Fine-tuning engineering graduates

STUDENTS, ESPECIALLY those from engineering colleges, may excel in their technical subjects but fail to have real knowledge or strong character.

K. Shankar, business, management, and HRD consultant, is convinced of this. What colleges don't provide, and what corporates which eventually employ these young graduates look for, are what his training courses give. His courses in "soft skills" are being used by 10 engineering colleges and a number of major corporates.

Shankar is a self-made man with an academic background in engineering and management. He doesn't blame students for what they lack. "Engineering college have a tough curriculum, which forces students to focus on classrooms studies, lab work, and projects, leaving little time for anything else, like personality development,'' he says. The curriculum in many business schools is not very different.

Yet, corporates look for more than degree certificates from the young men and women whom they interview for jobs. "The HR manager looks for lots of other skills like planning, analysis, public speaking, making proper presentations, and much more... candidates who don't possess these skills cannot hope to get the best jobs,'' he explains.

His course curriculum closely matches the typical eight semesters an engineering student goes through, getting progressively more complex as the youngsters mature and become, hopefully, more confident of themselves. "I teach them goal setting and to have a vision for their future, both in career and personal lives, and excel in their chosen field. They also learn to recognise their relative strengths and weaknesses, and how to turn their weakness into strength,'' Shankar says. Such courses are becoming almost a parallel syllabus in many colleges now, according to him. Students, who did not have the benefit of such training, feel they have missed out on something important. His training sessions for corporates fill this void.

``What new recruits in a company most need is an understanding of the organisation's culture. The organisation culture is a system of shared beliefs and attitudes that develop within an organisation and guides the behaviour of its members... , it's also called Corporate Culture,'' says Shankar. This may be a relatively new concept but is becoming increasingly important in a highly competitive business world.

While individual initiative and autonomy matter, teamwork counts for a lot in successful organisations, he points out. This is where the fresh graduate needs a reorientation in thinking. At college, individual ability matters because the individual is graded in an examination. But, in an organisation, each team has its goals, and they have to be collectively accomplished. Unless the members work together as a team, the organisation itself cannot meet its goals, whether sales targets or an improved corporate image.

Does this mean that the individual ceases to matter? "No, it's an inclusive thing. Individual skills and strengths contribute to the entire team. With a shared organisational culture and proper leadership, global benchmarks can be matched,'' Shankar says. This naturally includes customer satisfaction, which goes beyond technical expertise. Human relationships count.

"I have been getting very encouraging feedback from colleges and corporates... some companies report 30 to 40 per cent increase in productivity without any additional investment, and are happy,'' he says with satisfaction.

Shankar has given talks at IITs, and presented papers at prestigious occasions organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry and other industry and business associations.

He has also given talks over AIR, Doordarshan, Chandana, and some Tamil TV channels with equal felicity in English, Kannada, and Tamil. He is familiar with nearly 40 industry segments, and understands their specific needs.

His extensive training stints overseas in countries as varied as the U.S. and Taiwan have broadened his outlook on the world and his fellow beings. His next goal is to condense his various talks and courses, first into audiotapes/CDs and later into books. They should serve as "refresher courses" for those who have interacted with him.

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