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How will India cope with skill shortages?

July 11, 2007

Here are some recent figures released by Ficci on the terrible shortage of people that India will face in the coming five years … some hard numbers:

  • Biotechnology sector: 80 percent shortfall of doctorate and post doctorate scientists.
  • Food processing sector: 65 per cent shortfall of refrigeration mechanics, electricians etc. 70 percent shortfall of food safety personnel.
  • Health sector: Shortage of 5 lakh ( half a million) doctors – in particular anaesthetists, radiologists, gynaecologists and surgeons (particularly neurosurgeons). Also, a shortage of 10 lakh (1 million) nurses.
  • IT sector : Shortage of 5 lakhs (half a million) engineers.
  • Education sector: Faculty shortage of 25-40 percent.
  • Banking and Finance sector: 50-80 percent personnel shortage.
  • Aviation sector: Severe shortage of pilots.
  • Textile sector: Will create 10 lakhs (1 million) jobs in the next few years due to rapid expansion.
  • Pharma sector: Severe shortage of top pharma scientists as research expenditure by pharma companies has quadrupled in the last 5 years. Thus there is a shortage of middle-level and junior scientists too. This has made salaries of top pharma scientists rise to US levels.

Semi-skilled and skilled labour: The shortage of factory workers and construction labourers is already being felt across industries.

Action Plan of the government:
This is what the government has done/planned, and explained by the PM in a recent speech:

As per recommendations of the Knowledge Commission, by 2015, India should attain a gross enrollment ratio (in higher educational instituions) of at least 15 percent if we are to be in line with most modern societies. Such a quantum jump in our university system has to be well planned and well funded… our Government has started new national institutions in the fields of science, technology and medicine. In the last 100 years, we have had only one Indian Institute of Science. In past two years, we have sanctioned six more. We have opened new national institutes in medical sciences, engineering and management…we intend to establish 30 new Central Universities across the country. The work on the modalities for setting these up has begun and the Ministry of Human resource Development, the UGC and the Planning Commission are working to operationalize this in the next 2-3 months. This expansion is going to be a landmark in expanding access to high quality education across the country.

Hope for the hundreds of eager youngsters in schools today. They will (hopefully) not suffer the same fate as present generations who have had far fewer opportunities to get into good quality educational institutions.

It’s quality that people are concerned about. Why, last Saturday a girl killed herself, not because she didn’t get admission into college, but because she didn’t get admission into a college of her choice. And this poor girl wasn’t even trying for a professional seat in an engineering or medical college, she was trying for a seat in the 11th grade!!

Just take the example of our medical education. Its in shambles. Hundreds of hopefuls cannot get a medical education in India because of the ridiculously high level of competition. There are just too few seats in the reputed government colleges (their fees are affordable.) And as for private colleges, they are beyond the reach of the middle classes and its not just because of their tuition fees. Lakhs of rupees are taken as ‘donations’ and so unless you are academically brilliant or rich, you can forget about being a doctor.

And as for our primary education, the less said the better. Its in terrible shape (government schools) and I know intelligent children who live in the slums who have little hope of even grabbing jobs of sales people or even telephone operaters because of the poor education they are being imparted today. These millions of children are destined to languish in the slums even when they are adults…its just sad!

Why are the Indians living abroad not coming back in droves?
I think of this frequently, perhaps because some cousins who I felt close to have gone forever and so have several of my very good friends.

Now that our economy has improved, why can’t people like them, people who are educated, try to come back? Educated people in India can get good jobs and a decent standard of living, though not as high as they might get abroad. Some feel the trend is reversing…but I think it’s more because the western countries are becoming more stringent about immigration, green cards, citizenship etc. Those Indians who do return voluntarily either do it because they want their children to grow up here or because of the responsibility of old parents.

The truth is that few people feel they can adjust to a life in India after living for years abroad. Its more than just about physical comforts and money. It could be a more professional environment at work, or it could be just being able to get things done more quickly and professionally over there. Whether it’s getting a licence or a cinema ticket!

And from what I hear from some of my younger cousins who have migrated, they are happier there because there are no relatives to interfere in their life, be it in-laws, parents or aunts and uncles. You can lead a completely independent life out there, which is in stark contrast to life here. I don’t know how important a factor this is for people who make the final decision to live in a foreign country, but I would really like to know.

Ofcourse, every individual has a right to carve a better life for themselves…but the reality is that India needs these people to come back. With their international exposure, their contribution will be invaluable to India. Don’t those who live abroad want to be part of India’s growth, even if they have to pay a price for it?

Update: I wrote this post early morning and therefore missed the news item that appeared today in DNA. It says that a faculty shortage is hampering the growth of IIM and this “dearth of teaching staff” is impeding the institutes’ entry into the top B-schools of the world. Apparently there are government restrictions on salaries and therefore the schools find it a struggle to attract the best talent. Again its not quantity, but the quality which matters to the IIM’s and they are simply not getting enough of the best.

(Statistics from and

Related Reading: India in top 5 when it comes to vacancies
IIM Salaries in India
Plenty of jobs for animators in India
Pay hikes in India highest in the world in 2007
Indian companies willing to hire talent from outside

13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2007 11:10 am

    Investing in a strong primary and elementary school system by India would be invaluable, mainly because solid investment in the young is a real investment in the future of the country. Shortage of skilled labour will continue unless the population is educated en masse and not piecemeal in private schools and colleges. It appears that your country is undergoing severe growing pains, and as pressure mounts for greater numbers of trained people then putting working education systems in place will be given more attention. Your writing in this instance brings to attention the concerns of India’s educated populace; the more this issue is on people’s minds the more political pressure is placed on the governing body to work toward needed changes in your education system. Good work, Nita!

  2. July 11, 2007 11:31 am

    exactly… i have also written a lot about this very issue…
    For indian economy to grow at 10% p.a. yoy.. the educational system has to grow by atleast 15% p.a.
    higher education is like a book… anybody and everybody who has the pre-requisite skills and intelligence has a right to enroll into the course of his/her choice. by throttling the supply of seats we can never come out of the curse of eklavya.

  3. krenim permalink
    July 11, 2007 3:43 pm

    Umm providing quality education is more than just new institutes and buildings, human capital takes an awfully long time to accumulate. Notice how the UK has only a score or so of good higher education institutes. IITs quite frankly aren’t world class, its the only game in town for a bright indian and thus attracts bright indians and teaches them engineering but the value addition/research per se is nowhere near world class. How many nobel prizes? How many path breaking publications?

    As for the lower end (mass schooling etc) I am afraid the tax to GDP ratio is too little to have comprehensive education for all i.e there just isn’t the money.

    A more efficient way would be to concentrate india’s population in finite geographic areas where education and health care can be provided. It must be awfully difficult to find teachers willing to work in remote villages of Bihar for instance.
    But then since this isn’t china I presume you can’t just herd people here though its probably for their own good.

  4. krenim permalink
    July 11, 2007 4:29 pm

    [[Why are the Indians living abroad not coming back in droves?]]
    Why should they if they are comfy where they are now?
    Come on! Europe lost a generation’s best minds to America after WW 2 we are none the worse for it.The vast majority of Europeans settled in the states for good and this is one first world country to another emigration.
    And what makes you think that the indians will just fit right in after they move from a first world country to a third world country.
    For gods sake think of the poor kids who have never seen beggars on the street, sweat it out in the Indian summer, don’t know what a power cut is etc etc, my friend (an indian emigree) had the harrowing experience of being dragged to India by his parents who wanted an indian cultural experience for their dear son.
    If you think I’m a bit arrogant/look down on the indian way of life (I don’t btw) I wish you would read some of his e mails 🙂

  5. July 11, 2007 4:54 pm

    I am perfectly aware of the dislike and discomfort that some NRI’s and Indian Americans/British Asians can have for India. We are all aware of that here as almost every family in India seems to have someone abroad, the middle classes I mean. Why, I myself have been at the recieving end of some shit about India – from my own relatives! 🙂
    I do not care for that kind of attitude because I believe that these people have not built the west. Your ancestors have, and the Indians are simply enjoying the benefits. Instead of criticising, these people can jolly well come here and try to fix things.
    I can understand someone like you being arrogant, but if someone of Indian origin speaks like that, it gets my hackles up.
    So what I am asking is for patriotism, and yes, there are people like that too. May their tribe increase. 🙂
    At the same time its a free country, every has a right to live where they want! But I don’t want to hear some nonsense about India from people who have long gone and have no intention of coming back.
    Basically I like to see things in a way problem solving kind of way, not a putting down kind of way if you know what I mean.

  6. Phantom permalink
    July 11, 2007 5:05 pm

    I have always maintained that indian society suffers from a very idolatory mentality, one that prefers to bask in the glory of the few iconic successes, rather than come to face with the grim reality of the mainstream. We idolise the one tendulkar, the few IIT’s and IIMs, the one bangalore, hyd, bbay, delhi……and in doing so we ignore the fact that this success and quality is not at all ubiquitious, not at all uniform and not at all indicative of he true performance of the country as a whole.

    Take all the elite universities – the IITs, IIM, REC’s, Bits Pilani, the St Stephens, St Xaviers etc… all, these represent the very best of the indian tertiary sector, and in all, they would not be graduating more than 80,000 students each year. India is geared to graduate btwn 1.5m and 1.8m graduates this year….so thats less than 5% of the country’s graduate pool that actually gets what can be termed even close to a world class education.

    And make no mistake….the calibre of the IIT/Pilani/REC grads is not so much on account of the cutting edge education, facilities, research….its on account of the fact that the incoming students are the academic powerhouses of the country (to have made the shortlist in the super extreme competetetive entrance exam would have required higher than average intellect combined with extremely hard preparation and top academic stamina) to begin with. True, the academic standards of these institutions is geared towards pushing the intellectual rigour of the students, but it isn;t exactly geared at encouraging independent thought, innovation, independent research etc. Moreover, the facilities at even the top IIT’s are nowhere near what one would expect from a leading national institute. Students have to often share textbooks etc.

    Above is the state of affairs at the leading institutes. The lesser elite institutions have en even lesser focus on genuine research, practical academia, project-based assessments, holistic classroom particapation and discussion. I was appaled at the quality of undergraduate education my frreinds are getting from some of the top colllages within Bombay University, and also from Bangalore University, both of which are 2 of the better regarded systems in the country.

    Even the top syllabus of the country – the ICSE and CBSE for secondary schooling, isn’t geared at promoting a genuine thought process within the students. It focusses more on WHAT they know, as oppposed to testing their genuine understanding of the content.

    A review conducted by a well known research firm outlined that many multinationals feel that less than 20% of the graduate pool in india has what can be termed as globally acceptable skills and knowledge, to successfully enter the corporate market. This means that almost 80% of the graduating pool does not graduate with the kind of skills, knowledge and educational empowerment that a degree is meant to impart.

    its not a blame game here. As Indians, we need to realise that a chain’s only as strong as the weakest link. The country will be far more productive if the majority of the graduates get an average level quality (by global standards) of education, as compared to a tiny minority getting top class education (and that is top class by indian standards, not to global standards).

    India is a very young country, 50% of the country is aged 27 and less. That is a lot of potential students – school, undergrad and graduate.

  7. Phantom permalink
    July 11, 2007 5:46 pm

    Nita – i hadn’t completely read ur article before posting my initial post, so am posting some more comments here regarding NRI’s and coming back to India.

    As an NRI (non resident indian), I often discussed the dyanmic and pros/cons of going back to India with my relatives and NRI friends. I have the following theories.

    1] NRI’s have always been returning back home, for as long as indians have been migrating. Up until say 10 years ago, these returning NRI’s were mostly driven by the desire to spend life in their home country/state/city/village/community, desire to be close to family (aged parents has been a particularly strong driver). In many cases, the NRI’s made enough money overseas to afford them a very lavish lifestyle in India, esp with the much lower cost of living (this is up until 10 years ago). Also, returning NRI’s got a lot of pampering from relatives and the local community, on account of having seen the world etc. So despite the much lower earning potential, they were happy to return home.

    2] Over the past 10 years or so, with the economic boom and all, salaries and earnign potential in india are increased immensely. This presents many NRI professionals with a very good opportunity to earn a pretty substantial salary in india, which often, even despite the much increased cost of living, still affords them a lavish lifestyle. The perks many get are also attractive (housing, car, driver, etc). The majority of people will still earn far less in US$ terms, but suddenly now, the financial compromise that is needed to be made, relative to beyond 10 years ago, is far less, which makes the decison to come back much easier. And of course, the other benefits of returning are all there too, the ability to be with family, partake in your native culture etc.

    3] In bbay, delhi, bangalore chennai, hyd, pune, gurgaon a lot of facilities have sprung up that allow NRI’s to lead a very westernised lifestyle – new housing complexes that feature the latest design and comforts that one would expect in any townhouse in LA or appt in London, international schools with an internationalised curriculum and a large returned-NRI student population, malls offering the same brands and products as overseas – basically its relatively easier and feasible now to live a westernised lifestyle than it was earlier.

    The above reasons certainly explain why so many NRI’s have been returning over the past decade. However, a lot of them don’t return too and probably won’t. End of the day, India is a fabulous place to be if you’re making lots of money (through a top job or successful business) cos then u can live in the nice suburbs, afford a driver, cook, maid….and basically live the sort of lavish plush lifestyle that would take lots more money and time to accomplish overseas. Every returning NRI doesn’t get the kind of salary/earnings to afford this kind of lifestyle.

    Lots of NRI’s will still find it hard to adjust to the traffic, pollution, bureaucracy, poverty, middle-class materialism, constant bickering and nosy involvement by relatives and friends. etc. No matter how much $$$ u make in india, u still have to face the same traffic, and still see the same hugely convoluted double lifestyle and contrasts of extreme wealth vs the rampant poverty. To some, this is too much to handle.

    Personally, I like to think of a middle ground – perhaps live overseas, but engage professionally or commercially with the indian market….live the best of both worlds.

    But yea – I do see massive changes happening within the country everytime I go back. The returning NRI’s are surely helping to bring in elements of western systems, professionalism, systematic processes etc. U can see this clearly in the IT and BPO sector, which has been allowed to grow and develop with very little interference from the govt and bureaucracy, and these sectors feature globally top notch infrastructure, work ethics, processes and structure, and all of this results in huge efficiencies and commercial success. Jai Hind !!!! 🙂

  8. July 11, 2007 6:24 pm

    Thanks for the detailed comment Phantom. Actually I had no idea that you were an NRI, I thought you were a British citizen? An NRI is someone who has Indian citizenship.

  9. July 11, 2007 7:00 pm

    @ krenim,
    //Why should they if they are comfy where they are now?//.
    That was indeed arrogant and the lines after that were more arrogant than that. If the people who have migrated feel that way about India why do they expect our embassies to help them out when the are in trouble. During the Iraq-Kuwait crisis I distinctly remember NRI’s cursing Indian embassy not doing enough for them. Perhaps they are also forgetting that Indian education system is highly subsidised and the higher education they recieved before leaving India was subsidised too.

  10. Phantom permalink
    July 11, 2007 8:15 pm

    I have the citizenship of the country whwre I live, as well as the OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India), so for all intents and purposes I have dual citizenship. I can do pretty much everything that anyone with a regular indian passprt/citizenship can, except for voting, buying agricultural land, some kinds of restricted land.

    Anyway, i consider myself to be AS Indian as anyone living in India, however I also identify with my resident country, so duality is the name of the game for me 🙂

  11. July 13, 2007 7:32 am

    The government unfortunately seems more keen on reserving quotas for more and more sections of the population, rather than increasing the quality and throughput of the education system as a whole.

    Your comments about NRIs reminded me of the film Swadesh…the film touched me a lot, but I didn’t find many takers for it.

  12. July 18, 2007 1:57 am

    The only thing I could never understand is why many middle class people in India want to have westernised lifestyle. There is nothing wrong to live a normal Indian life in India, that is to speak in their own language, dress normally ( I have seen girls in leather jackets and skirts in Chennai). Why speak in english with your own cousin? When they come abroad they talk so much about Indian culture and complain how spoiled rotten the west is. If any returning NRI wants to only have a westernised lifestyle after returning then why return ? What India needs now is to let the young people think for themselves. We have to grow out of the myth that older people are wiser and let young people choose their way of life, without always telling them what is right and wrong. The other side of the bank is always green.

  13. July 18, 2007 7:22 am

    Well, I feel that people do not choose a westernised way of life consciously, unless they go abroad for example where one might deliberately choose to wear jeans even though one may be more comfortable in a salwar kameez. But where India is concerned I feel that the vast majority of those who choose to live a western lifestyle (I assume again dress) its because they like it, feel free in it. As for language, those who study in english medium schools and live away from their home state generally speak in english because they feel more comfortable doing it. But even then I find that a lot of people are Indian at heart….dress etc is very superficial you know. Today if I see someone dressed in tight jeans I know they may not have western values at all..
    in any case what are western values? I for one admire the west in many ways, their hard work, their respect for manual labour, the status of women etc.
    I agree with you that the young in India need to think for themselves..but remember that this itself is a western concept to a large extent. Taking money from your parents for example is looked down upon in western culture…living with your parents after a certain age is also looked down. Thinking for oneself and financial independence go together. Parents cannot allow their son to think his own thoughts, if he keeps taking money from them! Its a very very complex issue…

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