Interview with S Narayanan, Center Head – Trivandrum, Quest Global published in Malayala Manorama

There has been a lot of theories and speculations about the future of Vehicle sector in a post COVID world. Some say it’s a boon and others say it’s going to be worse. What do you think?

The automobile sector is one of the industries that has grown tremendously since industrialization. It has played an essential role in driving industrial development in many countries, mainly those in Europe, making the continent a hotspot of the automobile sector. In 2018, after Europe being badly hit by trade wars and speculations over Brexit, the growth in the automobile industry started to decline. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that followed added to the decline in the automotive sector along with other sectors. In my view, this is just a temporary set-back. I foresee demand in the industry picking up and reaching pre-COVID levels in 2022.

This crisis doesn’t mean the industry is going to perish. Most of the automobile manufacturers have already started positively investing across connected cars, autonomous cars, and e-mobility, which is the future of the sector.

The automobile sector is a hot favorite for Mechanical, Automobile engineering grads. Will, there be a diminishing trend in intake of employees (especially fresher), interns etc. in the coming years?

Hiring will be impacted across all sectors and not just the automobile industry. However, companies will continue to hire freshers and interns, albeit in smaller numbers. The automobile sector will be hiring electrical and software engineers in more significant numbers as the industry is moving towards autonomous, electric, and connected cars. Engineers with expertise in new-age technologies – like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Augmented Reality (AR) etc. – will have higher chances of employability.

COVID calls for upskilling. How can a technical student enrich himself during his graduation so that he can get a position in the automobile industry?

The nationwide lockdown imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19 has given us lots of free time, giving us ample time to learn new skills and develop our existing skillset. Upskilling is not new, but it is now becoming a necessity for engineering graduates and engineers working in various technology companies because of the continually changing technology landscape. Digital technologies like AI, ML, AR, Deep Learning etc. will be vastly used in the automobile sector for product design, smart manufacturing, digital retailing and servicing as we move forward. Thus, people who equip themselves with these digital technologies will help them to be better prepared to improve their employability and take on challenging jobs in the automobile sector.

Read somewhere that in a post COVID world, the positions of non-technical posts like marketing managers, financial analysts etc. will become crucial in the automotive sector. So what can management and finance students anticipate about their future?

In a post-COVID world, automobile manufacturers and dealerships will have to work hard to maintain their customer base and keep their sales figures steady. With most of the companies staring at a grim future, the silver lining would be a new set of vehicles and the digital sales that would garner focus in the times to come. This is where data-driven and digital marketing activities, digital advertising and virtual stores, will become part of the new normal as customers will keep hopping between digital and physical touchpoints. Some of the automotive manufacturers have already started online sales channels to connect with customers digitally. So, in this changing scenario, analysts and marketing managers will still have relevance in the sector, as always. To summarize, non-technical posts will be very relevant across the industry in the coming days.

We have sector-specific courses (like BTech and MTech in Automobile engineering) nowadays. A lot of students are pursuing these courses. The question is, are they valuable or taking a traditional degree and getting experience as an intern/or doing industry-specific diplomas sponsored by automotive companies more worthy?

The modern-day vehicle has changed drastically over the years. In the early days, it was a mechanically driven entity, today the car or any other vehicle we drive or come across is controlled by microprocessors and chipsets. Thus, the modern-day courses also merit a change to a more software-oriented structure so that our students stay relevant in the present scenario. Enrolling for courses that provide in-depth knowledge of the latest software and digital technologies in the automobile sector, rather than just mechanical studies, will be beneficial to engineering students. There are lots of online courses that will help engineering graduates learn these new technologies.

Apart from this, there should also be a collective effort from the authorities to bridge the industry-academia gap. Engineering education in India has reached the most crucial turning point where it has to meet the industry requirements to face the dynamic demands of the competitive domestic and global markets. Most of our colleges and universities are still following the old syllabus, which could only give the basics of how the modern-day vehicles operate. It is high time for a complete overhaul of the engineering syllabus to keep at pace with the latest trends and making our students industry-ready.

Data Science is the new Superstar among courses. Will a post-COVID automotive industry provide more chances for students specialized in this field?

While I have covered this partially earlier, the answer is yes. Data Science and Analytics is a skill in high demand across sectors, including automotive. This skill set would be crucial in manufacturing the smart factories of the future, autonomous driving vehicles and robust after-sale services. Hence, students with specialization in data science would have a better chance in the industry.

Nowadays, vehicles cross the lines of traditional mechanical engineering, with a lot of electronic parts embedded. Also, software is proving its mettle with connected cars, internet cars etc. What advice do you have? (for the students of branches mentioned above)

As much as 70 per cent of a modern car’s content is a complex matrix of electrical, electronic and software components. Starting from designing the components of these vehicles to aftermarket service, automobile manufacturers and service providers will have to rely on skilled software, electrical and embedded engineers. People with this expertise will be in high demand in the automobile sector. They should be abreast with the latest technologies and trends in the industry and look for specializing in those skills to become more relevant in the coming days.

What’s your take on automation, and how is it changing the industry? Is it worthy of doing courses on automation? Will it help automotive aspirants?

The automotive industry is rapidly adopting autonomous, connected, electric and shared technologies and Industry 4.0 has led to a paradigm shift across industries that rely on manufacturing. With Industry 4.0 taking center stage, automation has started to play a significant role in the automotive industry more than ever. The automation technologies currently used in the industry are robotics and AI for autonomous vehicles. These technologies continue to be relevant, and courses around machine learning, deep learning, and artificial intelligence will help automotive aspirants in being more employable in the industry.

Interview with S Narayanan, Center Head – Trivandrum, Quest Global
Malayala Manorama | Aug 5, 2020 | Page 5