The news of thousands of engineers and MBAs applying for low-level government jobs like that of a sweeper or a peon, makes it regularly into the media.
Very recently, the municipality in Amroha in Uttar Pradesh advertised for 114 posts of safai karamcharis or sweepers. They received 19,000 applications. Many of the applicants were engineers and MBAs.
There are multiple reasons for this phenomenon. Lower-level government jobs are much better paying than comparable jobs in the private sector. The salary differential can easily be two to three times. And this leads to many people applying. Like in the case of Amroha, 19,000 applications were received for 114 posts.
Further, we are producing many more engineers and MBAs, than are possibly required. Also, the quality of many engineers and MBAs is suspect and given that such individuals have no other option but to downgrade as far as the choice of job is concerned.
Actually this needs some more explanation.
Allow me to explain using the example of ants. Ants do what other ants are doing. As John H Miller writes in A Crude Look At the Whole: “If an ant encounters a lot of other ants returning with food, she too will go out and gather food. If food is plentiful, it will be easy to find and ants will return faster with food. That will encourage other ants to seek food as well. If food is scarce or if there is a predator about, few ants will return with food.”
If few ants are returning with food other ants will not go out venturing for food and hence, not encounter the predator. Hence, ants doing what other ants are doing leads to productive behaviour for the colony of ants, most of the times.
But sometimes this is precisely what leads to trouble. As Miller writes: “That is not to say that blindly following a rule will always be optimal…Unfortunately, such a strategy can sometimes fail when a line of army ants inadvertently begins to follow its own trail, forming a circular mill that, with time, ends badly for all involved.” The ants keep going in the circle, till they die.
Now what has this got to do with engineers and MBAs wanting to become sweepers and peons? The question to ask here is why do people want to become engineers and MBAs? The answer lies in the fact that they (or their parents) know someone who got an engineering or an MBA degree and did pretty well for himself. Their friends, relatives, cousins, neighbours etc., also plan to do an engineering or an MBA or have already got a degree.
Now these friends, relatives, cousins, neighbours etc., want to get an engineering or an MBA degree because their friends, relatives, cousins and neighbours are also doing the same. In the process such individuals (and their parents) like ants end up in a circular mill following the people around them. This leads to huge demand for engineering and MBA degrees.
Of course, there is only a limited number of seats going around in good engineering and MBA colleges. In the process, the individuals end up at a bad engineering or an MBA college, and in many cases both, as they try to wipe out the ill-effects of a bad engineering degree by getting a bad MBA degree.
Of course, smart entrepreneurs have cashed in on this phenomenon over the years by either increasing the number of seats in their colleges or by starting new colleges. The trouble is that the teaching as well as infrastructure in many such colleges is not up to the mark. This leads to a situation where these engineers and MBAs are unemployable in companies and have to start looking for jobs which are much below the level than they had hoped for.
This in extreme cases leads to them applying for low-level government jobs of peons and sweepers. Given India’s population, even if a small proportion of people do so, the absolute numbers look very big. And that’s the sad part.
(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He can be reached at [email protected])
The column originally appeared in the Bangalore Mirror on March 2, 2016