This debate surfaces and resurfaces from time to time. Within India, and even within the shores of the USA, prominent leaders and CEOs in the IT field debate if the thousands of engineering graduates that enter the workforce every year are really employable.
Though many IT firms in India do pay a fraction of the salary most would make if lucky enough to land the same job in the US, the training requirements would boggle the mind of a typical American. Many of the larger companies require their new employees to attend onboarding for three to six months flat. Training for new employees, often hired in groups or “batches” of 10-30 or more in bigger companies, is time and labor intensive. This compulsory training that lasts anywhere from three to six months is a daily activity. Employees sometimes enter the training room as early as 6 or 7 am and do not go home until 6, 7, 8 or 9pm! The day is not long because they are training while working, the day is long because they have to train to fill the gaps that were not filled in their college experience. Yes, you heard it right, the first three to six months many “fresh graduates” begin work in the IT field, in major companies, they are not “working” but attending training. This training becomes even more required in a state like Kerala, that as recent as May 2013 was ranked 10 out of 16 in regards to the employability levels of engineering graduates according to The Hindu.
Are You Serious – a 3 to 6 Month Training Period?
No, you did not read that wrong! Yes, new graduates at many major companies must be trained for three to six months before they can enter the work floor and actually do their job. Americans would find this appalling and shocking as very few if any companies would so rigorously train their employees for such a long period of time. Americans reading this may even think (as I had), “What is the point of a degree if the candidate has to sit in such intensive training upon hire?” This is a legitimate question, and each company has their own reason for this.
Reasons for "Excessive Training"
1. There is a lack of quality and consistency among engineering colleges.
This quality and consistency can cover educational aspects such as technical knowledge, programming languages learned, availability and accessibility to the most up to date machinery and computers, qualified teachers, no standardized syllabus from college to college, among others.
2. Critical Soft-Skills Absent from the Education Experience for Many
In addition to the lack of consistency in the technical aspects of their engineering degree, Indian students may lack many soft-skills including: creative and critical thinking skills, application of the skills into a practical, real life environments, group work skills, group discussion skills, an ability to think and question for innovation and problem solving, English conversational skills, and others. Again, since there as a lack of consistency between educational institutes, some may, for instance, demand a fluency in English but not focus on creative thinking skills, while another may revert to Malayalam or the local language to invite “creative thinking skills.” There is nothing wrong with thinking and creating in a local language, but when it is done in place of English when the college is an “English medium college,” the students suffer when placed in their positions (especially if those positions require English fluency for all aspects of work).
Some reading may wonder why I put quotes around creative thinking skills (above). There is a reason for that. India’s educational system is very different in delivery and culture than what we are used to in the US. I know this from theory and personal experience. I am one of the only Americans to matriculate and graduate from Madras Christian College. In the (south) Indian educational system, brining up points that the teacher has not initiated, offering another solution than the one the teacher has shared, or even in some cases, asking questions or providing constructive criticism is considered by many as ‘back-talk’. The educational culture simply doesn’t foster an environment for spontaneous discussion, out-of-the-box thinking, debate, critical thinking and sharing and creation like we are used to in the US. Indians themselves are split when asked about these criteria. Some will vehemently agree that these do not exist in the educational system, and that’s why employability and quality, consistent output is hard to find in employees (yes, mostly reported by CEOs). However, many others disagree with this saying that it does exist in the Indian educational system. If and when it does exist, for most Americans it will not look or feel the same as what we are ‘used to’ in the US educational scenario.
The Cost of Soft-Skills
Due to the above factors, many “fresh graduates” of South Indian (and pan-Indian, in some cases) engineering and computer science programs require intense onboarding and new employee training not only in hard skills, but soft skills. While the three to six month period is a good place to start inviting participation in the soft-skills, it should be kept in mind that for most of the new employees in these trainings, it is the first time they may be exposed to topics such as: assertiveness, the importance of a first impression, how to introduce oneself (professionally), elevator and cubicle etiquette, presentation skills, cultural knowledge and other more detailed soft skills, such as creative thinking, critical thinking, giving feedback, and others. It is not realistic for employers to believe that overnight a new employee who has never learnt and applied goal setting skills, time management, group discussions skills (such as eye contact, listening, paraphrasing skills, or questioning skills) will be able to do it flawlessly after put on the job. They may be able to answer test questions on the theory behind the communication skills, but it will take time, and the right environment to put them into practice, create the behavior and see the right results. If the soft skills taught in the training are not practiced, able to naturally evolve and molded through interactions with experienced communicators who follow these behaviors and mentor on them, the skills learned in the training are just skills that are checked off the new employee training list, and are almost a waste of money and time for the company.
These skills can be molded and rewarded with the right mentoring and coaching structures in place. Bigger companies are able to offer this kind of structure with ongoing trainings, mentoring, and coaching programs that pair with 360 reviews to address and fill the gaps. For smaller companies, it may be beneficial for them to affiliate themselves with a communication and culture expert to teach, tweak and tone the employee’s communication skills and behavior over time to create the best outcomes with US and other foreign clients.
This article started with the title and thought provoking question, Are Indians Graduating into the IT Field Employable? This article has answered this with “yes” and “no.” While Indians who graduate from IT and engineering programs have the education to be hired (the yes), they lack the soft and hard skills to allow them to start work today. It is because of this that companies worth their salt, continue to heavily invest time, money and resources into the new employees to bring them up to the professional and technical speed they need to be at to be successful at the job that they have been hired for.
Feel free to share your respectful opinions for or against anything discussed above.
Author Jennifer Kumar is a coach and trainer for employees working in the IT field in Infopark, Kochi and in other companies in India. This article is based on conversations the author has had with CEOs and HR representatives of start ups to large companies located throughout different parts of India.
What ails India's Fresh Graduates? (Rediff)
India Graduates Millions, but Too Few are Fit to Hire (Wall Street Journal)
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Photo credit: Mike Lavoie at flickr