Despite low science and engineering student graduation rates, and widely varying education quality, India rapidly is becoming a global R&D hub, with a momentum and on a scale akin to what it accomplished in information technology services.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation released a study that shows that India's private sector has overcome its education system's deficiencies by adapting and perfecting the best practices of Western companies and integrating them through innovative workforce training and development programmes.
The study asks whether it is time for the United States to learn from the experiences of its former disciple, India.
According to How the Disciple Became the Guru (http://www.kauffman.org/item.cfm?item=1118), conducted by Duke University's global engineering and entrepreneurship project team, Indian senior corporate executives have implemented company-wide workforce development initiatives that have dramatically improved productivity and performance. They have, in essence, developed a surrogate education system by helping to create, for a variety of industries, skilled labor pools capable of handling very complex work.
The study has broad implications for the United States, long the world's workforce development guru. 'To maintain its global competitive edge, the United States should perhaps learn from India,' said Robert Litan, vice president of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. 'America needs to couple its education system–among the best in the world–with an investment in upgrading workforce skills. In a global economy, this approach is critical to remaining innovative and competitive over the long term.'
The paper details the best practices of 24 companies in emerging sectors in India that have managed to grow rapidly despite skills shortfalls and talent shortages. These companies have created comprehensive and integrated systems of talent development and management that combine recruitment, training and development, performance management and employee-engagement initiatives. Indian competencies in technology have helped them not only to develop systems by which to deliver online learning, but also to conduct skills forecasting; track and analyse recruitment and attrition data; conduct online performance reviews; communicate with employees; and share knowledge. Indian companies are also finding innovative ways to collaborate with educational institutions to develop necessary talent pools for the country.
'Because they are investing in, cultivating and empowering their employees, Indian companies can hire bright but largely inexperienced talent and train them to be world-class engineers and scientists,' said Vivek Wadhwa, executive-in-residence for the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and fellow at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, and the study's lead author. 'India is proving what a nation can achieve when it invests in upgrading the skills of its workforce.'
The Harvard International Review will spotlight the report in its October 2008 journal and has posted a synopsis of the study at http://www.harvardir.org/articles/1752/.