'It's time for U.S. to learn from Indian R&D'

'It's time for U.S. to learn from Indian R&D'

By SiliconIndia   |   Friday, 25 July 2008, 03:13 Hrs
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Bangalore: So far, while the U.S. played the guru in engineering education and training, India was on the disciples' side. But now the time has come for the guru to learn from its disciple, so writes Vivek Wadhwa, Wertheim Fellow at the Harvard Law School and an executive in residence at Duke University.

A new report, co-authored by Wadhwa for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation titled 'How the disciple became the Guru', reveals that Indian industry isn't relying on India's education system to gain an edge, and instead, it has developed a surrogate education system that can turn workers with weak educational backgrounds into world-class R&D specialists.

India graduates around 200,000 engineers a year, though the quality of the students varies widely. India's main tech trade group, Nasscom, says that only half of these new graduates are employable. India also graduates 20,000 master's degree holders and fewer than 1,000 PhDs in engineering. By contrast, each year U.S. universities confer 130,000 bachelor's, 50,000 master's, and 12,000 PhDs in engineering.

Yet, the research at Duke University has shown that India is rapidly becoming a global R&D hub in several industries. Its scientists are doing sophisticated drug discovery for Big Pharma. Its engineers are developing next-generation networking equipments for several IT companies, building auto bodies, dashboards, and power trains for vehicle manufacturers.

The R&D jobs that result in these breakthroughs usually require advanced degrees. If one goes by the graduation numbers, India's R&D machine should be imploding, not expanding.

In order to become such a R&D hub, Indian industry had to rethink the way it recruited, trained, developed, and retained its workforce.

The report finds out that, in the recruitment front, as resumes and educational degrees can fail to reflect the true aptitude, potential and competence of job applicants, leading Indian companies now hire for ability and aptitude rather than only specialized technical skills. Instead of hiring only from top engineering universities, technology companies recruit from second- and third-tier colleges.

The companies in the country invest substantial time, money, and effort in training. Even the most senior executives participate in training new employees. The companies have built dedicated learning centers, and some employ hundreds of training staff.

The companies mandate that employees receive between one and three weeks of training a year in areas where they are weak. Many companies tie salary increases and promotions to the completion of such training.

Many companies also offer extensive management training, internally and externally through MBA-type programs. Moreover there are sophisticated systems that provide frequent feedback to the employees and allow employees to provide feedback on their managers.

The author of the report suggests that U.S. can learn and incorporate these lessons from India as it rethinks how to train and develop its workforce to maintain its global competitive edge. "U.S. companies have long played the guru. Perhaps the time has come for the guru to learn from a disciple," he says in a BusinessWeek article.

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