Bangalore: Even though Mohammed Saif, 26, pushes through his days with dreams of writing code for a software firm at the country’s technology hub, 10 months of hunting for employment has yielded nothing.

The computer science engineer, who graduated from MS Engineering College, a private engineering college in north Bangalore, in mid-2008 is twiddling his thumbs in a slowing economy.

As US and European clients delay new projects on the back of a global economic crisis, India’s information technology companies have applied the brakes on hiring. The technology sector typically absorbs at least half of the 439,000 engineers graduating every year from around 1,340 engineering schools in the country. The class of 2008 has had to do with fewer job offers, deferrals of joining dates and even cancellations of some offers.

Long struggle: Mohammed Saif, a computer science engineer from Bangalore, has been looking for work for 10 months. He now plans to wait one more month before taking up a marketing or teaching job. Hemant Mishra / Mint

He has appeared for interviews for a handful of software companies but could convert none into employment. In between, Saif worked in a direct-marketing company selling telephone connections; he couldn’t fit in and quit in a month.

Saif is not alone. “Average students who used to get through (the placement season) when the industry was doing well are not able to make the cut as the industry is not doing well," says a representative of Saif’s alma mater, who didn’t want to be identified. The college did not readily have the number of students of the 2008 batch who found jobs.

Nithyananda N., 22, a 2008 graduate from Vidya Vikas Institute of Engineering and Technology, Mysore, landed a job as a software engineer with a multinational company in September 2007 when he was in the sixth semester of his course. However, he is yet to get a letter from the company on his joining date.

Meanwhile, he juggles two jobs, teaching programming languages, C and C++, for 2 hours every morning and working as a search analyst with an online marketing company from 2-11pm.

“I’m confident of joining the multinational company in six-seven months," says the spirited computer science engineer.

According to R. Shiva Kumar, director, academics and research and development, at test preparatory company Career Launcher India Ltd, except for students from the top 10 engineering colleges in India, about a quarter of the engineering students who graduated in 2008 are either looking for jobs or waiting to join the companies that recruited them.

Shiva Kumar’s estimate is based on his interactions with numerous engineering graduates from tier II and tier III institutions who turn to his company for career advice.

The plight of these graduates is expected to worsen as the class of 2009 adds to the supply. “Chances are even worse because you are not only competing with your peers, but also with students from the next batch," says Jaya Kumar B., managing director of Bangalore-based search firm, J.K. Management Consultants Pvt. Ltd. Kumar is inundated with resumes of engineering graduates and is unable to place them in a restricted hiring market.

Typically, employers prefer to hire from the latest batch of students and older graduates increasingly find themselves left out in the cold. Examples abound of engineering students who have taken to careers in BPOs, direct marketing and teaching after a futile search for jobs in their chosen area.

Those with the financial wherewithal have taken to higher studies in the hope that the economy will recover by the time they graduate.

“The situation we have today is of high-quality labour supply employed at low-quality jobs, a form of underemployment," says Deshpande R.S., director at Bangalore-based social research body Institute for Social and Economic Change.

“Fall in income levels and social stress are the major fallouts of such a situation."

The 2009 graduates, too, are not much better off. Shiva Kumar estimates that excluding the top 10 schools in the country, about 30-40% of the engineers of the 2009 batch are yet to get offers.

Despite two offers, one from India’s largest software services provider Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and the other from the India arm of telephone infrastructure company Nokia Siemens Networks, Pradeep Mallya, an electronics and communication engineering student of BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore, who will graduate in July, is taking no chances.

The 21-year-old is preparing for the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, the gateway to pursuing a master’s in the US. “Some companies have withdrawn offers given to some of my classmates... I’m kind of worried," says Mallya.

One thing is, however, clear; it is definitely better to be underemployed rather than unemployed. “Pick up the (BPO) job. If you are good, you will grow from a team member to a team leader," advises Shiva Kumar. Waiting for the right job can be long and risky.

Even when the economy rebounds, companies may not go into the flurry of hiring seen before, say human resource experts.

So once you take up a BPO or marketing job, will it be possible to make the crossover into an engineering or software job? While the crossover may be difficult, it is far from impossible, say experts.

“People who come from BPO to IT (information technology) have much better soft skills, having dealt with customers. They are very good in presenting themselves," says Ranjan Acharya, senior vice-president, corporate human resource development at Wipro Ltd, India’s third largest software services firm that made as many as 13,500 offers to the batch of 2008. “Instead of looking at it as a mental hierarchy, take it as an opportunity to learn behavioural skills in addition to technical skills."

Meanwhile, Saif plans to wait one more month for that elusive software job before he takes up either a marketing or a teaching job.

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