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Startups find enough funds but not many employable engineers

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The Economic Times | By Saumya Bhattacharya & Varuni Khosla, ET Bureau | 2 February, 2016 |

NEW DELHI: The newly rolled out Startups India initiative might just have hit an unforeseen bump. Less than 4% of engineers who graduated in 2015 have the skills to be employable in a technology startup, according to a survey done on employability of engineers. India produces around 8 lakh engineering graduates every year, and the survey findings are based on an employability test done on 1.5 lakh engineers who graduated in 2015. This is the first time the ‘National Employability Report’ carried out by Aspiring Minds tested engineers on their startup readiness.  Investments and growth of technology startups is the new business story in India. Startups want students to learn on live projects, and be job-ready when they join in,” said Varun Aggarwal, chief technology officer Aspiring Minds, a company that evaluates and certifies job skills. “Job-readiness of engineers is a huge problem facing them.”  The sample that it tested was taken from more than 650 engineering colleges in India. The engineers were assessed on language, soft skills, cognitive skills, personality and technical skills. Top skills required for technology startup-ready roles, according to the report, include technical skills; problem-solving skills; work management and prioritisation; learning attitude; and communication skills.  According to IT industry lobby group Nasscom, employability remains a concern for the IT industry, but could be a bigger problem for startups. In a large IT services kind of setup, companies have time to train engineers, but startups need people who can get to work from day one. “The well-funded startups are getting the talent but for the bootstrapped startups, it’s even more important to get talented employees, and it is harder,” said Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president at Nasscom.

The association is doing training programmes around startups on themes like design capability and design thinking, product management and technology series. “We also organise Hackathons. Somewhere, there is a need for changes in the curriculum and Nasscom is working on that,” Gupta added.  Startups have witnessed explosive growth in the last few years and the demand for engineers is on the rise.  “There will be an endless need for young and dynamic tech coders and engineers to contribute to this dynamic culture. It is also not just the technical skills that make engineers so valuable; it’s their tremendous brainpower and work culture which is deeply rooted within them,” said Kunal Shah, founder and CEO of Freecharge. As many as 80% of the digital wallet platform’s 200 employees is engineers. Startups like Chaayos, PepperTap, Edureka, MySmartPrice, LivQuik are hiring engineers and say that finding quality, job-ready engineers is a priority, and often a challenge.  Nearly 80% of PepperTap’s 2,500-strong workforce are engineers and the CEO, Navneet Singh, admitted that hiring good talent in a startup is always difficult. This is a concern at a time when the startup economy is going through a consolidation patch. In the coming year, Pepper-Tap will need 120-130 engineers alone, but is only looking for those who have their foundation right. “The employability in core sectors across industry isn’t great,” said Singh. Edureka, a 200-people interactive elearning platform, is looking for more than 50 engineers this year. It is looking for employees based on their skills rather than the pedigree of the engineering college. CEO Lovleen Bhatia, an IIT-BHU alumnus, too feels that there is a huge issue of the quality of engineers available out of college and it is normally not great.  Venture capitalists say the talent deficit has made salaries extremely high. “Hiring top tech talent remains the single hardest challenge for astartup, especially ones that aren’t heavily funded,” said Sandeep Murthy, partner at Lightbox Ventures.  “But it’s not all bad. What we’re seeing around is that this has forced startups to find inventive alternatives to throwing money at the problem. The growth of hackathons and increasing number of ‘self-learning’ online tools and classes are creating a new breed of tech talent and ultimately a new, healthier talent pool in India.”

At venture-funded startup Chaayos, which serves the $6-billion Indian tea market, engineers account for more than 90% of the 200-plus workforce. For the company, finding good people is more challenging than ever before. Its reliance on the internal referral network for hiring is increasing. The company has stopped interviewing unknown engineers as there may not be enough credibility without a recommendation.  “We are looking for only engineers with high ownership skills. They need to be on ground for three to four days before we hire them,” said cofounder Nitin Saluja.  LivQuik, which runs mobile wallet QuickWallet, employs a team of about 50, half of which is engineers. “Not only are we losing good engineers to bigger firms but also bigger startups who are willing to shell out big money to hire them. The kind of people we want to attract now are younger, but want to learn and it doesn’t matter whether they come from the top institutions or not,” said cofounder Yudhajit Nag Sen.- Courtesy


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