Engineers turn drivers for better income

By Shreya Haridas

Chennai, Aug 14: “Over 52% of the B.E./B.Tech seats lay vacant in Tamil Nadu this year” read a headline in The Hindu on 1st August 2019. Seeing this, one is forced to think about the 48% students that have enrolled for B.E/B.Tech in Tamil Nadu. Do they get quality education and placements after graduation? Well, Praveen Asupathi,22 , would laugh at you for that comment. Maybe driving is the closest thing to his BE Mech that he gets to do. He stretches his arms with palms out, hearing his knuckles crack. He has not had a trip for two hours now.

Praveen Asupathi was very passionate about Mechanical Engineering. His parents gave him the freedom to study what he wanted and loaned money for his studies. Few of his friends from school went for higher studies like him. Others took up petty jobs for supporting their families.

Praveen did a diploma course related to Mechanical Engineering for 2 years which he completed in 2014. He then joined an engineering college in Chidambaram under Annamalai University for BE Mech. “My campus was in a village. You would not even have heard of it. We had six BE branches- Electronics & Communication Engg, Electrical & Electronics Engg, Civil Engg, Mechanical Engg, Computer Science Engg and Information Technology,” he says, “But zero companies came for recruitment from my college.” By the time his 4th semester got over, he had a hunch that he would end up with no job if he doesn’t start off with something immediately. So he joined Ola as a part-time driver for the rest of his days at Chidambaram.

Since he passed out of the college in 2017, he has been a full-time Ola driver. But he doesn’t mind that, given his background and income. In a family of five, with his father, mother and two younger sisters, he is the most depended for income. His father is a rice farmer, mother is a house wife, one sister is doing her BA in English and the other is studying in class 12. Coming from a place of construction workers and daily wage labourers, he isn’t ashamed of what he is doing for a living, in spite of being over-qualified for the job.

 “I would have earned Rs 12,000 per month if I had gone into a core job. But now I earn at least Rs 25,000 per month. Out of 62 students in my engineering class, only three including me are employed now and all of us are drivers. The others are still sitting at home without any job. The case is the same with the other branch students too.” He shifts on the driver’s seat of his Tata Indica and stretches his arms and legs, readying himself for a nap until he gets a customer’s call for a ride.

But Aravind’s story is quite different. While driving his Uber to Chennai International Airport, playing a Malayalam song in his car’s music player, he says, “Please don’t ask me much about my family. They don’t know I am working as a driver here. Aravind is not my real name either. All I can say is that I have a father who works in the Gulf as a store-keeper, mother who is a house wife and an elder sister who works in an IT firm.”

Aravind, 25, a resident of Trivandrum, Kerala, had moved to Chennai to do his B.E in St. Joseph College of Engineering. Eventhough he was brought up in a locality where fishermen lived and his father was just a petty worker in the Gulf, he dreamed big and wanted to be an engineer. Unlike Praveen’s college, St. Joseph had companies like TCS, Capegemini and Infosys coming for campus placements (there came no core companies). Aravind couldn’t pay fees for a semester and had to skip it, ending up with back-papers in that semester. Hence he was not permitted to sit for the placements, as he had more than two back-papers. Now he has cleared all his back-papers, but stays in Chennai searching for a suitable job. He speaks with the frustration clearly expressed in his speech,“I do not want to be a driver after doing engineering. But the maximum salary I will get if I get placed somewhere maybe 9000. With Uber, I get 18,000-20,000 per month. So if I am joining some firm, it should atleast get me 30,000-40,000 per month. I am also studying for Kerala PSC. Being with Uber, I can search for jobs when I am free and I get enough money to manage my expenses.”

“I have been with Uber for 1.5 years now…this kind of driving job gives no security…it’s not permanent…As your age increases, your efficiency decreases…that’s why I am trying for other jobs like in the IT or PSC that grant some kind of permanency…”

Aravind says, there are almost 40 engineers he knows who work with Ola and Uber. While some take up this job like him, for want of some income, others quit their jobs in IT and join the taxi services since they don’t like being controlled by a superior like in their offices.

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