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Engineering Freshers Upskill For Roles In Emerging Technologies As Tech Jobs Dry Up

Students from tier-II and tier-III cities and colleges look for reskilling opportunities as employer demands change.

By Anjali Palod
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Aditi Tagalpallewar, a fourth-year engineering student from Pune, worked at a sustainable agriculture products and solutions company UPL in May 2023 as a cybersecurity intern. During her internship that was part of her course — a B.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering with a specialisation in Information Security from Vellore Institute of Technology —  Tagalpallewar realised that the knowledge and skills she was picking up in college would not be enough to find her a job.

Tagalpallewar told The Core, “Colleges can teach you the principles and help you explore niches within your field. But once you start working, companies expect you to have a higher level of understanding and knowledge.”

By July 2023, she got two certifications  — Azure Fundamentals from Microsoft and Cybersecurity from ISC2 — which helped her land a pre-placement offer for the position of cybersecurity analyst at UPL.

India’s information technology (IT) industry, which was among the highest recruiters of engineers, saw a big shift in 2023. With their businesses impacted because of the global macroeconomic headwinds after the Covid-19 pandemic, many of them had to cut costs by downsizing operations. Most tech companies skipped campus placements too. 

A Teamlease report published in December 2023 claimed that of the 15 lakh engineers graduating this fiscal year, only 10% will be able to land a job. “This indicates a 40-45% cut back on hiring, especially freshers,” said Krishna Vij, Business Head at Teamlease Digital, an IT staffing firm. 

The gap in hiring by IT companies is being filled by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain, cloud computing, the internet of things, and machine learning, among others, providing jobs to freshers. However, while the nature of jobs that engineering graduates are being offered has changed, college curriculums haven’t. This is a problem for newcomers because there's a gap between what Indian engineering colleges teach and what employers are looking for.

“The overall combination of skills which is required to enter into cybersecurity or an AI for that matter is very different from a regular Java or a SAP engineer that you(companies) are hiring,” Vij told said.

“What we need is right skilling, that is, skilling according to the needs of the employer. Instead of going learner-up, we have to go employer-down,” Navanit Samaiyar, who heads FutureSkills Prime – a Nasscom and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) collaborative skilling platform – told The Core

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What Are Companies Looking For? 

The uncertain global environment has impacted the bottom line of India’s tech giants. These companies are now desperately trying to bag big projects in emerging technologies. To make that happen, companies need skilled engineers and are looking for AI engineers, machine learning experts, and cybersecurity personnel, among others. “It's a people industry and if you don't have the right talent then you are not competitive enough in the market,” Samaiyar said.

While rudimentary tech talent can be found quite widely in India, skill-focused and trained professionals aren't as readily available in freshers. Generic tech jobs like Java developers, SQL developers, and system admin have been low in demand while AI/ML engineers, blockchain developers, quantum computing engineers, and AR/VR developers are roles that companies are hiring for. 

The skills required for both jobs are vastly different too. While programming skills (Java and Dot Net), strong database knowledge of Oracle/SQL, and basic networking concepts would suffice for generic tech jobs, those looking for a job in emerging tech would require knowledge of cloud computing fundamentals, basic security principles, data analysis tools, quantum computing knowledge (advanced roles) and strong analytical skills as well.


According to Krishna Vij, Business Head – IT Staffing, TeamLease Digital

Engineering colleges in India are not generally known for including technological skill advancements in course curriculums. As per a 2018 survey by FutureSkills, for every 20 jobs that were there in the industry, there was probably just one person coming out of the education ecosystem who was a perfect fit for the job. 

As things stood before the hiring hiatus, companies hired freshers and trained them for six months to deploy them on future projects. Due to cost-cutting measures,  companies don’t want to spend these initial six months on training and skilling them. That leaves students and fresh graduates with two options - to pick whatever jobs are offered to them, often at lower pay packages, or to upskill. 

How Are Short Courses Filling This Gap? 

The lack of an updated curriculum and the decreasing demand for generic engineers have led students to seek knowledge and certifications in emerging technologies outside of their colleges. 

Many like Tagalpallewar are looking for certification in emerging technologies for two major reasons - one is to deepen their knowledge and the other is to be more employable than their peers. Futureskills Prime, a platform set up by Nasscom and MeitY, is an aggregator of such courses. Since the platform went live in 2021, 1.6 million people have signed up on it and the platform has done almost a billion learning hours, Samaiyar said.

Around 80-85% of these sign-ups are by students looking for fresh employment and of these students, 90% were from tier-II and tier-III, cities as well as colleges. “There is a message there that the tier-I cities and the top-ranking colleges take care of themselves. They have enough resources and support but there’s a lot of hunger to learn in the smaller cities and colleges too,” Samaiyar said. 

While these courses and certifications can be an additional cost for students ranging anywhere between Rs 500 - Rs 50,000 per course, most students do not mind spending this money as they consider it an important investment. “We have understood that to remain in demand, being skilled is extremely important. If you’re only dependent on your college course, it’ll be difficult for you to clear interviews,” Tagalpallewar said.   

Demand For Emerging Technologies

Big tech giants like Infosys, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy Services have either completely skipped campus hirings or hired in meagre numbers this season. At campuses, they’ve been replaced by smaller start-ups, and companies from non-tech sectors like retail, healthcare, and logistics. Tagalpallewar said that when start-ups come for college placements, they have very specific skill sets that they look for in students, often around emerging technologies, as opposed to generic roles like app developers, software developers, or Java developers.

According to American software company ServiceNow, the rise of emerging technologies such as AI may create around 4.7 million new technology jobs in India, a Business Standard report stated. Another survey by Indeed, a global hiring platform, found that Indian employers are notably upbeat about AI's role in job creation, with over 85% expressing their optimism about AI generating new job opportunities within the next one to five years.

Despite all the optimism, emerging tech has started replacing certain job roles. In December 2023, Paytm laid off an undisclosed number of employees citing the success of their AI endeavours. “We will be able to save 10-15% in employee costs as AI has delivered more than we expected it to,” the company said in a statement.

“While AI may not replace you, someone who knows AI might just do that. Just like many other professions, to stay relevant in the tech sector one would need to constantly reskill and upskill to outrun these hiccups in the rapidly evolving tech hiring landscape,” Samaiyar said explaining the dichotomy.

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