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How English-speaking skills are keeping Indian engineers away from their dream jobs: The study, ‘The National Spoken English Skills of Engineers Report’

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The Economic Times | By Prachi Verma & Saumya Bhattacharya, ET Bureau | 7 Aug, 2015 |

NEW DELHI: Poor spoken English may be keeping a large number of India’s engineers from landing some of the best paid jobs in the country. A study has found that an overwhelming 97 per cent of engineers in the country cannot speak English, required for high-end jobs in corporate sales and business consulting. Moreover, as per the report based on the study, about 67 per cent of engineers graduating from India’s colleges do not possess spoken English skills required for any job in knowledge economy. The study, ‘The National Spoken English Skills of Engineers Report’, conducted by Aspiring Minds, surveyed English skills study of 30,000 engineers across 500 engineering colleges.  Although the problem is far more pronounced in tier 2 and tier 3 colleges, instilling spoken English skills is a big challenge in Indian Institutes of Technology and National Institutes of Technology as well. About 600,000 engineers graduate annually in India.  “We get students from different backgrounds and regions, and they are mostly not comfortable with English,” said Gautam Biswas, director, IIT Guwahati. “Quite a few students appear for the joint entrance examination in their mother tongue. It becomes very difficult for them to follow the curriculum.”

A study has found that an overwhelming 97 per cent of engineers in the country cannot speak English, required for jobs in corporate sales and business consulting.

UB Desai, director of IIT Hyderabad, said the problem of students not being able to speak English is not restricted to IITs but is prevalent across the country, and even in China and a few European nations. “Over the years, the focus in the education system has shifted to chemistry, maths, physics. Focus on soft skills has reduced. Students may lose out on good job prospects as many companies come to campuses for global positions as well,” he said.  Engineering students in the metros do much better in spoken English skills than those in the non-metros, according to the study. Kushal Sen, dean — faculty at IIT Delhi, affirms this. “A majority of our students may not have the problem of speaking in English but about 30 per cent need to be groomed when it comes to soft skills,” he said. IIT Delhi offers its students courses in soft skills.  Tier-1 colleges fare better in spoken English skills than their peers down the line. “As expected the spoken English ability of candidates becomes worse, on average, in campuses in lower-tier cities,” said Varun Aggarwal, co-founder and chief technology officer, Aspiring Minds.  Recruiters and HR managers around the world report that candidates with English skills above the local average stand out from the crowd and garner 30-50 per cent higher salaries than similarly qualified candidates without English skills, according to Aggarwal. “The trends in India are no different, with English fluency being one of the key qualities recruiters look for during the interview,” he said.

IIT Madras’s dean (planning) R David Koilpillai said, “Students must be able to communicate technical ideas clearly in interviews. Proficiency in spoken English gives confidence.” In the past two-three years, NIT Trichy has taken corrective measures in this regard. “Students not able to speak or even understand lectures in English is a major problem,” said Srinivasan Sundarrajan, director. The institute organises bridge courses, workshops and orientations for the students. “The seniors at our institute too help out juniors,” said Sundarrajan.  The key problem faced by engineers is pronunciation, followed by fluency skills, grammar and sentence construction. Engineers show a larger gap in elements of spoken English, pronunciation and fluency, followed by grammar, though they do relatively better in vocabulary and understanding English. As per the report, only 6.8 per cent engineers show the ability to speak or respond spontaneously.
ET view: Upgrade the Software
English is the global language of business and indeed enterprise. The situation is unlikely to change in a globalised economy in the future. Therefore, proficiency in English must be seen as a necessary skill, and not some ingredient for a post-colonial cultural debate. The new economy is amply incorporating Indian languages, with the user base for mobile phones and the internet growing at 47% a year. So there is no need to worry about non-English languages being left in the lurch. Engineers, and indeed other professionals, must load themselves with the English ‘software’. It is nothing short of an upgrade.- Courtesy


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