Guwahati, Assam—Newspapers here don’t report on companies crowding campuses and awarding Rs1 crore salaries. You can imagine the headlines more common in this embattled region. That’s why Prasanta Bora’s efforts last week warrant at least one story that doesn’t mention Ulfa bombings or security for the National Games.
So, here’s the scoop: ICICI Bank just hired five managers from the Northeast at Rs3.71 lakh per year. Not news? Stay with me, dear readers, for Bora’s doggedness inspires. It also offers a creative solution to the complaint that there are not enough engineers or managers to feed this growing economy. Look East, Bora and his fellow volunteers implore.
In 2004, as engineering and management colleges from across Northeastern India gathered for a summit at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Guwahati, they pondered how to join the tide of prosperity sweeping much of India. Placements at IIT had never been a problem, but the other universities struggled to lure recruiters. Some sat hours away from an airport, while others had never formalized placement programmes. Attempts to ride IIT’s coattails, hoping for squeezed-in visits before managers caught flights back to headquarters, often failed.
Bora, born and educated in the region, and other young professionals wondered: Why not pool resources and students, creating a critical mass of talent that big firms could meet all at once?
On 19 August 2006, more than 200 students turned out for the first placement held linking universities across the Northeast. The recruiter, giver of hope to the throngs from Agartala to Sikkim, was, appropriately enough, Infosys Technologies Ltd. It extended 28 offers.
This past weekend, ICICI Bank became the second large employer to support Bora’s group, known as the Northeast Professional Institutes Forum. Human resources manager Shalini Nandwani said ICICI has been making a conscious effort to recruit in second-tier cities and regions beyond major metros. “There’s so much of potential lying there,” Nandwani said. “Why waste it?”
According to a study by North Carolina-based Duke University, India graduated just 1,39,000 engineering students in 2004. Lead researcher Vivek Wadhwa juxtaposed the number of graduates and skyrocketing salaries to conclude: “Demand far exceeds supply.”
Meanwhile, Assam’s unemployment rate, among educated urbanites, tops 14%, nearly double the comparable figure for the rest of India. Asked why, Bora minces no words. There is, of course, the lack of a strong manufacturing or services sector in the region, but “our students lack competitiveness”, he says. “Right now, there is no one to guide them.”
Duke’s Wadhwa thinks that can be changed. “In India, companies can hire the top graduates of almost any university and give them additional training to make them productive,” Wadhwa says.
External perception, of course, is the white elephant in the region—security. Bora fields the question often: Is it safe?
In the days before ICICI Bank’s latest visit, killings of innocent Bihari labourers and random bombings made headlines. Security forces dotted Guwahati’s congested roads and random searches of vehicles became the norm.
Bora stayed on track: Look East.
On Saturday, at a meeting hall in Guwahati’s Pan Bazaar, ICICI Bank administered tests and conducted interviews. By the end of the day, a handful had offers, including Kaushik Bora, 24, whose immediate reaction to landing the job was: “Now I can think globally.”
About a dozen hours later, a car bomb exploded, just yards away in front of the Pan Bazaar police station, injuring and killing nothing but a people’s psyche.
Numbed by decades of such news, Bora heard of the blast from a friend, asked if anyone had died and moved on with his day. Fresh from helping five Northeast brethren see a future, he knew countless more awaited.
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