Domain expertise, which was all you needed once, is just not enough in these times of multifunctionality. And in order to push their employees to achieve higher goals, many organizations are now willing to sponsor their higher studies, after a rigorous selection procedure of course. This creates a win-win situation for all—the employee gets a fully paid education from a reputed institution, while the employer gets a new-and-improved employee with multifunctional knowledge.

“If an employee wants to survive in the workplace, cross-functional knowledge is very important," says Debashis Sanyal, dean, School of Business Management, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai. “From the organization’s point of view, it is better to equip an existing employee with multifunctional skills. Otherwise the employee’s growth in his section or department can only be that much, after which frustration sets in."

It is the need of the hour, says N.S. Rajan, partner, human capital, Ernst and Young. “Gen Y recognizes the importance of education, and the rapid growth of the services industry; they are willing to invest in education. With undergraduates and fresh graduates joining the workforce, for instance the business process outsourcing industry, organizations now realize that their employees’ skills need to be upgraded and are willing to invest in it without losing an efficient employee to their competitor," says Rajan. For example, Godrej and Boyce sponsors around 150 employees annually for technical and management programmes, according to Harpreet Kaur, senior general manager and head, human resources, Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Mumbai.

We spoke to three employees who have benefited from such programmes.

Karthick Raju Murugesan, Manager, technical service group, Mando India Ltd, Chennai-an Anand Group company

A two-year postgraduate degree In industrial engineering from NITIE, Mumbai

When: June 2008

Course fee: Rs2 lakh

Back to basics: Adjusting to a student lifestyle after a gap of three years is the biggest challenge, says Murugesan;Photo by Nathan G/Mint

The challenge: I believe we all need to upgrade our knowledge regularly. A postgraduate programme is always a good way to move up the career ladder.

Study time: I was studying after a gap of three years. Initially, it was tough attending classes and listening to lectures. I had to mould myself to be a student and accept this changed lifestyle. Every trimester, we had a test and I had to stay up all night to study. What motivated me was that I had my work colleagues in the classroom. Out of a class strength of 77 students, seven of us formed a team. We studied and spent time together. I did not know Hindi very well and my group helped me.

Family adjustments: I had never lived in a hostel during my undergraduate or graduate studies. This was the first time I was living away from home. It was a novel experience. Not only did my company sponsor the course, they also gave me Rs30,000 as salary for the two years that I studied at NITIE. I missed my parents and flew down once a month on weekends to visit them.

The learning: The course transformed me. I got promoted as manager, supply chain and logistics, on my return. My job is now focused on vendor and new supplier development. In this role, I have to decide what the team has to do and align this structure to the company’s goals.

Company policy

KS Bhullar, president, group HR, Anand Group, Chennai

At the Anand Group, we have been sponsoring higher education for employees since 1978. In fact, I was one of the beneficiaries of the programme and got a chance to do an MBA at XLRI (Xavier Labour Relations Institute). In those days, the fees and hostel expenses were fully sponsored but employees did not receive any salaries or stipend, as they do now.

In the last three years, we have started sponsorship for a full-time postgraduate diploma in management (industrial engineering) at NITIE, Mumbai. We believe that instead of going to campuses and hiring MBAs for our companies, it is better to sponsor our deserving employees for an MBA course. The criteria for selection is that the employee has to be below 30 years of age and unmarried—unmarried because it is unrealistic to expect a married man or woman to run their family on Rs30,000 per month. Every employee who is selected for this programme goes up one level from their present position after completion of the course.

Selection is based on the employee’s past performance. The employee signs a bond of Rs5 lakh, which he/she has to repay if they leave the organization within three years of returning from the programme.

Deepak Prakash , Vice-president, Tally Solutions Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore

A 21-day executive management programme at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

When: August 2010

Course fee: Rs3 lakh

Forming bonds: Sharing ideas and practices with fellow students helped in networking, says Prakash; Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The challenge: When you grow too fast within an organization, you have all kinds of fears—are you taking the right decisions, how are you making those decisions? My earlier profile within the organization limited my work to that department only. Now I am a part of senior management and have to learn to integrate all kinds of functions, such as finance, supplies, etc., and look at the bigger picture. The 21-day programme at IIM-A is tailor-made for this purpose.

Study time: I was thrilled at the prospect of getting a chance to study at IIM-A. I finished my BCom degree in 1990, which was the last time I did any sort of academic learning. At the campus, I felt like a 21-year-old again. The biggest learning was sharing ideas and practices with fellow students from other companies. We studied late at night and had group discussions daily. We used to sneak out to grab a smoke like college students do. The networking was brilliant and I am in touch with most people from the course.

Family adjustments: It was the first time I was leaving my family for 21 days. But everyone adjusted and my children were excited at the prospect of my going back to studies. Besides sponsoring the programme, the company also paid my full salary.

The learning:I returned from the course with knowledge about things I needed to implement within the organization. I understood how cross-functions and different departments affect my work. For instance, being in sales and having a leadership role, one loses some details in the whirlwind of the job. But after this course, I realized that many times we do a lot of things on the job because they happen. One needs to change that and bring value to the table by making things happen instead.

Company policy

GOVIND KRISHNA, vice-president, and head, human resources, Tally Solutions, Bangalore

Tally Solutions began sponsoring employees for higher studies five years ago. Until 2010, six employees got sponsored. We send employees to IIM-A, which has a 21-day interventional management programme for working professionals. The criteria for selection depends on an employee’s commitment at work and also his/her performance with a potential to do even better. There is no bond undertaken from the employees as we work on the principle of trust. We trust them to be committed to the organization and not quit after the course. Employees who have been sponsored for the IIM-A programmes do not get promoted automatically. They are promoted as and when a vacancy comes up.

Atul sohani,42 Senior general manager (materials), Godrej Interio—part of Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Mumbai

Nominated for the Visionary Leadership for Manufacturing (VLFM) programme

When: July 2009

Course fee: Rs6.5-7 lakh

Backbone: Support from colleagues and family makes the going easy when you study and work, says Sohani; Photo by Hemant Mishra/Mint

The challenge: I work in the Interio section of the company, which deals with furniture solutions, and I felt I needed to acquire skills for materials management. I also wanted to get an overall business perspective.

Study time: The programme had six modules in a classroom in Mumbai and also included travelling to Delhi and Japan to visit world-class factories. The course was rigorous. Each module was of five days. The first morning at the classroom was a bit difficult to adjust to; one could not be late to class by even a few minutes. However, I adjusted to that soon enough, there was no choice but to fall in line. During the course of each module I did not have to attend work. But each module needed a lot of preparation and there was always homework to be done afterwards. There was a gap of one-and-a-half months between each module and I attended office regularly during that time.

Family adjustments: I did my MBA in 1992 when I was 26. I was unmarried then and totally focused on studies. I had no family responsibilities and could give undivided attention to my studies. When I went for VLFM in 2009, I was in my 40s, married and had a 14-year-old-daughter. Studying this time around was not as carefree as earlier. It was not easy to fit into this discipline of study, homework and work at office. My colleagues at work were very supportive and my wife and daughter helped me cope with the hectic lifestyle in those months. In fact, my daughter used to tease me about my homework, saying I always asked her about her homework and now she had a chance to ask me about mine.

I could attend classes at ease and also go to other centres knowing that my salary was not affected.

The learning: Everyone can analyse facts and figures, but at VLFM we were taught observation skills. Interpreting what is going on around you and taking a cue from it—this is part of the Five Step Discovery Process that we were taught. This should help towards breakthrough management, and though a breakthrough cannot happen daily, interpreting information is very important. One of the important roles of a leader is not just to take but also to give back to the community where he/she works. To me, it means finding ways to help my SMEs (small and medium enterprises) develop their customers and our suppliers to develop businesses.

Company policy

HARPREET KAUR, senior general manager and head, human resources, Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Mumbai

In the past two years, 10 employees from Godrej have participated in this programme. There is a comprehensive selection process which is conducted—consistency of performance, potential to take up larger and higher job responsibilities in line with the business plan are some of the criteria which are kept in mind while deciding on which employees to nominate.

Employees are expected to sign a service bond, including the terms of their stay in the organization after the successful completion of the programme. The amount of the bond includes the course fees and other opportunity cost of travel, stay, absence from work, etc., during the programme. Around 80-90% of the employees who are nominated and complete the programmes stay back with the organization.

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