles. Recruitment is a two-way process and employers must aim to make it as simple, accessible, and as convenient as possible for candidates seeking to apply for jobs.

What must engineering institutions do to create futurist engineers?

A good step by India’s apex education body AICTE is the making of industry internships mandatory for engineering students. Skill development and practical orientation will ensure industry readiness. Increased industry academia collaboration on curricula and project opportunities for students will create a strong foundation to catalyze innovation and drive the employability of engineering students once they complete their graduation. Apprenticeships in the automobile industry have proven to be time tested for developing long term talent by transferring skills from one generation to the next. Other industries could replicate this success.

Our institutions must follow application-based learning methodologies and foster creative thinking and problem solving. While a new field like embedded systems engineering will interest budding engineers, the inclusion of  edtech components like AR/VR can make core engineering studies far more interesting to encourage more students to take up the core engineering streams.  America is generally the country of choice for post graduate studies in the engineering domain. Engineering colleges in India need to examine and course correct to ensure Indian engineering talent can be retained in India for India.

Another question that looms large is - Why are there fewer women taking up core engineering? Engineering colleges must make core engineering more attractive to women. Interestingly, the world’s first Indian origin woman who went into space, Kalpana Chawla of NASA, had obtained her aeronautical engineering degree from Punjab Engineering College before migrating to the United States for higher studies. With the new positioning of STEM education at elementary school levels to foster a scientific temper across genders, more girls will hopefully be encouraged to consider engineering as a future field of education and join the workforce.

Creative engineers can fuel innovation at the workplace – but how do you get them? 

As we blaze through the fourth industrial revolution, engineers are expected to conceptualize innovative products, and create innovative, efficient and sustainable production processes.  What you need are creative engineers who can steer the course. It’s also proven that having a culturally, age and gender diverse workforce with the best fit engineering talent can help meet the goals of innovation. Partnering with an engineering solutions leader in hr services can ease your efforts in achieving this end.

At Randstad, we have built our capabilities in the engineering space over the last 30 years, meeting client mandates in a variety of core engineering sectors. Aerospace, Chemicals, Electronics, Manufacturing, Heavy Engineering and Infra (Rail and Ports) are just a few of the industries we service. Clients have chosen to work with us for reasons like:

  • Our ability to provide total workforce solutions and a strategic roadmap to meet client objectives, whether they are contingent, permanent or project based.
  •  Being staffed with engineering professionals who speak their language and well understand their requirements.
  • Having a specialized team of recruiters who are located pan India and possess the expertise to source the best of engineering talent, whether for contract or payroll mandates.
  • We have an enviable 5:1 CV to selection ratio that sets us apart from the competition.
  • From engineering professionals like mechanical, chemical, electrical, or electronic to engineers who have niche skills in embedded systems, we identify and help you with engineering JDs to hiring engineers on the job, on time, every time. 

Randstad Engineering - Helping clients continue on their innovation journey

Our Randstad Engineering team has delivered on some really challenging client mandates. For instance, one of our clients, a leading Indian MNC in the chemicals business was struggling with disparate systems, no defined SLAs and no visibility into project status. Learn how our specialised team provided the client with cost effective resource mobilization and streamlined their systems that improved operational efficiencies and enhanced productivity. The company has been able to continue to conceptualize innovative specialty chemicals in their engineering innovation centre and invest back into the community.

“Great innovation happens when you get to the next curve.” says author, speaker and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki. Better still, get the best of engineering minds with us and invent the next curve.