Solving the IT graduate unemployment problem

Solid fundamentals, an ability to upgrade skills and an entrepreneurial spirit are some of solutions 

Employment: A group of young entrepreneurs launched an online real estate service, last week.

Their business (housing.bt) caters to those marketing or looking for real estate, and those searching for building repair and maintenance, and even home moving services.

For Arpan Lepcha, an IT graduate, managing the housing service will be his third ongoing job, besides also working as a software developing consultant for two international companies.

Arpan teamed up with Jigme Tenzin, a business graduate after they found they were both attempting to find a solution to problems in the housing market.

A team was formed, an interest free loan obtained from the Loden-DHI fund, and the business created.

Jigme provided the idea and Arpan the technical knowledge.

Arpan is an example of what an IT graduate in Bhutan can achieve: he is both employed and an entrepreneur.

Not all IT graduates in Bhutan have been as successful. There are currently 342 IT university and 15 IT diploma graduates who are unemployed.

As a result, demand for IT degrees and diplomas has dropped, causing IT programmes to shrink in response. With the government hoping to lure more international IT firms to Bhutan, there are concerns that we may not have the workforce.

The government argues that there is ample demand for IT graduates.

A Bangladeshi software development firm at the IT park, Southtech, recently advertised slots for 50 employees but was able to recruit only 25 despite getting around 130 applicants. Southtech business development manager, Om Bikiram said applicants lacked analytical skills, which indicated a mismatch in what skills and what a software firm requires.

 

The mismatch

There is consensus between the private sector and educational institutions that a stronger link between them has to be established. However, there is also a view that academia not completely bow to industry’s demands.

The Royal Institute of Management (RIM) ICT department head, Karma Nidup, said potential employers like the government and private sector should publicize their IT human resource plans in advance so that supply can be prepared.

The RIM is currently reviewing its IT diploma course and is yet to decide on whether to reduce slots.

He said that educational institutes can work with industry to develop trainings for short-term requirements but added that undergraduate programmes must focus on making students understand theories and concepts which enable them to appreciate knowledge and analytical skills, while employers must be willing to invest in training those who have these capabilities rather than wanting graduates that come with a ready made specific skill set.

Sherubtse college’s head for mathematics and IT, R Balamurugan, agreed for a closer interaction between the institutes and industry. “Then only we can prepare our students with skills that employers require,” he said. Sherubtse has reduced its intake for IT students from 60 to 30 this year.

Undergraduate IT students at Sherubtse are taught the basics in their first three years, while specific skills like programming are provided if students opt for a fourth honour’s year.

Balamurugan pointed out that it is usually private sector companies that should provide training on specific skills required.

Local IT firm, iTechnologies’ Hari Kafley agreed that the educational institutes should focus on building fundamentals. “Companies only commercialize,” he said, adding that almost all technological advances are a result of research and development in educational institutes.

Arpan Lepcha said that the IT curriculum at the College of Science and Technology has kept up with the times as students go through courses on mobile and web app development, among others.

Department of Information Technology and Telecom’s economist, Chencho said that a strategy is being developed to link the two so that industry requirements are met. “However this is quite a challenging task as we cannot presume what type of industry demand will be there, that we can nurture now in colleges and universities,” he said.

 

Skills being sought

“The only skill that is of paramount importance to us is the ability to code,” said Arpan Lepcha, who is the technical head for Swiss FDI, Selise.

“We do not look for any shiny degrees or certifications, nor do we have any strict educational requirements,” he added. “We look for candidates who can code and are aware of fundamental algorithms and data structures.”

He said that IT graduates should have a very solid understanding of programming fundamentals, and should master at least one language.

He pointed out that the problem with IT graduates today is that they are content with whatever understanding or skills they picked up during education and there is no interest to explore further and learn more. He said this is apparent from the low number of people who attend talks given by eminent scholars at the IT park. “What we lack is the hunger to learn.”

He also pointed out that the need to upgrade oneself is more urgent today as competition is not limited by borders.

Hari Kafley said that individual effort to upgrade skills by exploiting the internet is vital. “Students with steep learning curve and right attitude towards jobs will always be employed,” he said.

 

Employment Vs Entrepreneurship

“Private sector jobs in the country are limited and may not absorb all the graduates,” R Balamurugan said. “This makes the students to shy away from opting for this course,” he added. “Unless the private IT sector grows, IT courses will continue to be the least preferred.”

However, Hari Kafley, pointed out that the largest employer of IT graduates today is the government and according to his estimates, less than five percent of IT graduates are absorbed by it. On top of this, he said the private sector is highly dependent on the government to sustain. As a result, he said IT graduates should be self-employing and create employment rather than looking for jobs.

However, he also pointed out that foreign direct investment in Bhutan is picking up and may provide more IT career options.

ScanCafe is the most successful FDI at the IT park employing upwards of 400 Bhutanese youth. While the company does not specially look for IT graduates, its CEO, Naren Dubey said entrepreneurship is the solution. “We need a few young Bhutanese to take the lead rather than wait for the large IT industry players from India to come to Bhutan,” he said. “All we need is a proof of concept; just like ScanCafe started with humble beginnings in Bhutan in the ITES (information technology enabled services) sector.”

The young group of entrepreneurs who launched their business last week are such an example.

“Employment is not restricted to geographical boundaries,” Arpan Lepcha said.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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