Expert Comment

Expert Comment

National directory of retired professionals

espite being ranked 126 (out of 175 countries) on the Human Development Index compiled by the United Nations Development Programme, and hosting perhaps the world’s largest pool of illiterate citizens, somewhat paradoxically, India boasts 350 universities and 18,000 colleges. Moreover, over 2,000 companies are listed on the country’s stock exchanges. The Central government-supported Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has 38 well-equipped research labs across the country and is perhaps the largest S&T research organisation of its kind worldwide. India also belongs to the exclusive space and nuclear clubs of the world, and the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has over 50 labs encompassing a wide spectrum of specialisations.

All these institutions and organisations employ a large number of scientists, technologists and managers who have played a crucial role in the growth and development of these organisations which have earned India a global reputation as a provider of consistently improving goods and services.

Inevitably, the competent professionals who run these organisations and institutions superannuate and retire. At the time of retirement (58-62 years) most of them are physically and mentally active. Therefore they metamorphose into consultants with their employer organisations or transform into distinguished chairs or emeritus professors at institutions such as CSIR, IITs, ISRO, UGC or AICTE. Others engage in technical/educational consultancy, accept teaching assignments in private engineering colleges, or serve with professional societies and NGOs engaged in social work. In short, within an economy and society experiencing unprecedented shortage of skilled professionals, there’s a huge demand for their expertise and services.

Against this background, quite obviously recently retired and/or superannuated professionals in good health and willing to work — whose numbers countrywide may be several thousand — are too valuable a resource pool to be ignored. They need to be enabled to pursue active assignments to tutor, mentor and advise industry and academia through a structured mechanism.

Fortunately there is an organisational template. In the early 1970s, CSIR introduced its Scientists Pool Scheme to attract fresh Ph Ds from abroad to register with CSIR for placement in the country’s premier academic and research institutions. The objective was to avoid losing this high-quality manpower in the context of time-consuming recruitment procedures at these institutions. Since then, the Scientists Pool Scheme has been reviewed in a systematic manner, and several steps have been taken to improve its effectiveness. During the past decade CSIR has placed several returning scientists and engineers, and the scheme is rated as quite successful. A similar database or pool of recently retired corporate, scientific, academic and other professionals needs to be created.

Recently, the retirement age of IIT faculty has been enhanced from 62 to 65 years. This is in recognition of trends such as acute shortage of competent faculty and better health and longevity. Likewise, the government has proposed to extend the retirement age of the chairmen of ISRO and DAE to 66 years, to ensure continuity of leadership, policies and activities. Interestingly, this is in sharp contrast to the corporate sector where voluntary retirement is practised to encourage employees to leave. The rationale is that it enables corporates to shed employees whose skills and ideas have become outdated, and induct fresh blood into the workforce.

The transition into retirement is indeed paradoxical: a day prior to retirement, the professional holds the highest responsibility in his career, but a day later he is deemed useless to the organisation. This constitutes a huge waste of valuable talent. With their accumulated knowledge, wisdom and experience, retired professionals represent an intellectual resource pool which is at least as valuable as the CSIR scientists’ pool of young professionals on the verge of entry into employment.

Therefore, there is a strong case for bridging the growing national skills gap by creating a mechanism to formally and systematically utilise the huge resource pool of superannuated/retired professionals. It is useful to remember that the country had invested heavily in their usually subsidised higher education. Hence, there is a need to get a return on this investment for as long as possible. Moreover, if our national leaders are deemed fit to endure the rigours of managing the country when they are well into their seventies, surely professionals in their sixties can discharge less arduous duties in corporate enterprises and academic institutions.

To sum up, there’s an urgent need for a national directory to be created by the Union ministries of HRD/S&T for maintaining a database of retired professionals. This database could be tapped by the corporate sector and Indian academia to fill important skills gaps within their organisations.

(Dr. R. Natarajan is a former chairman of the All India Council for Technical Education)