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When MBAs aspire to become clerks

By Shyamal Majumdar
November 12, 2009 11:19 IST
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There are 300 applicants for each clerical post at SBI, mostly engineers/MBAs, for a job that just requires a Class 12 qualification, says Shyamal Majumdar.

The server of State Bank of India (SBI) crashed last year when two million candidates applied for 20,000 clerical posts. The written examination had to be conducted over four shifts as the bank just could not find enough venues where the tests could be held.

A year on, the country's largest bank faces an even bigger dilemma. It has 11,000 clerical posts on offer, but has received 3.4 million applications. That's about 300 applications for every vacancy.

SBI is conducting the entrance test on three Sundays, in two sessions (morning and afternoon) across 83 centres. The exercise is estimated to cost at least Rs 65 crore (Rs 650 million), which will be taken care of by the money obtained from application fee. SBI needs the clerks for its ambitious branch expansion programme.

The bank can afford the luxury of being extremely choosy - a vast majority of the candidates who have applied for the Rs 8,000-a-month job are engineering graduates and MBAs, even though the job specified only Class 12 as minimum qualification criterion.

It's not that there aren't enough suitable jobs for good-quality engineers and MBAs. There are countless stories of how leading Indian companies are visiting engineering and MBA colleges in interior parts of the country to add to their basket of employable graduates but are returning empty-handed.

The main problem is that of employability. Studies have indicated that only one in four graduates from India's colleges is employable. A Nasscom study found that India still produces plenty of engineers - 400,000 a year. But most are deficient in the required technical skills, fluency in English or ability to work in a team and deliver basic oral presentations.

As a result, those engineers or MBAs who manage to become SBI clerks may still consider themselves lucky. Listen to what Sandip Mukherjee (name changed) - he is an engineering graduate from one of the middle-rung private institutes in Kolkata - has to say.

He came to Navi Mumbai to join a windmill company which has its headquarters in Europe. The quality of the job, however, he says, was only slightly better than that of a security guard. Mukherjee, who was lucky enough to find another job within four months, says his ex-boss had asked him to prepare a project report on the security system in the company's godowns.

Apparently, the company suspected that a lot of pilferage was taking place in one of its godowns. The engineer was asked to station himself in the security office to figure out the lacunae in the system.

One of his observations was that some people left the godown unchecked during lunch hour when the security guard would go to the canteen to bring food. Impressed with this finding, the boss then asked him to find out whether this was happening during tea break or at dinner time also, or whether the security guards went to the toilet often, leaving the gate unmanned. "I didn't pursue engineering to observe people's tea and toilet habits," Mukherjee wrote in his resignation letter.

Companies say this mismatch between qualification and quality of job is inevitable in a country where everybody and his uncle is either an engineer or an MBA. The quality of teaching in most of the second-rung institutes is poor and companies often have to pay through the nose to train them.

Indian Institute of Technology alumni have repeatedly expressed serious concern over the mushrooming of engineering colleges that are being run as "business ventures" by contractors, builders, coal dealers, brick-kiln owners and sweetmeat sellers.

In Uttar Pradesh alone, 250 such engineering colleges have come up in the last decade with an intake of about 60,000 students.

Two years ago, an assessment of the country's higher education system by the University Grants Commission (UGC) found that as many as 25 per cent faculty positions in universities remained vacant; 57 per cent teachers in colleges did not have either an M Phil or PhD; and there was only one computer for 229 students, on an average, in colleges.

The assessment was conducted on 123 universities and 2,956 colleges across India - an estimated 60 per cent of these institutions were private, the rest government-run.

Now, look at a couple of rungs further down in the job market pyramid. India's vocational training institutes produce six million students every year. That's a minuscule number considering that an estimated 88.5 million people in the 15-29 age group need such training.

And industry says less than half of the six million people who have received vocational training are in the employable category.

A Planning Commission assessment shows 80 per cent of the 12.8 million new entrants to India's workforce every year have no opportunity for skills training. Even more worrying is the fact that only 2 per cent of the workforce has skills training and 80 per cent of the rural and urban workforce does not possess any "identifiable" market skills.

What is also worrying are the findings of the India Labour Report prepared by TeamLease - it has found that over half of employed youth suffered some degree of skill deprivation, while only 8 per cent were unemployed. In all, 57 per cent of India's youth suffered from some degree of "unemployability".

The good news is that some companies have decided to take the bull by the horns in their own limited ways to bridge the skills gap. Infosys, for example, has launched the Campus Connect initiative with engineering institutions in Mysore, Bangalore, Pune and other cities. Under this, workshops and seminars are held for students to provide them with industry-specific exposure.

ICICI Bank is working in order to upgrade curriculum in areas like wealth management and credit relationship sales with institutes like Management Development Institute, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies and so on.

And last week's report on Japanese auto major Toyota tying up with 40 more Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in addition to the existing 16 was hugely welcome. Under its technical education programme, Toyota has prepared a one-year syllabus on body and paint repair in association with its dealers.

Under a tie-up with the Delhi Government's Department of Training and Technical Education for this purpose, Toyota has synchronised the curriculum with the selected industrial training institute's syllabus in the second year of the course.

Toyota dealerships provide on-the-job training every week, spread over a period of six months, so that the students can get a firsthand feel of Toyota technology and service systems.

As a part of the curriculum, Toyota will train the instructors of the institutes in the latest technology used by the company. The eventual plan is to reach out to over 500 technical institute students every year through this programme. The students are free to join other companies if they want to.

India was the 53rd country where Toyota introduced such a programme. And nothing could be a better win-win proposition, both for the Japanese car major and students in India who desperately needed such initiatives to make themselves employable.

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Shyamal Majumdar
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