Fresh grads, are you job-ready?
Several Indian corporates are (desperately) scouting for a rare breed of freshers: the 'job-ready' graduates. And recession or no recession, these companies are faced with a strange dilemma. On one hand, there exist job vacancies which must be filled up, and fast! On the other hand, you have candidates who are desperately looking for jobs, but several interviews later, they are still looking. A large percentage of them may possess a BE degree or even a postgraduate degree such as the MCA or MBA, from a Tier 2 or 3 institute. Yet, they are deemed as 'educated but unemployable'.
Gautam Bushan, Senior Vice President - Learning & Development, WNS Global Services, echoed this sentiment at a recent seminar dedicated to India's recruitment challenge. He shared that for every 80 people actually hired by one of India's largest BPO, at least 800 candidates needed to be interviewed! According to Bushan, the hiring capacity of WNS is approximately 796 per month. Thus you can imagine what a mammoth time-consuming challenge it is for HR personnel to recruit candidates who can get the job done, let alone excel at it.
Just degrees, no skills
So who are these lucky but elusive 'job-ready' graduates who do manage to get hired? Besides having an educational qualification, their secret weapon is the requisite skills sets, which enable them to be productive on the job, right from Day 1.
Corporates across sectors such as service, IT, ITES, BSFI, hospitality and retail, to name a few, broadly look for two types of skills.
One, soft skills, which include effective communication (written and verbal), critical thinking, savvy professional networking abilities, corporate awareness, sales and customer service, the ability to think on your feet, and a polished appearance. Two, domain knowledge and skills, such as software development, ERP and finance, to quote a few examples. The specific combination of skills you will need, also depends on your sector and the job profile of choice.
If you are wondering why a degree alone may not work, Dr K R V 'Raja' Subramanian, CEO of Radix Learning, a finishing school with a focus on IT, paints a bleak picture about the state of education in India. He used strong words such as 'mangled' and 'uninspiring' with conviction, to describe the outdated teaching methodologies and curriculum at several universities across the country. "We need outcome-based learning," stresses the former professor of Computer Science and dean - Distance Learning, at BITS. Outcome-based learning translates into 'job-ready' students.
National-level skill crisis
The employability problem isn't restricted to any particular geography; it's a national-level skill crisis affecting both freshers and working professionals (looking for better jobs), across cities, towns and rural India. The skill impairment spans a whole gamut of areas such as poor English language skills, a lack of self-confidence and functional knowledge.
Sometimes a candidate may have the domain knowledge and skills. But Jill Coates, head of Corporate Training at British Council, observed that sometimes even if a candidate has the relevant domain skills he may be intimidated by savvy interviewers due to poor communication skills, which could in turn take a toll on confidence levels. That is the bad news.
A focused approach
But there is some good news too (to be taken with a pinch of salt). This lacuna in the Indian education system has resulted in the creation of a different breed of institutes the finishing schools, which focus on making students more 'employable'. Typically, the curriculum is structured so as to train you for a specific job profile in a specific sector (though it may vary across schools).
The duration of programmes can range between three days to one year. Several finishing schools have mushroomed across the country. Let's explore what you need to keep in mind when choosing a finishing school.
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Photographs: Gouri Nanda
Curriculum is key
Bangalore-based Vocad, currently offers a training programme across nine sectors including, retail, telecom, healthcare, lifestyle and hospitality, which can be completed in minimum 40 days and maximum three months. Their training centres can be found in five metros and the curriculum comprises:
- A foundation course: Focus on necessary soft skills (common for most sectors)
- Concepts: Focus on domain fundamentals
- Specialisation: Focus on a specific area within domain
Others focus on a specific sector. For instance, Radix Learning has tied up with IIIT-Bangalore to offer a focused one-year professional certification programme in software development, which prepares students for the job of an entry-level programmer or software developer. This includes completing a project, which gives students a hands-on industry experience, to be followed by placements. The first batch graduates in 2010.
Gauging unemployability levels
Most schools require that you take a basic aptitude test, which will help them ascertain your level of skills and knowledge, as well as your aptitude for a sector/ programme/job profile. Based on your score, you will receive training in various areas relevant to you.
Radical teaching methods
After enrolling at a school, graduates must 'unlearn before learning', emphasises Dr Subramanian. Typical study methods such as mugging and learning by rote will not work at this stage as it is skills and not marks that will get you the job. "Learning by doing and picking up critical competencies are a must," he adds. The teaching methodology may be (and should be) radically different from what you have experienced in school and college.
Audio-video technology, mentoring sessions, role-playing, industry-oriented projects and internships are some of the elements. So be prepared for a higher level of interactivity. Also, you must be committed 100-per cent or else your investment will prove to be a waste of time and money.
Many organsations such as Global Talent Track, Radix Learning and Vocad accept individual students and working professionals, who want to upgrade their skills. But some such as Elements Akademia and Boddhisutra have tie-ups with Tier 2 & 3 MBA and engineering colleges. So check if your campus offers such programmes. Sometimes your tuition fees may cover the additional training.
The damages for finishing schools programmes can range from anywhere between Rs 1,000 to 70,000.
The placement factor
According to several websites, placements are never guaranteed but the institute claims to "do all it can to help students get placed". Now, what exactly does this mean?
When we chatted with Uma Ganesh, CEO, Global Talent Track, one of the bigger players in the market, she could not disclose any figures when it came to placements. However, she echoed a similar sentiment that "all efforts were made to place the student in the right job". This typically means that the school will schedule interviews with several corporates who tap its student pool to fill up job vacancies. However, students may also need to take a test before being eligible for a placement job interview; this is the school's way of ensuring that candidates meet minimum requirements.
So, while selecting a school, enquire about the corporates associated with it, as well as the typical job profiles they recruit for. Ask for specific details on placement procedures: which companies, how many interviews, interview training skills, et al. And scrutinise the academy's track record. Even if you join a school offering a comprehensive placement effort, at the end of the day, you must be able to put your best foot forward at the interview.
A typical reason for not impressing at an interview is poor communication skills. Well, having confidence in yourself is as important as communicating well and having the requisite domain knowledge and skills for the position. Ideally, schools must provide the additional coaching to help you improve your interviewing skills. So, quiz the school on all factors, and make a well-informed decision. As the popular saying goes, the proof lies in the pudding; only time will tell which institutes can offer a promising mix of a 'job-ready' curriculum and an effective placement effort.
Am I unemployable?
Even though several finishing schools are mushrooming across the country, A P Srivatsan, managing director of Vocad, highlights a unique challenge faced by them -- that of convincing freshers that they are in fact unemployable. Often it is due to the ignorance about what employers look for in a candidate.
So, the first step in your career journey is to take stock of your unemployability quotient, and be 100-per cent committed to doing something about it.