Improving Employability Skills among Engineering Students
by Prem Kamble
Related Articles || Published in Journals

Published in 5 Journals
This article has been published as an academic paper in over 5 international management journals like Applied Computing eJournal, Labor: Human Capital eJournal, Human Resource Management & Organizational Behavior eJournal, Unemployment Insurance eJournal, etc.

Click here to see full list of journals with Issue date and Issue number.

I was given ready content from a US university and asked to conduct Employability Training to Engg. College students. As an industry professional, I found the content too theoretical and not effective. I created my own content and found an effective & fun way of improving employability.

Instead of cosmetic improvements in presentation style, personality development, language skills,etc., I found ways to make them internally and technically stronger, so that they succeed not only in their first interview after college, but through their entire career.


To develop the right employability skills of the students, it is essential to pinpoint the most crucial skills demanded by the industry and understand their significance
This article discusses enhancing employability skills among young individuals, with a specific focus on engineering students. It highlights the industry's skill demands, especially in the IT sector, and proposes methods to cultivate these skills among students to enhance their employability. The aim is to narrow the gap between industry requirements and educational institutions. With the IT boom, many students from all engineering streams chose a career in IT. This article is beneficial for students from any stream, engineering or otherwise, looking to pursue a career in IT.

Many employability training programs for college students focus on superficial enhancements such as presentation style, personality development, and language skills, aimed at impressing interviewers. However, as a Senior IT professional with over 30 years of experience, primarily as a CIO, the author believes that these superficial attributes hold less significance for candidates from technical backgrounds like engineering, especially within the IT domain.

Interestingly, what truly appeals to interviewers is not solely the candidate's personality or even their technical knowledge. It may seem counterintuitive to exclude technical knowledge from this equation, but the article will soon clarify why this perspective is valid. Drawing from extensive experience working with and mentoring numerous young professionals, the author asserts that due to rapid technological advancements, the technical knowledge becomes obsolete in no time. In this scenario, what are these other skills that the industry needs? The article delves into identifying and elucidating these critical skills.

This article introduces a more compelling, effective and interesting approach to enhance the employability of IT and other engineering students. The method outlined here not only prepares them for their initial employment post-college but also equips them to sustain their employability, skills, and relevance throughout their careers.

The article aims to identify these crucial skills and explain their significance. More importantly, it not only outlines a strategy for cultivating these skills in students early on but also demonstrates how this strategy was practically implemented to ensure tangible benefits for the students.

The training program is now accessible to students and colleges, featuring upgraded content, and is largely available free of charge. [Ref5:Employability Training]

What are the Required Skills and Why?

An Understanding of the IT Industry

To develop the right employability skills of the students, it is essential to pinpoint the most crucial skills demanded by the industry and understand their significance. This necessity for specialized skills is driven by the following specific characteristics of IT technology and the IT industry:
  • Continuous Evolution: Technology, especially IT, constantly evolves, improves, innovates, and renders previous knowledge redundant.
  • Vast and Dynamic Field: The IT domain is expansive and dynamic, making it impossible to master every aspect. This necessitates expertise in specific areas and emphasizes the importance of teamwork, where members contribute as per their special skills to achieve the team goals.
  • Rapid Technological Changes: Technology evolves swiftly, leading to the rapid obsolescence of knowledge acquired in college. Among all technologies, IT changes most rapidly. IT professionals must continuously update and upgrade their skills to remain relevant.
Are academic institutions adequately addressing industry demands? There are two primary challenges contributing to this gap:
  • Misalignment of Skills: There exists a disparity between the skills demanded by the industry and the curriculum offered by colleges. In countries like India, there is inadequate collaboration between academia and industry, leading to a mismatch in skillsets.
  • Rapid Technological Obsolescence: Even if colleges were to teach current relevant content, the rapid pace of technological advancement renders this knowledge outdated quickly. Hence, students must be equipped with skills to adapt to the constantly evolving industry requirements.

Do you need Extra Knowledgeable People?

A sound understanding of the IT industry, as discussed above, will reveal why IT knowledge is not rated so high on my priority. As mentioned before, the vastness of the IT field makes comprehensive expertise nearly unattainable. Moreover, even if one were to achieve such knowledge, the rapid pace of technological change renders it obsolete in no time. What is needed is the ability to engage in continuous learning, primarily through self-learning, exploration and experimentation, without any formal training.

Do you need Extra Intelligent People?

I once consulted for a software company whose CEO expressed a desire to enhance his recruitment process to attract top-notch candidates for software development. He believed that the best candidates were individuals with exceptionally sharp minds, capable of solving puzzles instantly, and held a strong belief in their intelligence and abilities. He wanted me to devise a test to identify such individuals. (See the full story at [Ref6: Finding the Best…])

In response, I questioned the necessity of recruiting individuals solely based on extreme intelligence for the IT industry. I expressed my lack of interest in testing for such skills, suggesting a broader approach to evaluating candidates' suitability beyond just intelligence.

The Required Skills

What kind of people and skills does the industry need if not the brightest, most intelligent, and knowledgeable minds?

Among all technologies, IT changes most rapidly. IT professionals must continuously upgrade their skills to remain relevant
Rather than solely assessing the knowledge and skills of candidates during interviews, I seek a specific mindset and the right attitude - one characterized by a commitment to learning, problem-solving, exploration, experimentation, and a willingness to learn through trial and error. In the realm of information technology, the breadth of knowledge required is so vast that no individual can know everything. This necessitates a willingness to delve deep, explore various avenues, experiment with different approaches, and engage in thorough reading and re-reading of manuals to arrive at solutions. Therefore, what is crucial is not the depth of knowledge but rather the ability to analyze, curiosity, enthusiasm, and the eagerness to explore and learn.

During candidate interviews, I provide them with a pen and paper and ask them to comprehensively describe a project they have worked on and are familiar with. This description should include detailing the project's objectives, problem statement, solution, and the underlying logic of the solution. I believe that establishing clear objectives is a pivotal initial step in any project, and maintaining focus on these objectives throughout the project lifecycle constitutes the second critical step. Everything else naturally falls into place from there.

The manner in which the candidate explains and articulates their ideas allows me to assess their level of engagement in understanding, analysing and executing the work they have undertaken, as well as their ability to communicate and reason clearly. Proficiency in language is of secondary importance to me compared to the capacity to explore various options, engage in discussions, and remain open to suggestions. I value individuals who demonstrate a willingness to explore new ideas and to consider alternative solutions instead of being fixated on a single approach.

Spirit of Inquiry and Self Learning

Even within my team, I don't expect individuals to "know", or to have instant answers to all queries; instead, I value their willingness to ponder over, explore possibilities, and come back with answers. When faced with a problem, I often ask younger team members if a technological solution exists. Some respond instantly with a "yes" or "no," while others express a need for time to investigate further.

Those who provide quick answers often do so out of a fear of appearing uninformed. They are worried that if they were to say, "I need to read, or refer to the manual", it might convey a lack of knowledge on their part. They think it would be as bad as saying, "I don't know".

I find it more satisfying when my team-member admits, "I don't know; I need to conduct research before providing an answer." This often involves consulting manuals, engaging with user groups, and exploring web articles.


Humility, demonstrated through the willingness to say, "I don't know; I need to investigate further," is a crucial quality in software professionals. In the IT realm, the ability to delve deep, research, and discover solutions outweighs simply possessing knowledge. The breadth of knowledge available necessitates being a "seeker" rather than a "know-it-all." This is why the sharp minds who consider themselves the best can face significant challenges; their lack of humility can hinder their ability to acknowledge gaps in their knowledge. The expansive field of IT can completely floor their ego.

The individual who provides the right solution is not necessarily the one who knows the best solution but rather the one with the attitude and determination to find the correct solution.

These skills can be cultivated in individuals who may initially appear ordinary. I have achieved extraordinary results with seemingly ordinary individuals. You can explore my real-life cases for more insight. [Ref4:Extraordinary Results...].

Strategy to Cultivate the Required Skills?

Moving on to the crucial question: how can these skills be developed to not only secure initial employment but also to remain employable and secure their place in their organization?

What is needed is the ability to engage in continuous learning, primarily through self-learning, exploration and experimentation, without any formal training
I gained clarity on this matter recently when a US-based company approached me to conduct employability training in Indian colleges. They requested me to deliver training sessions to students with a very short notice. I expressed the need for some more time to understand the requirements and prepare adequately, as I had experience in training corporate managers rather than college students. I was informed that preparation was unnecessary. The company provided ready-made content with PowerPoint slides from a reputable US university. My task was simply to select the content and deliver the lectures using the available slides, they said.

However, I was dissatisfied with the content from the US university. It seemed overly theoretical and not particularly relevant to engineering students, especially those in IT fields. I was forced to brainstorm and develop my own content for the training sessions.

I dedicated two nights to deeply ponder over the topic of making IT aspirants more employable. It was during this period of contemplation and examination that I had my eureka moment. I devised a unique and engaging method that diverged from conventional superficial tactics to impress interviewers, and it was a fun-filled method too! Instead of external cosmetic tricks, the method focused on enhancing internal and technical capabilities. The goal was for interviewers to be impressed by candidates' brilliance and confidence rather than their personality alone.

My approach not only facilitates securing the first job after college but also supports career progression by enabling individuals to rapidly acquire new skills, essential in today's fast-paced technological landscape.

The content and processes outlined in this paper are based on my original creations and continuous refinement as I delivered lectures. While particularly beneficial for the IT sector, the principles can be applied to other engineering disciplines as well [Ref5: Employability Training].

The overall strategy which I evolved to address the problem of employability of IT candidates had two parts:
  • The General Purpose Content: This consisted of introductory content which was delivered through PowerPoint slides (discussed in the next section)
  • The Key Strategies: There were mainly two strategies, which are explained in subsequent sections:
    • Encouraging "Just-Do-IT"
    • Encouraging "Bootstrap Learning"

My General Purpose Content

The content which I created for my training sessions is discussed in this section. However, the essence of my approach lies not just in the content but also in the training strategies, as listed above and elaborated upon in the subsequent sections. While developing skills is relatively straightforward, changing attitudes necessitates a well-thought-out strategy. The training is now accessible to students and colleges with enhanced content, primarily at no cost. [Ref5: Employability Training].

In my content, I outlined various specializations and career paths available to both IT and non-IT students. I highlighted the top technologies in demand in the market and elucidated the tangible skills and personal attributes required by the industry, as previously discussed.

Another crucial aspect of my content was also addressing the dilemma of students who may have chosen the Engineering/IT field under external pressure, especially from parents or peers, rather than personal interest. These students often feel trapped, unable to change their academic direction midway without losing significant time and effort. My content offered guidance on discovering alternative paths, opportunities, and roles within the IT industry to suit their likes and dislikes.

For example, those uninterested in technology could explore customer-facing positions like customer support. I recall a project manager who struggled with technical aspects. The company considered laying him before I took him into my team. I shifted him to customer support, and he turned out to be excellent in developing and maintaining customer relations.

The Key Strategy: "Just-Do-IT"

The essence of "Just-Do-IT" strategy lies in engaging in hands-on learning and self-exploration as much as possible
The key distinction of my training lies not in the aforementioned content but in the learning strategies, outlined in this and the next section. Taking inspiration from Nike's "Just Do It" motto, I coined a slogan "Just Do IT," with IT representing Information Technology. My learning strategy, termed the "Just-Do-IT Strategy," employs a technique called "Bootstrap Learning" (discussed in next section), aimed at fostering long-term excellence by cultivating internal strengths rather than focusing on superficial changes.

So, what exactly is the Just-Do-IT Strategy?

This strategy is founded on the following insights gained over my 30 years in the IT profession:
  1. In IT, you learn more by 'doing' than by reading.
  2. Anybody can learn by 'just doing it'. All you need is genuine interest and dedication.
  3. When you have learnt it yourself the hard way and completed projects with all seriousness, your confidence and skill will show in interviews, regardless of language proficiency.
Just-Do-IT strategy advocates beginning simple and small-scale projects and simply start building solutions independently as a hobby. It is recommended to commence this practice early in one's academic journey, but no later than the second year of engineering. The inherent allure of technology ensures that once you start, there is no stopping. You will be drawn to it like a magnet.

The individual who provides the right solution is not always the one who knows the best solution, but the one with the attitude and determination to find the correct solution
It is best if you can take up real-world problems and try to develop solutions, possibly using mobile application. Given the prevalence of mobile app development for practical challenges, this avenue offers substantial learning opportunities. In instances where real-life problems aren't readily apparent, hypothetical or test scenarios can be employed to create applications aimed at problem-solving. This practical approach is more effective than passive consumption of technological knowledge through reading.

There are two primary reasons for adopting the Just-Do-IT approach.

The first reason is the abundance of free tools available online to begin experimentation. All that is required is a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, which are commonplace among students. The internet offers a wealth of resources including development tools, manuals, references, tutorials, code examples, and ready-to-use downloadable code, facilitating the creation of solutions. Nowadays, the emergence of Artificial Intelligence bots to help you code makes it feasible to easily learn and develop applications for real-world challenges.

The second reason is the resilience of IT equipment during trial-and-error experimentation. The equipment does not break down or get damaged if you experiment, because in most projects, you would be dealing with the software and not the hardware. Unlike hardware, software components rarely get damaged. At most, you may encounter incorrect outcomes, computer hang-ups, or loops, but there is no risk of physical damage. Therefore, I encourage students to experiment freely without fear.

The essence of the Just-Do-IT strategy lies in engaging in hands-on learning and self-exploration as much as possible. You may take the help of friends and online support groups, but what is important is to 'just do it'. This approach transforms learning into an enjoyable and enriching experience.

I have effectively trained numerous fresh graduate trainees who had no prior computer knowledge, leading them through practical on-the-job training and engaging them straightaway in simple do-it-yourself projects. Explore my genuine success stories in the reference [Ref1: From Trainee to..].

Even when it comes to training experienced individuals on new technologies, I prioritized hands-on, project-based learning over theoretical instructions or classroom training. The project could be based on a real-life problem or a test case. For instance, one of my success stories detailed in the references illustrates how I transformed a group of idle employees, referred to as "sitting on the bench," (or employees waiting for new projects) into an expert group proficient in upcoming technologies [Ref2: From Bench to...].

The Key Strategy: "Bootstrap Learning"

Humility, demonstrated through the willingness to say, 'I don’t know; I need to investigate further,' is a crucial quality in software professionals
We saw what the "Just-Do-IT" strategy is. But what is Bootstrap learning strategy? I've coined the term "Bootstrap Learning" to describe a learning method that starts with an extremely simple project aimed at solving a basic problem. The Bootstrap learning strategy just adds a new dimension to the principles of the Just-Do-IT approach. Like Just-Do-IT approach, it advocates hands-on projects, but emphasizes on starting simple followed by gradual and step by step addition of complexity to these projects (akin to how computer operating system bootstraps to load the bare minimum code initially and then iterates to load more complex code into memory).

An example of the success of Bootstrap Learning can be seen in how I transformed a trainee into an expert in a relatively complex Computer Telephony Interface (CTI) technology, often used in call centres [Ref1: From Trainee to..]. Call centers use advanced phone equipments with log-in facilities and several buttons performing advanced functions. I tasked him with creating a simple test application for a call center, focusing solely on basic functions and no advanced features. The solution was expected to allow a call centre support executive to log-in into the phone, make a call, and close a call, all this without using the phone. All these operations were expected to be performed by the software application while working on the computer. Once he had mastered the basic features, more complex functions involving the operations of other buttons were gradually added to the project. This trainee soon became my go-to person for all CTI related technologies. He developed a complex add-on which could facilitate complete operations of the phone from the computer screen obviating the need of touching the phone.

You can read the detailed success story in [Ref1: From Trainee to..]. Another success story illustrating self-learning through real-world projects can be found in [Ref2: From Bench to...]).

Bootstrap Learning is a phased learning approach that proves to be significantly faster than other methods.

This strategy of "Just-Do-IT" and "Bootstrap Learning" offers the advantage of helping students explore various IT areas, enabling them to experiment with different technologies and determine their true interests. This process aids in overcoming the dilemma of selecting from a plethora of technology/skill options by identifying their passions, likes, and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses well in advance, and making an informed decision while choosing the right career of their liking.

Implementing the Strategy

Merely teaching a strategy is inadequate; the true benefits emerge only when the strategy is put into practice
I believe that merely teaching a strategy is inadequate; the true benefits emerge only when the strategy is put into practice. I knew that giving them a pep-talk about the advantages of self-learning and the 'Just-Do-IT' strategy wouldn't ensure that they really imbibe the ideas and put them into practice. The real question was, how could I motivate them to take action? How do I implement the strategy on ground right during the training?

To encourage active engagement, I employed two techniques. Firstly, I assigned group projects focusing on various technologies by forming groups. Their task was to scour the internet for free resources, references, tutorials, tools, development tools, etc. They were required to select a project title and present their findings to the class. This exercise not only encouraged them to dive into web research but also facilitated exploration of available tools - a crucial aspect of self-learning in technology.

Additionally and more significantly, I had asked the group right in the beginning of my training if there were some students who had pursued technology projects outside the academic curriculum as a hobby. Remarkably, some students had undertaken remarkable work independently, outside the college curriculum, driven solely by their interests. I invited these students to showcase and demonstrate their projects. I encouraged them to take the stage and deliver comprehensive presentations outlining the objectives of their projects (which was deemed crucial), the problem description, the proposed solution, and a detailed demonstration with an explanation of their solution.

These presentations offered several benefits:

Firstly, students had the opportunity to develop their confidence, conversational skills, presentation abilities, and public speaking prowess through their presentations. They learned how to articulate their projects in simple language and effectively respond to queries, skills that are invaluable in interview scenarios. Ability to explain a project clearly and logically answer questions about it during an interview is sure to impress the recruiters.

Secondly, the discussions during these presentations sparked new ideas among the students, fostering a collaborative and innovative environment.

Furthermore, these presentations had a profound impact on the rest of the students by encouraging them to overcome their self-doubts and embrace the "just do it" mindset. Witnessing their peers, who were not exceptionally brilliant, successfully complete projects, instilled confidence in others to believe "I CAN do it too." Additionally, they gained new ideas and inspiration to initiate their own projects.

This served as a practical example of applying knowledge and skills beyond the classroom setting, further motivating others to take initiative.

I emphasized the importance of taking college projects seriously and seizing every opportunity for hands-on learning. In group projects, I discouraged the tendency to let others do the work while one relaxes, urging each student to actively participate and contribute. I advised against purchasing ready-made projects which were easily available in the market, emphasizing the value of self-learning and initiative.

I am confident that students who engage in such hands-on projects through self-learning will stand out in their interviews and leave a lasting impression on the interviewers.

The Benefits

A person who begins practical problem-solving through self-learning gains a deep clarity that naturally translates into confident responses during interviews. This level of clarity and confidence is highly impressive to interviewers. A company would be too willing to hire a person who can be an instant starter, without the waiting time of extensive training. Interviewers are also reassured that such candidates can easily acquire new technologies in the future through self-directed learning.

Rather than focusing on superficial changes, window dressing or embellishments, this training approach focused on developing their technical acumen, confidence, inquisitiveness, ability to articulate analytically, and provide logical answers. The candidate's intelligence, smartness or proficiency in English becomes secondary in interviews in comparison.

The significant advantage for candidates is not limited to securing their first job; it extends throughout their career, enabling them to adapt to new technologies and remain relevant in the ever-evolving industry landscape.

Go Top

eJournals where this article has been published

This article has been published as a preprint paper in the following SSRN eJournals/Issues. You may need to login to site to view details of these journals. At this link at ssrn site, however, you can read the abstract of the paper and also download a pdf copy of the article. You do not need to log in to do so.

Go Top

Related Readings:

  Copyright 2020-24 Prem Kamble

comments powered by Disqus