G Venkata Prasad, Director of Operations, Deep Foundations Institute of India
During a conference held at DFII 2022 jointly with IIT Tirupati, its director Dr K N Satyanarayana appealed to the construction industry leaders to consider better pay packets to attract more students into the civil engineering line. Because of the lure of better entry level salaries in other industries, most students of IIT, and high-ranking academic institutes like NIT and premier private engineering colleges, skip job offers related to core civil engineering.
In the second and third rung colleges too, the management encourages students to opt for IT-related jobs for similar reasons. Today, a good number of engineering colleges are reducing the number of civil engineering seats or entirely closing this department. Colleges following these trends may end up depriving the Indian construction industry with the required engineering technical manpower, which is a big threat. They fail to see the continuing high growth prospects the Indian construction industry has for the next few decades.
By virtue of my current assignments, I have had the chance to interact with heads of many engineering colleges across India and with professionals in many construction industry related organizations across India. Given below are my observations of the scenario in engineering institutes and in construction companies.
Academicians’ views on the current curriculum and career options preferred by faculty and students.
- Academic institutions have difficulties in providing internship programs because industries don’t support them much, and the students are left to approach known contacts. The usefulness of these programs is also highly uncertain though institutes of repute may be faring slightly better.
- Since employment avenues are not fully known to civil engineering students, some colleges resort to training their students to appear for interviews with IT related companies. Most of the students with no other option, get into IT outsourcing companies, but they soon begin to face stagnation in their career and earn a low salary. Thus frustrated, they start looking for opportunities to come back to the core industry.
- The management of some colleges are considering closing the civil engineering department owing to the current status of the industry.
- Dr Easwar Reddy, professor from civil engineering college Sree Vidyanikethan Engineering Collegein Tirupati, lamented the plight of young civil engineering students. According to him, they are looked down for choosing civil engineering in their undergraduate course; they are considered unfavourably for marriage proposals; and are often treated shabbily during the initial phase of their career due to their junior position and low salary.
It is unfortunate that most of the construction industry leaders have a grim view of the current generation of civil engineers. They think that the civil engineer pass-outs are not hardworking enough, are less knowledgeable, and that they will not stick to their current job. However, my observation is that this view is self-inflected, and I would like to convey this to the senior management representing the various stakeholders in the construction industry.
The Government had revised the AICTE curriculum that was promulgated during 2018. The new policy recommends academia and industry collaboration through interactive programs and internships with the support of the industry. But hardly any improvement has been seen over the last four years. The academia is busy meeting the regular curriculum requirements, organising a few seminars and facing shortage of staff and funds. They hardly find time to engage with the industry or for getting involved in R&D activities. On the other hand, institutes like the IIT and NIT are flush with funds and can do a lot; but a major percentage of the students go abroad for pursuing higher education or they look for greener pastures (in other industries).
On the industry front, civil engineering professionals are busy with their daily assignments and racing against time to meet project deadlines and other challenges. They hardly find the time to provide any industry orientation to the students.
Having observed the problem, we cannot afford to remain mute spectators; rather, we should put our collective efforts to address the challenges and hope for ‘good models’
Supportive Construction Management Courses
The National Academy of Construction (an institute run by the government of Telangana) offers a one-year PG diploma construction management course. I offered my services to them to develop an appropriate platform for roping in construction industry experts to provide industry orientation by following a structured approach.
By closely working with around 7 major organizations (representing owner, PMC/ cost consultant, contractor) we helped support the theoretical learning through guest lectures on major project case studies, life cycle activities, site visits, soft skill training programs, mock interviews, engaging the students in live projects for around 5 months as part of their project work and internship programs, advice on career prospects and salaries earned by high calibre engineers, etc.
These programs are being developed and fine-tuned since the last two years. We are hopeful that they will motivate students to stick to their civil engineering profession, and in the long run, build successful careers. I know professionals who are earning Rs 50 lakhs and above per year, while some with over 30 plus years of experience are earning in terms of crores. This is a much better package compared to some other sectors and also compared to the pay levels for civil engineering professionals in developed countries like the USA. Students pursuing civil engineering studies in India must be shown this big picture so that they can set their sights high, work hard, and be dedicated enough to achieve their career goals.
Supporting Civil Engineering UG students
I am also closely interacting with NAC and a few other engineering colleges, and several industry experts for implementing construction industry orientation programs as a part of the four-year undergraduate course. I am seeing an opportunity for presenting case studies/practical examples to the students pursuing civil engineering courses right from the first year onwards and linking them to their theoretical subjects. Based on the new curriculum introduced by AICTE, I have proposed the following suggestions:
- As a part of the induction program planned before starting the first-year course, and as a precursor to the four year course, eminent professionals from the industry can provide an overview of a) the career growth prospects in the construction industry, and b) project life cycle activities relating to theory and practical subjects in each semester.
- Corresponding to the computer aided ‘Civil Engineering Drawing’ course offered as a part of the third semester curriculum, examples can be presented covering Architectural, Structural, and Mechanical Electrical Plumbing (MEP) drawings of any live project. The importance of having a strong coordination amongst multiple disciplines for effective design and drawings development, the critical need of having drawings delivery schedules to meet the project deadlines, and ensuring adherence to the same, can be emphasized.
- As part of the subject ‘Surveying & Geomatics’ offered during the fourth semester, wonderful examples of how survey work of major projects is handled during different stages of implementation can be provided showcasing the advancements in handling geospatial information.
- In the same semester covering the subject ‘Materials, Testing & Evaluation’, students can be exposed to QA/QC practices followed in any live project.
- Corresponding to the subject ‘Structural Engineering’ offered during the fifth semester, examples of one of the structures of any live project can be presented covering load analysis, and critical aspects of structural design.
- As a continuing phenomenon due to geotechnical challenges, many projects are suffering time/cost overruns. Live examples of the same can be offered as part of the related subject ‘Geotechnical Engineering’ offered during the fifth semester, showcasing the possible remedies.
- The subject ‘Construction Engineering & Management’ is offered as part of the sixth semester. Examples of how formwork, reinforcement, concreting, finishes, and MEP works, including various technologies are adopted for major projects can be showcased to enable students to learn how successful project execution takes place.
- The subject ‘Engineering Economics, Estimating, and Costing’ is offered during the same semester. Global best practices are being implemented in India in major real estate projects by a good number of internationally reputed cost consultants. Presenting how their services are availed in the entire project contract procurement and management process will provide students a feel of the best practices, which will aspire them to adopt such practices when they join the mainstream construction industry.
- India will continue to have a big scope for major infrastructure projects covering highways, railways, metro rails, airports, and other urban infrastructure sectors. Interesting case studies covering any of the live projects in these sectors can be presented to the students, highlighting the critical project management aspects. This will help them in completing electives offered, corresponding to these areas, and in foreseeing the bigger picture on the future of the construction industry.
Replicating the Good Models
Saint-Gobain has an innovative and pioneering model to train diploma engineering students. Taking a cue from the German VET Model, Saint-Gobain India, the glassmaker, launched a program for diploma students in association with the Nettur Technical Training Foundation (NTTF), under Indo-Swiss cooperation for technical education.
Saint-Gobain India, a part of the €40-billion French multinational Saint-Gobain, devised the ‘Learn While Earn’ program for 18 to 23-year-olds with at least 10th standard education, to train them in modern manufacturing skills.
Saint-Gobain makes glass for use in construction, automobiles, and specialized applications; it recruits 100-150 diploma holders every year. But students from the conventional education system are not industry-ready and have only theoretical knowledge. All of the company’s recruitment needs can be met with these trained students, though they are free to look elsewhere for opportunities.
Under the Saint-Gobain-NTTF initiative, after two years of study followed by two years of hands-on-experience at the company’s factory at Sriperumbudur, near Chennai, the candidate is equal to a diploma holder with a two-year working experience.
The “Learn While Earn” program enrols students at Level 1 and exits at level 5. One of the main advantages is that from day one the interns get associated with a factory and the classroom session is for one day, followed by a practice session of five days. The interns are on the shop floor, operating along with their coaches on certain guided aspects.
Each student is paid a stipend of ₹5,000 a month in the first year, which increases progressively to reach ₹10,000 a month in the fourth year. But the cost to Saint-Gobain is about ₹18,000 a month for each student.
A part of the stipend is given to the students, and a fraction goes to their parents. This is to convince them to send their wards to be trained for a career rather than sending them for unskilled jobs to earn an immediate income; which is a challenge. The remaining stipend is saved and returned as a lumpsum to the students at the end of the course. Such a model can be tailored to suit civil engineering courses, and many organizations can come forward to implement this.
Germany’s Vocational Education & Training model is a popular global benchmark that is being implemented in many countries. Replicating this model with the support of the construction industry stakeholders can help India in meeting the skill needs of all construction tradesmen.
“Meeting Skill India Mission Goals”, although this is a well-intended policy by the Government, there is a big gap in meeting industry demand through formal skill training programs for construction workmen and practical training for students pursuing engineering courses.
Revamping Professional Engineer Certification
There is a critical emphasize and supporting infrastructure for continuous development for working professionals and a rigorous process is involved in acquiring PE certification in the US and like countries; while in India, it is done more like a lip service. The system should change; right from their college days, students should imbibe these good practices for their benefit and for achieving enhanced performance in the construction industry.
Industry leaders cannot be mute spectators and let the aspiring student community down. There are opportunities to change this status quo by replicating successful global models in India, and they should be availed of on an urgent basis through the industry ‘s and academia’s collective efforts.