Riding the BPO wave

RECRUITMENT TIME: The BPO/ITES industry needs 23 lakh fresh recruits a year.

RECRUITMENT TIME: The BPO/ITES industry needs 23 lakh fresh recruits a year.  

Employment in BPO/ITES is ceasing to be a monopoly of engineering graduates. The high manpower shortage is making companies scout for talent in arts and science colleges, writes G. MAHADEVAN

Twenty-three lakh fresh employees every year. That, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM), is what the business process outsourcing (BPO) and the information-technology- enabled services (ITES) companies in the country require to sustain their levels of operation and expansion. The annual manpower shortage faced by these companies, again, according to NASSCOM, is in the order of five lakh. For some years now, employment in the BPO/ITES industry has more or less been a monopoly of graduates from engineering colleges in the country. Over the past couple of years, though, an increasing number of such companies are going talent-shopping to arts and science colleges. The situation is not different in Kerala, where students of arts and science colleges are today about as confident as their counterparts in engineering colleges of being offered an appointment order by a top-notch BPO firm. At the same time, it is true, perhaps, for obvious reasons, that even in the arts and science colleges, it is the final year students of degree courses with good grounding in mathematics who are being preferred.Also, such companies are, at present, focussing only on "big-name" colleges such as, say, the University College or the Government Women's College in Thiruvananthapuram, and are not venturing out to scout for talent in the second-line colleges.

'Residence time'

Though no BPO major seems willing to say so officially, it is acknowledged in industry circles that one reason why IT/ITES/BPO firms are stopping by arts and science colleges is the longer "residence time" of science graduates as opposed to engineering graduates. This means that students from arts and science colleges show a greater willingness to remain with a company longer than their B.Tech. cousins. This, viewed from a company's perspective, offers better value for money. Moreover, some BPO firms today offer to send freshly recruited science graduates for MS programmes on full sponsorship. So, not only does the fresh science graduate get a postgraduate degree in science in a speciality that the company may prefer but he or she also remains an employee for that time.

'Employable hands'

Another reason that appears to drive companies to arts and science colleges is the perceived shortage of "employable" engineering graduates. Benny Joseph, head of the campus relationship team of U.S. Technology Resources, told The Hindu-Educationplus that there was a shortage of employable engineers as they lacked the correct combination of technical and "soft" skills. This, coupled with the discovery that pure science graduates today show a high degree of analytical skills, has apparently convinced many IT/ITES/BPO firms that going to arts and science colleges makes for a good human rights policy.S.N. Kumar, former head of the Career Guidance and Placement Cell of the University College, argues that science graduates have certain other advantages over engineering graduates when it comes to being employed in the IT/ITES/BPO sector. He points out that the number of hours allotted to the study of pure physics, chemistry and mathematics in engineering colleges appears to have gone down from those in the previous years. The science graduates, on the other hand, study pure science for three whole years, full time. "This may be one reason why science gradates can have more analytical ability as applicable to the IT/ITES /BPO sector when compared with the engineering graduates. There is also another point. Those who get into engineering colleges after their Plus Two courses have no language component in their syllabi. So, in most cases, the language skills are what existed at standard 12. On the other hand, those who come into the B.Sc./ B.Com./ BA stream study language for a minimum of two years more. The result is that the written communication skills of science graduates are better," Mr. Kumar, now, the Joint Commissioner for Entrance Examinations, Kerala, says. Moreover, as Mr. Joseph pointed out, a candidate need not be all that technical-minded to shine in a BPO firm today.The proof of this is in the fact that it is companies such as TCS, Congnizant, Wipro, Genpact (a BPO subsidiary of General Electric), Tech Mahindra and even Infosys and IBM who are today familiar names in arts and science colleges.

'Science to software'

The seriousness with which the IT /ITES sector is viewing fresh science graduates can be seen from the fact that TCS has put in place a "science-to-software" initiative that is designed, in the company's own words, "to produce industry read professionals who will be as good as fresh engineers." Replying by email to queries posed by The Hindu-Educationplus, S. Padmanabhan, executive vice-president and head, global human resources, TCS, says, "At present, the company employs only engineering graduates. However, it is now seeking to transform these graduates into a pool of suitable professionals of the IT industry. TCS is looking at B.Sc., M.Sc. graduates with mathematics, physics background who could be trained to develop skills that would match the requirement of the industry. If that happens it would be beneficial to the industry." "Good science graduates have attributes like logic and reasoning that are important in the technology services industry," he added.According to information made available by the corporate communications wing of TCS, 500 science graduates are now being trained as per a pilot programme in Chennai. The company has plans to scale this up to 2,000 during this academic year.The seven-month residential programme includes formal lectures, projects, assignments, quizzes and interactive sessions. The selected graduates will undergo courses in principles of software development and IT, develop an understanding of the core technologies, services such as package implementation and new technologies such as Java and .Net, in addition to the company's proprietary tools, frameworks and quality processes, the company's press note said.

Communication skills

Though there is some amount of euphoria in art and science colleges over such initiatives and visits by top IT/ITES firms, the realisation that the communication skills of science graduates can do with a lot of honing is acting as a tempering factor. Though this "weakness" has been pointed out by many a visiting company, there is still no concerted effort on the part of educational institutions, or from the State's Education Department, to shore up the communication skills, specially the spoken part, of their students. It is true though that some institutions are organising training programmes on their own to tackle this problem. nbThe State IT Mission, for its part, has put in place a targeted training programme to improve the communication skills of college students. The training sessions will start shortly.

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