Cognizant Outreach has been conducting 'Careers with a purpose’ for class X-XII students in the southern States for the last five years. Bincy Mathew speaks to Archana Raghuram, Director, Cognizant Outreach, to find out more.
What was the purpose behind launching this programmme?
Being employable and work-ready is critical for every student who is seeking employment or entrepreneurship opportunities. With many opportunities available in this globalised economy, students need to think early and build skills that suit their aspirations. Cognizant is one of the corporate volunteering partners for JA, a worldwide not-for-profit organisation, whose India chapter works towards helping the future professionals become work-ready.
When we launched the Cognizant-JA partnership, we initially focused on private schools imparting education in English. In due course, we realised the need for extending the programme to students who study in schools in far-off villages and towns. To enable this, our volunteers translated the course module in Tamil and other languages. We organised the first session in Tamil in a government school in Patteswaram, seven kilometers from Kumbakonam, in June 2009. Today, we organise a career session almost every week, and many of these sessions are conducted in local languages.
Can you chart out the details of the programme?
The ‘Careers with a Purpose’ programme is an interactive session that runs for about six hours where the students are seeded with ideas on choosing their own careers. The programme starts with defining success, job, and raises the question ‘why a job’. For example, the definition of success that is derived in the class is: “Success is getting or attaining what one wants through his/her own effort.” The definition inspires thought around what it is that they must choose as a career in order to attain success. The students are then told how this is the same as setting goals and working towards attaining them. Following this, there are detailed modules on ‘World of Opportunities’, SEEK (Skill, Education, Experience, Knowledge), VISTA (Values, Interest, Strength, Talent, Attitude), and TRPA (Think, Research, Plan, Act), which will help them plan and choose the right career. In addition, activities during the programme reinforce these concepts and help the students prepare for the right educational course that will lead them to a career of their choice.
How have the volunteers been trained to conduct the programme?
The volunteers are Cognizant employees who are qualified IT professionals and come from varied educational backgrounds. Every volunteer is trained by experienced volunteers in an eight-hour classroom session leading up to a certificate. This is followed by a session where they participate as observers, before co-facilitating a session and then moving on to become independent trainer volunteers.
To what extent does a career guidance programme help underprivileged students to decide on their careers, considering the social hiccups that pre-exist anyway?
Cognizant has piloted setting up a toll-free number to provide need-based counselling, feedback and direction to children. This toll-free number will also be managed by volunteers and is expected to be operational in the next academic year. Based on the pilot project, volunteers are confident that with the help of the toll-free tele-service, we will be able to bridge the gap to a good extent.
Have you been in a position to assess the impact this programme has had in the last five years since it was launched in terms of its success in actually helping students take crucial career decisions?
There are students who have tried to get back to the volunteers to thank them for conducting life-changing sessions.
D. Sudarsan was assailed by doubts about his course of action after class 12. Outreach volunteers conducted a JA session at Sudarsan’s school – The Monfort Higher Secondary School in St. Thomas Mount, Chennai. Handling this session was Mathivanan Elangovan, a passionate volunteer and a veteran of many JA sessions. Mathivanan helped Sudarsan identify his passion and choose a career.
Two years down the line, Mathivanan, JA-India’s first Fellow, was surprised to receive a message from Sudarsan on Facebook. Sudarsan told Mathivanan that he had chosen to pursue an engineering degree because of the guidance he had received from Mathivanan.
Financial constraints are bound to limit the career choices an underprivileged student would be making. So, at the end of the day, to what extent will your programme benefit underprivileged students?
Realising that financial constraints are stopping many students from continuing their education, we launched the Outreach Scholarship programme last year. The scholarship programme rewards meritorious students studying in the schools supported by Outreach. Over 120 students from Chennai and Coimbatore have benefited from the scholarship programme and are now pursuing their college education. This year, we plan to assist more students from schools in other cities too.