The APJ Abdul Kalam Kerala Technological University has initiated the “Work As You Study” (WAYS) program. This is in tune with the Chief Minister's plan to upgrade the human resource capacity of the state to make Kerala a sought-after destination for leading global technology businesses.
“Unemployability” of the fresh graduates has been plaguing our education system severely for almost a couple of decades now. In the rapidly changing industry environment, especially the tech sector, the “study now and work later” model fails.
To adopt all the latest technologies into the curriculum is not only impossible but also detrimental. The engineering education system must not become only a limited skill development program catering to current requirements of the industry. It should equip the students with the core engineering knowledge base and the fundamental attributes that a lifelong learner needs to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
However, familiarisation with the latest technological tools is crucial for a great start of the career. While the existing programs like internships and industry-connected projects attempt to address this issue, their impact is limited severely by the constraints in time and scope.
The tangible beneficial transformation the programme will facilitate for the different stakeholders in the engineering education ecosystem is along these lines.
With the WAYS program, both professional practise and workplace familiarisation is seamlessly integrated into education. The student gets the opportunity to see engineering knowledge in a real-world application. They can try their hand at the application of their learning and attempt knowledge creation adhering to industrial quality standards.
This would situate the learning in the workplace context and reinforce it. It cannot be imparted in a classroom or a simulated lab environment. Participating in the industry legitimately allows the student to develop the important disciplined self and financial management skills that are required for a successful professional life.
WAYS will address all three major components necessary to inculcate self-motivation for the student namely autonomy, competence building toward mastery and a deeper sense of purpose.
The WAYS program allows the industry to be directly involved in skilling their future workforce. The interview process has now been scientifically proven to be rather ineffective in identifying suitable candidates for available positions. It takes longer processes like internships to identify and develop prospective employees who will be the right fit. WAYS facilitates this. The industry can examine the readiness and competence of the students through the continuous channel.
Equally importantly, the companies can tap into the intellectual capital available on campuses to conduct the R&D and suitable production modules of their business. Campus-based startups will benefit from the available student workforce and industry interaction.
Highly qualified faculty focused merely on teaching duties is an inefficient use of the human resource. Through their involvement in WAYS, faculty can run effective R&D and consultancy projects for the industry.
Such professional practises from the faculty will elevate engineering college campuses into dynamic communities of practice akin to our best medical colleges which are world-class treatment and research facilities as well as educational institutions.
Such an environment facilitates direct exposure to industry use cases for the faculty if they also lead activities of these centres. It can lead to meaningful and effective experiential learning avenues.
The Colleges and The University
EWYL can serve as the antidote to the Industry-Academia disconnect. Campuses can be developed into mini-research and tech parks. We have several international and national examples of such hugely successful programs to learn from like IIT Madras’s TeNet or Stanford Research Park. Innovative research and product development on campus will add much needed practical facets to the education that the examination-based system cannot provide.
Accelerating productivity is imperative for both our state and our nation in the COVID-transformed economy. Bringing the student population into the workforce, even part-time, is important to spur growth now and secure it for the future.
Students can actively participate in local government projects and become well trained in the application of sustainable development principles. Equally important is the capacity building for self-employment that can come only with exposure to and interaction with workplace environments to ingrain habitual efficiency and the ethics of professional excellence.
(Dr Rajasree M S is the Vice-Chancellor of APJ Abdul Kalam Kerala Technological University and Dr Arun Surendran is the Principal of Trinity College of Engineering, Trivandrum)