The offshoring phenomenon has provided strong support for the claim that simply increasing the number of suitable graduates will produce enough ‘potential for innovation’ to restore growth and jobs. Until now.

High tech industry in developed countries demands graduates for highly skilled work. So to move from a low-skill economy to a high-tech, high-skill economy, you need to increase investment in higher education, right? But what if high-tech industry doesn’t really need graduates after all?

What if it turns out instead that what high-tech really needs is more intensive job-specific training, in order to get high skills from suitable recruits, irrespective of their graduate status? According to Vivek Wadhwa, in India, this approach is having a decisive impact upon the ability of industry to switch to highly skilled work with unprecedented rapidity.

In developed countries, such as the US, a degree is becoming an essential qualification for an ever-broadening range of high-tech jobs. At the same time as this requirement is increasing, recent austerity-driven imperatives have meant that in many organisations, extensive training of new recruits is being reduced to a minimum.

The result is that highly skilled work is being done with more expensive (graduate) recruits with less job-specific training. By contrast, in India, where highly skilled work is in many places being introduced for the first time, there are often no regulations specifying qualifications for particular jobs.

Because ‘education for innovation’ has up until now meant increasing investment in higher education and ensuring a focus upon innovation-relevant subjects, there is an inherent lengthy (many-year) delay in an economy (even one which already has a substantial higher education system, as India does) becoming significantly more ‘innovation-capable’.

However, what has been found in India is that because of a combination of the infinitely variable quality of graduates, as well as the extraordinary abundance of skill in writing resumes and job applications and the unmanageably large number of applicants, tests prove to be an infinitely more reliable guide to suitability than any other form of qualification.

The fact that high tech work tends to be very specialised, may mean that most of any degree course would be irrelevant. What becomes clear from these tests and the subsequent intensive training that successful applicants undergo, is that not only do degrees have little or no bearing upon suitability for the highly skilled work required, but that the number of suitable recruits which emerge from the tests, combined with the fact that the training takes months not years, has meant that high-skill, high-tech operations can be proliferated long before any innovation-driven increase in investment in higher education would bear fruit.

According to Wadhwa, this is happening in India right now. Where do the educational requirements for most of today’s skilled high-tech work end and those which ‘facilitate the creativity required for innovation’ begin? India is solving a skill requirement with tests and training, but what happens if we all copy this at the expense of higher education?