Bangalore: Finishing schools have come to India to groom geeky job-seeking software engineers in workplace etiquette as the country’s booming information technology sector cries out for urbane talent.
The first such institution opened last week in the southern city of Mysore, offering a 12-month course designed to hone students’ technical and inter-personal skills and expose them to the corporate culture that awaits them.
The school will be run by the Raman International Institute of Information Technology, a division of Raman Computers Pvt. Ltd.
This year, software firms such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS), Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd will hire an estimated 300,000 engineers, many of whom will travel the world to work with clients that have outsourced software programming jobs.
At least 100,000 of them could benefit from going to a finishing school that will make them ready for their jobs, said Kiran Karnik, president of National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), which conceived the idea. “They are good, their raw material is fine, but they are not quite there,” said Karnik. “They need a little bit of polishing, of smoothing of the rough edges.”
The training imparted by the schools, several of which will open in the next few months, will not be all technical and corporate—they will emphasize cultural studies and social activities.
The aim is to “sharpen some of the social, presentation and communication skills” in which many Indian engineers are found wanting when they interact with clients and colleagues from other cultures, Karnik said.
“Companies do impart training, but that’s about their product, their organization, their culture,” he said. “Some generic training is also required—about language, about communication. That’s what these schools will do.”
Indian IT firms, which employ 1.63 million people, logged an estimated $48 billion (Rs1.97 trillion) in revenues in the last financial year, a 10-fold jump in nine years. About $31 billion came from exports.
Their customers, from Nortel and Alcatel to Ericsson, Aetna and Kodak, cut across industries and borders.
But India’s showpiece sector is facing a major talent crunch. It is grappling with wages rising at an annual pace of 15%, an employee turnover rate of 25% and a rapid appreciation of the rupee that is denting export earnings.
Dun and Bradstreet, the US-based provider of financial information, estimated that the industry would face a shortage of 500,000 skilled workers by 2009 in addition to competition from emerging rivals such as China and the Philippines.
This is forcing companies to hire more people overseas, with TCS planning to employ 5,000 people in Mexico over the next five years to serve US clients.
Although India has no dearth of educated people, with 3.1 million university graduates—including 500,000 engineers—coming into the job market every year, many turn entrepreneur, go abroad for work or opt for higher studies. “Still, the problem is not with availability, it’s with employability,” said M.N. Vidyashankar, the IT secretary of Karnataka. “Only 30% of the engineering graduates are actually employable by the IT industry,” he said.
To combat that, IT firms are stepping up their internal and on-the-job training efforts and tying up with institutions to supplement academic training with inputs from industry.
Global software and outsourcing giant Accenture has joined forces with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to train its employees.
India, where Accenture has 27,000 workers, will likely be the “biggest consumer” of the programme, the company said.
Sandeep Arora, who heads Accenture’s delivery centre for technology in India, refused to give a figure for the money that will be spent by a company that says people are its most valuable asset.
“I’m not going to try and measure this in dollars and cents,” he said. “The true measure will be the positive energy that people bring, the bounce in their step as they move from aisle to aisle,” Arora added.
The finishing schools will reinforce the internal efforts of firms such as Accenture amid an overall drive to deliver students groomed into professionals who are equipped with communication and teamwork skills and business knowledge.
“I like the term finishing school, it is very apt,” said Karnik. “It’s not going to replace four years of college education, but will provide the finishing touch to something that’s almost there, but not quite,” he said.