Recent studies conducted in Europe, North America and Japan indicate that by 1990 there will be a worldwide shortage of qualified computer programmers to provide software services for the rapidly increasing number of commercial, governmental, educational and research organizations which require them. The President of Intel, the largest manufacturer of computer chips in the USA, predicts that the US alone will require one million programmers by 1990. A report prepared in France indicates that 1, 50, 000 additional programmers would be required before the end of the decade.
A study by the Mother’s Service Society of Pondicherry reveals acute shortage are already being felt in many countries. Mr. Garry Jacobs of the Society has just returned from a tour of nine European nations and the USA where he met with some of the largest computer manufacturers and software houses in order to obtain first hand information on the situation. The companies he met were unanimous in the opinion that severe shortages of qualified programmers will be a problem confronting all the industrialized nations over the next five years. Many companies said that they are already finding it very difficult to recruit suitable personnel to meet the growing market demands. The President of Volmac, the largest Dutch software house with 1000 programmers, said that he was recruiting 200 new trainees this year, but most of those who applied lacked the minimum educational requirements or intellectual capacities for the job. Digital Equipment Corporation, America’s second largest computer manufacturer, is faced with a shortage of qualified programmers for most of their European branch offices. CAP Gemini, a French multinational software house with 4000 programmers in Europe and the USA, has an urgent need for additional personnel, particularly for their offices in Scandanavia, West Germany and the UK.
There are two basic reasons for the situation reported above: first, the very rapid growth of the computer industry which is permeating every sphere of life in the West; and second, the absence of centralized educational planning in these countries to meet the changing needs of society. Educational institutions have responded to the challenge, but very slowly and inadequately. Companies and governments are gradually awakening to the situation, but so far there has been little success in evolving coordinated national strategies to deal with.
India is ideally suited to accept the opportunity and the challenge afforded by this situation and exploit it for the welfare of the nation, while at the same time meeting a pressing vital need in the West. Whereas in the West the supply of high educated talents is unable to keep pace with the demands of economic growth, in India the reverse is true. Educational development in many spheres has outstripped the growth of employment opportunities, thereby generating a temporary surplus of trained talents. The shortage of qualified programmers in the West represents a chance for India to orient its educational policy toward the needs of other countries and meet overseas demand with the domestic surplus.
Already Indian programmers working overseas have earned a very good reputation for their technical proficiency. Aside from the many Indians occupying professional posts in engineering, mathematics, and computer science departments of American Universities and those employed permanently by companies in the US, hundreds of Indian programmers have gone to the US on technical consultancy assignments representing Indian software houses. Tata has a tie-up with Burroughs Corporation for provision of software services to Burroughs’ customers in many countries. Computer Maintenance Corporation has an established presence in the US. About two dozen other Indian firms are also working in collaboration with foreign companies which include major American computer manufacturers such as Sperry Univac, Digital, NCR, Data General and Wang.
Until now the primary advantage of these collaborations has been simple economics. Indian programmers representing Indian software firms are sent over to the US to work on a contract basis for periods ranging from 12 to 24 months, and the US customers pay monthly fees to the Indian companies. These fees average around $2000 per person per month (Rs.20, 000), which is 25% to 50% less than the cost of hiring American nationals to do the job. (Salaries for experienced programmers in the US range between $3000 and $5000 per month inclusive of perks). The American companies get the services of trained and experienced programmers at very attractive rates without incurring the costly obligations of long term permanent employment such as social security, unemployment insurance, pensions, etc. The Indian programmers receive a generous living allowance to meet their expenses overseas in addition to their salary in India. On an average they are able to save Rs.5000 to 6000 a month from the allowance and salary. They also gain invaluable experience in the latest applications of computer technology in the West and bring back their experiences to enrich Indian industry. The Indian software houses are able to cover the costs of sending and maintaining their personnel overseas and still earn a profit which averages about Rs.1 lakh a year for each programmer sent abroad. US immigration authorities have been quite liberal in extending business visas to Indian programmers for this purpose, since they travel as representatives of Indian firms and not as private individuals seeking permanent employment in the US.
The future opportunities that are now opening in this field are hundreds of times greater than the present level of activity which has been confined almost exclusively to the US market. By 1990 Western countries may be short as many as one million programmers. However, Indian firms will be able to exploit only a small fraction of this potential, unless a long term national strategy is adopted to actively exploit the situation.
This is so for several reasons. First, the present supply of trained programmers in India is very small. According to one estimate only 1000 Indian programmers are presently involved in software exports and growing domestic demand alone may require a five fold increase in manpower just to meet local requirements. Even if India aims to meet only 10% of the shortage overseas, 50, 000 to 100, 000 additional programmers need to be trained over the next five years, whereas the present level is only 500 per year.
Second, mere academic training by itself is not sufficient. The overseas demand is for experienced talents. Therefore an effective educational programme must include at least one year of on-the job work experience on problems similar to those existing overseas. This can be arranged provided that a close link is maintained between the educational institutions, private software firms which understand overseas market needs, and domestic customers for software services.
Third, the overseas market requires programmers conversant with the latest generation computers, many of which are not available in India; and since demand is always greatest during the first three years after a new computer is released on the market, it is essential to arrange for import of latest model equipment on a priority basis whenever it is available.