Kolkata: A residential school in Kalimpong in the Darjeeling hills is taking India’s emergence as a global outsourcing hub very seriously. Come end-August, classes will start at India’s first business process outsourcing (BPO) academy at Dr Graham’s Homes - a 107-year-old residential school.
The institution has tied up with HSBC Electronic Data Processing (Pvt.) Ltd, the BPO arm of the HSBC Group, service provider Acclaris Business Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tampa, Florida, based Acclaris Inc. and Databazaar India Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of Databazaar.com, which operates out of Miramar, Florida, to set up the academy on the school premises.
“The youngsters here are naturally outgoing and with a little bit of polishing up on their accent and technical skills, there is no stopping them,” says M.J. Robertson, who heads the board of Dr Graham’s Homes. “Moreover, even though all our students pass Class XII, getting into a good college is becoming increasingly difficult for some.”
It is to arm these youngsters with a professional qualification that Dr Graham’s decided to start what Robertson calls “colleges of tomorrow”.
The school has its share of volunteers and enthusiasts.
Spreading the net: BPO executives at the Convergys office in Gurgaon. With the industry witnessing high attrition rates and skyrocketing salaries, companies are looking at talent from Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan.
D.K. Chaudhuri, the former CEO of Skytech Solutions, a global airline industry software and service supplier, who is on the board of Dr Graham’s, took a sabbatical from Skytech Solutions to teach in the school in February.
“That got me thinking. If we could train these bright youngsters, then the benefit would accrue both ways,” he says.
According to Chaudhuri, who has taken the task of coordinating the project, the BPO industry has three major challenges: the high cost of working out of cities such as Bangalore, Gurgaon and Hyderabad, high attrition rates, and skyrocketing salaries.
Chaudhuri firmly believes that it is time to “fan out”. The industry, he says, will benefit if it goes to where the raw material is, instead of the other way around. “In our industry, we are dependent on people, while the technology can be moved about,” he says. Seconding this view is Acclaris managing director Kalyan Kar, who says: “Our technology model is so thin and portable that it can be taken anywhere where the infrastructure can be brought up to a certain level and this is true of most companies in the industry.”
Acclaris, which administers claims and reimbursements for its overseas clients, will provide instructors to the academy.
“Our instructors will teach the students the nitty-gritty of the financial processes involved in our area of work and other technical and analytical aspects,” says Kar. The company, which, like all three partners, will enjoy right of first refusal over the graduating students, is expected to hire “a good number of them”. “In fact, we will also sponsor some of the deserving students, who, in turn, will have to work for us for a fixed period of one or one-and-a-half years,” says Kar. They will get paid for the work, but will be tied to the firm.
“It makes sense for the BPO industry to go to the catchment areas,” says Shyama Prasad Mukerjee, managing director of Databazaar India Ltd. The company is pitching in by providing instructors, helping design the training syllabi and the services of a network administrator.
The course is for three months and the academy will initially offer three courses every year.
“This will be stepped up depending on the response,” says Robertson. The batch strength will be 60 to start with. The students won’t be restricted to Dr Graham’s Homes and are being drawn from the other subdivisions of the Darjeeling hills as also Sikkim and Bhutan. “However, our students wouldn’t have to pay the course fees,” says Robertson.
The fee for the course is expected to be between Rs15,000 and Rs20,000. However, with the school’s students not paying anything and Acclaris and Databazaar undertaking to “adopt” students, Chaudhuri feels as much as “70% of the students will be funded”.
The syllabus, drafted by HSBC along with the other two partners, will be a mix of both voice and non-voice training.
HSBC will undertake the voice training of the candidates. “Unlike other companies, we lay a lot of stress on a neutral accent and our agents stick to their original names,” says an HSBC official who did not wish to be identified. According to this official, HSBC will also undertake a module where it will acquaint the students with the sensitivities of the US and the UK.
“This module has been developed by us in association with the British Council and it just needs to be tweaked a bit to be applied in this academy,” says the official.
The company is also expected to put into place its patented psychometric testing systems to not only screen the applicants, but also gauge their progress.
However, HSBC was unwilling to commit whether it would hire any of the graduates. “It all depends on the processes that are under way at the time when these students come out of the academy and their suitability for those,” says the HSBC official, adding, “All things being constant, they will obviously be preferred over others.”
HSBC, like all the other companies involved in the project is providing the service free of cost. “We do have an interest in that we are creating for ourselves an employable pool from an area which has proven itself,” he says.
Apart from accent training, the students will also be taught the basics of computer literacy and various business processes such as credit cards and insurance policies.