5 ways India Inc. can tackle the IoT skill gap

With IoT units in India expected to see a 31-fold growth, reaching 1.9 billion by 2020, the biggest challenge now is to bridge the looming gap in the skilled workforce.

The Internet of Things has been identified as a gold mine of the future, and there’s a mad rush among Indian companies to earn a slice of the pie.

Gartner’s 2017 Hype Cycle shows that the market is witnessing the entry of local vendors in IoT, robotic process automation offerings, and machine-learning-based technologies.

Sounds great, but a massive shortage in skilled workforce stands in the way of India establishing itself as an IoT superpower.

CIO India’s conversation with industry leaders and the Dept. of Telecom at the IoT India Congress brought to light the deficit in IoT workforce, and what the country needs to do to bridge it.

As Prakash Mallya, MD–Sales and Marketing at Intel India puts it, for the perfect storm, skill building needs to happen at a pace like never before. We need to start creating a million jobs a month.

Focus on research and core engineering: Highlighting the dearth of core engineering talent in India, Bala Girisaballa, CEO-in-residence at Microsoft Accelerator says: "Where we clearly lack is that we've haven't built the core science talent in India. We've taken most engineering graduates coming out of colleges and made them software engineers, and after four years, we've made them managers. So after four years, these engineers are basically working on spreadsheets and managing projects."

“This is a classic example of peer-to-peer learning. These skills cannot be developed in a classroom setting.”

N Sivasailam

Additional Secretary – Dept. of Telecom

He adds on to say that most colleges in India are just finishing schools, and we've haven't really encouraged people to do masters or PhDs. So the talent in core material design or core electronics hasn’t been cultivated.

Shekhar Sanyal, country head and director of the Institution of Engineering and Technology says that there's a huge skill gap and the gap is going to widen as we go forward. There's currently a scramble to fill in that gap.

Stop focusing on software alone: Girisaballa reveals that one of the complex problems with IoT is the diversity of the talents that are needed. That's because in each use case, you need a variety of talent outside of just the software.

"I clearly see a challenge as we grow this ecosystem. I'm not worried about the software side of it at all. We've enough software engineers," he says.

What’s worrying is the fact that when you want to create a smarter fabric, you have to get into the material part of it. You have to understand the energy or the electrical side of it. Now, this where we need core engineering talent.

"We need to start producing more talent in the non-computer science, core engineering disciplines. This is where you see the US producing a lot of core engineering talent. For far too long we've over-indexed on the software side," says Girisaballa.

What we need to understand is that IoT has three crucial sets: the knowledge of hardware, software, and the analytics built around it. It's not like the IT/ITeS business where companies either focused on hardware or software.

"The Indian university system is still regressive, it's still thinking about Infosys days. We're still thinking about churning out software engineers and get them jobs," says Sanyal.

Develop an indigenous ecosystem: Highlighting the need for a platform that fosters innovation, Prakash Mallya, Intel India says that for us to jump onto the bandwagon, you need an indigenous ecosystem. “We need to start building skills around connectivity. And the opportunity cannot be harnessed by a single company.”

“There's a huge skill gap and the gap is going to widen as we go forward. There's currently a scramble to fill in that gap.”

Shekhar Sanyal

Country Head and Director, Institution of Engineering and Technology

Sanyal emphasizes on the fact that right now formal universities are not doing enough for training students around IoT. “The working environment is focusing on on-the-job training and trying to get people skilled around IoT," he says.

Train the trainers: A challenge prevalent all over the globe, and not just in India is the fact that there just aren’t enough resources to impart skills around IoT.

A part of the reason is that the IoT ecosystem is still currently under development. And this is where industries need to step up and impart training to students in universities.

“If you’re targeting to launch IoT systems in India two years from now, you need to start preparing now. And even before that, you need to train the trainers,” says TV Ramachandran, president, Broadband India Forum.

Seconding this take, N Sivasailam from the Dept. of Telecom says: “This is a classic example of peer-to-peer learning. These skills cannot be developed in a classroom setting.”

However, Girisaballa points out that the industry can only provide use cases, and cannot alone bridge the gap. It’s an ecosystem that needs to be developed, and that starts with the academia.

Capitalize on the startup, SI ecosystem: Based on the interaction with the thought leaders, one fact that stood out amidst the challenges is that India has all the necessary ingredients to develop the ideal ecosystem for IoT.

In Girisaballa’s words: "I'm really excited about these developments as India is in a unique position. This is because we've got MNCs here, we've got the third largest startup ecosystem, and one of the largest system integrator ecosystems in the world. And IoT requires all of these ecosystems to work together."

Reflecting this optimism, Sivasailam says that India, especially Bangalore, is home to the perfect infrastructure needed to foster IoT growth.