Geospatial Skill Development in India – Challenges & Recommendations
The adoption and implementation of Geospatial data and technologies is now considerably faster and wider than in previous decades. The Government is also showing keenness towards Geospatial tools and technology, evident from conducive policies, public-private engagements, and adoption in national and state-level development projects.
The focus of both the industry and the government now should be to attain and surpass global benchmarks. This requires further convergence of geoinformatics with modern technologies like data science, analytics, artificial intelligence, BIM, and blockchain, which in turn requires new skills and abilities among geospatial professionals.
The need of the hour is to intensify efforts and reform Geospatial skill development to produce the next generation of future-ready Geospatial resources both on the supply (industry) and demand (user) sides.
Existing Challenges with Geospatial Skilling and Education in India
Delivering his address on ‘Strategies for Developing Geospatial Skillsets’ at the India Geospatial Leadership Summit 2022, Dr Debpriya Dutta, Head – SEEDS, Department of Science and Technology noted, “If we look at the education pyramid, it essentially comprises three tiers – awareness, knowledge, and skills. While we have managed to developed awareness and knowledge rapidly over decades, it is now time to focus on the skill component.”
With the Geospatial industry now witnessing a paradigm shift in applications from planning and visualization to efficient decision-making, monitoring, and overall governance, some pressing gaps are staring the industry in the face.
Acute Demand-Supply Gap for High Calibre Professionals
Shri Rajesh Chandra Mathur, Advisor at Esri India and Former President at AGI talked at IGLS-2022 about the importance of both depth and breadth of technical knowledge for Geospatial professionals, and its lack thereof in the current climate.
“The Geospatial ecosystem in India has three kinds of role players,” Mr Mathur elaborated. “At the bottom of the pyramid are programmers, analysts, and configurators, and this tier needs to have knowledge of core software and advanced programming languages. The next tier comprises solution architects, and image and database analysts, who need to be equipped with specialized understanding of system design, web IT and cloud infrastructure, as well as wider Geospatial understanding.”
“At the top of the pyramid we have program and project managers responsible for designing and integration of large enterprise systems. These professionals need to have rich domain as well as cross-domain expertise because they are the ones communicating with high-level stakeholders, whether users, system integrators, or fellow industry representatives,” Mr Mathur added.
Unfortunately, there is acute shortage of high-calibre professionals across all these tiers currently. As per an estimate derived by Geospatial World in 2018, the total skilled manpower deployed in the industry in 2018 was around 2,51,000, set to grow by almost 4 times by 2025. Moreover, there is an urgent need of professionals who are equipped with knowledge about current and emerging tech trends like AI/ML, IoT, blockchain, big data, and so on.
We can also add the consistent problem of high levels of attrition in the sector, similar to mainstream IT, which is further widening the demand-supply gap for the Geospatial spectrum.
Significant Skill Gaps at Entry Level
It is commendable how educational institutions have been shaping skilled manpower to support industry initiatives over the past few decades, while the industry has exclusively focused on shaping growth, innovation, and adoption of Geospatial technologies in the country.
And yet, while students stepping out from colleges into the industry understand the Geospatial spectrum, they are not equipped with knowledge of constantly evolving tools, sub-systems and integrations, or knowledge of IT, cross-domains, and emerging tech trends.
Course curriculums have not kept pace with these developments, and companies must spend additional resources to train entry-level professionals separately. Besides, innovation thinking is yet to be institutionalized across all states of university education in the field.
Pedagogy is far from mainstream
Only 22% of all Indian universities today offer PhD programs in Geospatial technology, and this ratio has remained stagnant for quite some time. The situation worsens as one proceeds to lower levels in the hierarchy, with only 79 universities in India offering a master’s course in the stream, and only 5 universities offering undergraduate programs.
Lack of advocacy by the industry about the scope, benefits, and applications of Geospatial is also to blame. Geospatial courses are hardly the first, second, or third choice for undergraduate students, resulting in lesser than desired quality of students opting for the course.
Resistance to Change
When it comes to user organizations, a pyramidal hierarchy is observed yet again, starting from Enablers (IT and GIS teams) to Process Owners (Department Heads, DFOs, CxOs), and finally the Approvers (Bureaucrats, Mission Directors, Chief Engineers, etc).
While all levels must be exposed to the nuances of Geospatial technology, the Process Owners are the direct adopters of Geospatial tools and services, and the ones to show maximum resistance to change. This is partly because there is not enough awareness about process re-engineering, integration with existing processes and workflows for productivity, and data sourcing, discovery, or creation.
Geospatial capacity building and education training is a key component of the Geospatial ecosystem in India, supporting and furthering other components like Geospatial data, information, technology, solutions, and services. This is why an ecosystem-wide reform in skilling is required for the field.
Highlighted below are some recommendations that can help achieve this vision:
For Academic Institutions
- Curriculum review to align Geospatial pedagogy with cross-domain knowledge and emerging techn trends (AI/ML, IoT, Big Data, Data Science, Augmented Reality, Cloud Infrastructure, etc.)
- Refresher courses introduced for faculty members so that they keep up with latest trends and updates as well.
- Direct engagement with industry professionals and veterans to introduce students to the field from time to time
- Introduction to Geospatial technology in allied courses like Computer Science, Information Technology, etc.
- Internships of at least 6 months duration for students
- Multi-modal training delivery through virtual classrooms for optimal utilization of faculty as well as professionals and researchers from India and beyond.
- More MOOCS to help students learn at their own pace free of cost.
- Introduction of dual learning programs – part in institute, part in industry – for enhanced practical understanding.
- Fostering startup culture in Geospatial educational institutions while providing free access to public-funded data, sufficient facilities, and an enabling environment.
For User Organizations
- Development of a consolidated strategy and action plan to expose serving officers in the Government to Geospatial tools & technology, and their potential.
- Introduction of GIS as part of the curriculum at Government training institutions
- Inclusion of GIS in foundational courses at institutions like LBSNAA and IGNFA for young administrators
- Introduction of a certification or cadre system for surveyors, photogrammetrists, GIS engineers, geodesist, cartographers, etc, like other countries.
- introduction of short-term courses for professionals across the pyramid to refresh their knowledge and awareness
- Building more engagements with industry associations like FICCI, CII, NASSCOM, etc, to expose non-traditional users to Geospatial technologies.
- Collaboration with Skill Councils to discuss and set industry benchmarks
- Offer demand forecasting to help academic institutions plan student seats, faculty positions, and course curriculum accordingly
- Pro-active engagement with academic and training institutions to improve the success rate of connecting with the right people with the right skills for the right jobs.
- Facilitating on-the-job work experience for trainees and interns in larger numbers to make them industry-ready
- Co-investing in educational infrastructure through planning for training environments, funding/subsidizing labs and equipment, and so on.
- Channelizing CSR funds, time, and effort towards skill development
- Extending industry expertise by willing taking up roles of subject experts, practical guides and mentors through training programs, guest lectures, competition jury, and so on.
On the Road to Progress
A lot of commendable work has already begun towards the vision of reinforced Geospatial skilling in the country, and many more developments are in the pipeline.
An Expert Committee on Skill Council for the Geospatial sector was constituted by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, according to their 2019 Annual Report. Major sectors utilizing Geospatial data in the country were identified and it was proposed that there will be a distinct Skill Council for the sector in the long run. In the interim, the Geospatial industry will directly connect with the National Skill Development Agency for Skills Qualification framework (NASDAQ) as a starting point.
A sustainable model through active and intrinsic industry partnership is also underway. Strong industry linkages are to be used for both providing training inputs and placement activities to complete the training lifecycle.
The Department of Science and Technology has also initiated the Geo-Innovation Challenge across cities to nurture innovation for socioeconomic development on the pillars of Geospatial technology. The challenge is open for young professionals under the age of 35 years.
Looking forward, with the Government introducing revolutionary reforms across Education and Infrastructure in general, and Geospatial in particular, all stakeholders need to join hands and leverage the opportunity for reinforcing Geospatial skill development. This will not just impact the number and quality of skilled professionals in the field, but also prove to be a turning point for accelerating the overall economy.