Page last updated at 06:41 GMT, Sunday, 7 March 2010

Finishing school for Indian IT graduates

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Mysore

Students at RiiiT in Mysore
Employment experts say "soft skills" are very important

In a classroom in the southern Indian city of Mysore, several dozen young men and women listen rapt to their lecturer, Chhaya Srivatsa.

"If someone is crying, don't keep pestering them to know the reason," she says.

"If someone has got grey hair or wrinkles, don't go asking them about it. It's not the done thing," she adds.

"IST (Indian Standard Time) is not Indian Stretchable Time. If you have no respect for your own time, at least have respect for other people's time," she counsels.

Next, she tells them how to dress on the job, how to speak to the boss and how to avoid slang when writing business e-mails.

The students here are all engineering graduates and their school, set up two years ago, Raman International Institute of Information Technology (RiiiT), is a finishing school for information technology (IT) professionals - some of whom are considered to lack the social skills which could help them get a job.

Ms Srivatsa is teaching them workplace etiquette.

Communication skills

"They spend all their time on the computer, their communication is via technical networking, not people networking.

"Once they join an office, they don't know how to interact with their colleagues, how to speak to each other, their body language and voice intonation is not right, and nobody teaches them these things."

Saba Syed
As a child I learned how to eat a chocolate, here I've learned how and where to throw the wrapper
Saba Syed

Furthermore, as boundaries blur in business and Indian companies hire for postings anywhere in the world, they want employees who are aware and more tolerant of other cultures.

According to a study done by Nasscom (India's national association of the IT service industry), Indian universities produce 3 million graduates, including half-a-million engineers, every year.

But recruiters say many of them are "not employable".

Those graduating from prestigious IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and other well known institutes in major cities have good communication skills, they can hold their own confidently in any part of the world, says Mr Kiran Karnik, former president of Nasscom.

"But, a bulk of the recruitment takes place from second-tier universities - institutes in smaller towns and cities. These students know their engineering well, their fundamentals are strong, but their communication skills are very poor," he says.

The problem does not simply arise from spending too much time at the computer but that some students come from less privileged and urbane backgrounds.

'Not suitable'

The IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry employs more than 2 million people, and tens of thousands of new recruits are added every year. But those who hire talk of a talent crunch.

Mr Karnik blames the Indian education system.

"These students have been through an education system which emphasises rote learning, they are not taught to think and speak, so the system churns out enough numbers, but not enough suitable candidates."

Chhaya Srivatsa
Ms Chhaya Srivatsa teaches workplace etiquette

He says he cannot emphasise enough how important the "soft skills" are.

"If you are working in the back office of a computer firm, you may need to speak to your customer in the US who is 10,000 miles away. You need to discuss a project or a report with him and you have to know how to do it," he says.

The students at RiiiT are from smaller cities and towns in Karnataka and many of them have been through the disappointment of rejection.

"I attended many job interviews in Bangalore. After the first and second rounds, I was told, 'we'll get in touch with you', but then I did not hear anything," says Ravitej who is from Bellary town.

Nayana from Bijapur says attending the finishing school has helped her become more confident: "I'm a shy kind of a girl. I never used to get up and ask a question, but today I learned that it's important for me to speak my mind."

Saba Syed, also from Bijapur, says: "As a child I learnt how to eat a chocolate, here I've learned how and where to throw the wrapper."

'Industry ready'

Maya Patil from Bidar hopes that attending the finishing school will improve her chances of finding a job.

"I've learned how to behave, how to interact and communicate with people. Communication skills are most important, and they will help me get a job."

Ravitej attended many job interviews in Bangalore, but did not get a job

Founder and CEO of RiiiT SV Venkatesh says his students are good and his institute is trying to make them "industry ready".

"Their aspirations are very high, but they are unable to gel with the culture of Bangalore's posh MG Road. They are not good at selling themselves. I tell them, if you want to become a software programmer, first you must become a salesman."

Mr Venkatesh says companies do train people they hire, but "we try to sharpen their social, communication and analytical skills, we teach them life skills here".

Mr Karnik says finishing schools are a good idea as they can impart a reasonable amount of "soft skills" in three to six months.

"It is not going to replace years of school and college education, but it's a quick way of correcting what's missing, like giving finishing touches to what's already there, but not quite," he says.

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