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Fresh Biotech grads in India are being set up for an epic fail

One of the things I enjoy most is interacting with recent biotech graduates. I still remember how lost I was when I got out of college. Thrust into an Indian employment market with no biotech industry to speak of.

But that was before explosive growth catapulted India’s biotech industry to the $11B it sits at today.

Even so, the interactions I’ve been having with kids lately have been troubling. Some time back, I spoke with a young man doing his B.Tech in a private college in Bangalore where biotech is one of the most popular majors. To my utter shock, he casually mentioned that he is one of over 200 students in his batch. After spending some time in the industry, I was having trouble thinking of 200 fresher jobs in all biotech companies in India put together!

Image: “Derek J” by Phil Watt

A tsunami of biotech job seekers

And that’s just one college. There are over 100,000 students enrolled in each year at the various private engineering colleges in Karnataka alone. Biotech seems to be one of about ten majors offered by these colleges. Down and dirty, that’s about 10,000 kids getting out each year into the market. And that’s only the ones with BTech degrees – in Karnataka alone. Extrapolate this to other states where private colleges have gone viral, add kids getting out of traditional biosciences programs and you can see the tsunami of job seekers flooding the market for fresher jobs.

But isn’t Biotech the new IT? Poised to employ millions of fresh graduates giving them sustainable, well-paying jobs just like IT did? Unfortunately not.

This comparison (which is oft repeated) glosses over a major difference in the industries. The IT industry is services-heavy, and indeed, the only IT employee is one with a degree and/or special skills. The biotech industry in India though, is driven by manufacturing. Of generic drugs with low margins. One major key to the whole business model is cheap low-skilled labor on the shop floor. White collar jobs are disproportionately low. And a super tiny fraction of job postings are for freshers with undergad degrees.

My young friend is out of college now and has a fresher job. Just that it has nothing to do with Biotech or anything he learnt in college (which I am still not sure about). Unfortunately, the only folks who seem to benefit from this perverted situation are the colleges churning out degrees that have no bearing on market needs.


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