Why skill training is still an ugly word

January 24th, 2013

Skill education has been the most abused term in the Indian education system. With the employability ratios of Indian graduates decreasing, academic consultants say skill education and vocational training are the only option for these students. However, human resource officers of companies explain that instead of students enrolling into skill development courses, educational institutes should instead focus on enhancing action-based learning for students.

Institutes offering such vocational courses to students also complain of very high dropout rates. While they continue to enrol for these courses, students either do not attend half the classes or do not actively take part in the projects. All they want is a placement at the end of the course, say directors of reputed vocational training institutes. But they wouldn’t be too much concerned, as long as they have the revenues coming in.

Companies are also having to pay the price of hiring these students, whose training periods often have been extended by at least three to four weeks, according to skill trainers. And, the respective companies are having to foot the additional bill incurred per student on account of administrative expenses.

These issues could be resolved if skill training could be made part of the curriculum. Instead of spending thousands of rupees in skill training institutes, HR players suggest that skill and action based learning should be made a part of the curriculum. Giving a popular example, the human resource head of a conglomerate says that students know the name of Akbar’s father, but wouldn’t know how to stitch a button on a shirt. This is because, according to him, Indians are used to rote learning and not practical learning.

Another HR consultant suggested skill development schools be given the status of institutes of national importance, with companies being mandated to recruit a certain percentage of students from them  to prominent posts. This way, institutes could also improve the quality of teaching, and students could also get placed with reputed companies.

With the human resource development ministry outlining vocational training as one of its priority segments in the twelfth five-year plan, education sector experts expect more ’skilled’ students to graduate from these institutes and add to the productive workforce in the nation. However, they caution that unless the mental bloc towards the concept of skill training, both companies and industry would continue to face the crisis of skill shortage.

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Why going job savvy online may be a tedious task

November 21st, 2012

The most prominent e-mail on my mailbox reads, “XXX professional networking site is going premium. Click now to upgrade your account free of cost.” The mail sounds genuine, so i click on it. The link indeed leads me to the actual website of the professional networking site and no, this is not about any phishing scam. This is, in fact, about the painstaking process of upgrading one’s account on professional networking sites and job sites.

Since the link said it was free of cost, any ordinary individual would be prompted to click on it. However, the process is not easy as it seems. As soon as one reaches the site, one is asked to click on the free upgrade link. But the account still doesn’t become a premium account. The user is the redirected to a payment gateway, implying that the ‘premium services’ do not come for free. Now, why in the first place would one be asked to upgrade the account for free and yet directed to a payment gateway? I wouldn’t mind paying up for upgrading the account, only if the procedure could be completed.

The tryst with the site continues. Even though I did try to pay, the page was redirected to several such pages so many times, that I lost patience exited. While narrating this to friends, I found out that they too had faced this technical glitch. If they tried to upgrade, either the payment gateway wouldn’t work or they would get a notification saying they should try later. This was true not just of one professional networking site, but of several such websites.

Take job sites for example. Leave alone upgrading your account, mere registration may takes hours of effort. The first task is to understand the website architecture and navigation system. Then comes the actual registration. You fill in the details. Yet, there are ten more steps before you can start using the site. Some sites need mobile number verifications. I understand that verifications are needed, but people may just not be comfortable giving out their mobile numbers. After much ado, even if they give it out and get done with the mobile code verification, the process is not over yet.

If it is a job site senior top executives, you need to enter years of work experience. Though there may be options like 2-5 years, if you click on them you are redirected to another page since you do not have ‘adequate experience’. If the target audience was people with 10+ years of work experience, why would the other options exist in the first place? This may not be true of all job sites, but these issues persist with several of them.

Friends who tried registering on these sites,almost instantly got e-mail like, “There seems to be some problem with your registration process” or “You do not have adequate work experience. We are sorry” or “We will get back to you soon”. Most friends have lost hope and trying out the offline processes and are more or less content with the results.

While these user-targeted websites still struggle to bring out the perfect user-friendly simple site free of technical glitches, it is amazing to see how  social networking sites have almost perfected this art. Be it registration or online payment for certain games, these sites have mastered the art of smooth flow of content and data. The other professional networking platforms and job sites have a lot to learn.

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Why Indian institutions do not bother about foreign ratings

September 21st, 2012

The latest QS Rankings saw a dismal performance by most educational institutions in India. Apart from the IITs which also stood well below the Top 200 institutes in the world, other institutions including the Delhi University stood below Top 400 institutes.

Though international experts and critics of the Indian educational system may term it as a failure on the institution’s part to match up to the world standards, the question to be asked is whether these institutes actually aspire for a world ranking.

Among the 50,000 plus colleges in India, only a small percentage choose to be a part of the world rankings in the first place. Experts might argue that lack of necessary infrastructure and other facilities may prohibit such institutes from applying; even those who do have the requisite facilities do not wish to apply.

“The concern is not about not being able to compete with their international standards; it is about what would be the next logical step after the rankings are awarded,” says the associate dean from an engineering college in West Bengal. He might be right in his view, as his institute features prominently in Indian magazine rankings. And to add to it, a third or fourth position in these magazine rankings would look more glamorous on the institute’s website rather than a 400th position in QS rankings.

There are even others, like a technical institute in Tamil Nadu, who feel that they don’t stand a chance compared to the US institutes. “Who should we bother to apply, when we know that we wouldn’t be able to overthrow a US or a UK college?” wonders the principal of the institute. What they somehow do not understand is that if they could improve their existing facilities, they would definitely be able to match up the standards.

While research and internationalisation have been identified as key issues in India by the ranking authorities at QS, institutes are far from realising the lacuna in their system. Instead of trying to improve their academic infrastructure and research focus, the institutes seem to be content with their existing clout among Indian students. It is exactly here that India and its educational institutes are losing out.

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Why jobs come before higher education

August 11th, 2012

This placement season Avinash Iyer is playing it safe. The 23-year-old engineer from West Bengal had an opportunity to pursue his MS in the United States. But he chose to be a part of his college placement and is happy with a big IT job and a fat package. He has learnt from the experience of his elder brother in 2008-09,  who had opted for higher education in the US, only to find, on his return, that the job market was dry.

A recent trend in India is that engineering students this year have chosen to join companies with fat pay packages rather than go for higher education. They seem to have learnt their lessons from 2009-09, when students who had completed higher education found it difficult to get decent jobs. This time, they are playing it safe.

The protagonist in a popular Bollywood movie tells his friends worried about exams and placements, “Get educated, not for the degree that you would get at the end of it. Get educated, to learn, for the sake of knowledge.” However, the situation in the country is far from this scenario. Most students will openly tell you that they chose to join an A, B or a C institution only because of the attractive salaries that they would end up getting post their degree from this institute. Let me tell you, I am no exception to it. I too, joined a journalism school with a hope that this would help me secure a job in an easier manner.

The ongoing slowdown has also given an excuse to students to find a good paying job for themselves rather than pursue higher education. The students here are not at fault. The incentives for daring to leave a job and pursue further education and research are just not good enough. The meager stipends coupled with lack of sufficient grants make it ‘impractical’ for students to choose anything other than a job. Plus, the Indian ethos also allows us to question other fellows who have dared to step into the ‘other path’. “You are 23 years old and still studying? Don’t you want to take up a job and settle down?”–are the general remarks to these exceptions.

While it is not entirely fair to put the ball in the government’s court by citing lack of grants, financial inadequacy for research remains a concern. Picture this. As per the annual report for 2011 of the University of Texas at Dallas (United States), a whopping $93 million was spent on research. It is not even one-fifth of the amount in India. Though institutions have been trying their best to concentrate their efforts on research, a lot still needs to be done. Infrastructure is also a concern in some of them, which needs immediate attention.

According to reports, India contributes only 2.2 per cent to the total population of researchers, which makes it a country with one of the least number of researchers per million among developing nations. If all stakeholders come together and try to work out a solution, higher education would have the place that it deserves among the Indian community.

On a lighter side, this is not meant to dissuade anyone from going for a fat package. Of course, you need to show them what you are worth! But if you think you are capable (financially and otherwise) to take the ‘other path’, please go for it. We need more such people to brighten the temple of the international knowledge community.

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Is DU being reasonable?

July 7th, 2012

It is that time of the year that Class XII passouts eagerly wait for — the Delhi University cut-off lists for admission to its colleges. Every year, it is quite a sight outside the DU campus with eager students and parents waiting for the cut-off list to be put-up.  This year, though there was no 100% cut-off shocker, a 99.25% cut-off was equally shocking. With several bright students being turned away due to the high percentage requirements, one needs to ask whether DU is being reasonable in its cut-off requirements.

Delhi University is the most sought after by students who wish to pursue a career other than engineering or medicine. The array of reputed colleges including St Stephens, Hansraj College, Hindu College, Miranda House, Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) and Lady Shri Ram College have been a dream destination for most aspirants. Added to this is the fact that DU colleges make it to the top 10 best colleges list of ‘leading business magazines’, which makes it fashionable to say that “I am getting into the Number 1/2/3 college in India”.

The trend began in early 2000s when more and more magazines started publishing the best colleges list. The number of applicants in the colleges increased leading to an automatic increase in cut-offs to ensure quality students apply. Every year, the cut-offs started increasing–beginning from 91% to 93% to 97%. Last year, SRCC had put a 100% cut-off for non-commerce students. Media reports also showed how one student qualified for it, though further details on the same were not available.

This year, the situation is equally worse. With more colleges joining the 95%-plus cut-off category, admissions to DU is only getting tougher. The cut-off criteria where a student scoring 94.95% is not eligible, but one with a 95% is eligible seems a ridiculous proposition. What about the students from certain state government boards, where it is considered impossible to score above 85%? Are they not worthy enough of DU?

Industry experts say that if the colleges really want to ensure that the quality of students is upto the mark, why not have an entrance examination. They could have a 75% eligibility for the entrance exam and then screen candidates. Though it will be a tedious process given the number of candidates who apply for DU, the process would atleast give a fair chance to more number of students. “They could maybe have an online exam, with tough questions to sieve out the best candidates,” say a Delhi based education industry expert.

For now, till the new reforms are introduced, getting admission into the top DU institutes seems like a Herculean task. The second and third lists also do not offer any respite for the students since the cut-offs ranging between 93-96%. The only option is to keep waiting for further lists till the process is competed on July 10.

DU’s message seems to be very clear-If you are among the top students (Top here means only those students scoring 95% and above), you are welcome to “try your luck” at our admissions. Others: Don’t even bother to apply!

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Careful, big boss is watching

June 12th, 2012

Anita Goel, a 35-year-old BFSI sector employee used to put up all her weekend party pictures on her Facebook and Google+ profile on a regular basis. Most of the pictures were the ‘fun’ kind and were taken when she was down a peg or two. However, she stopped all the uploading once she found out that bosses from office were checking her FB profile. She is more careful since, and puts up very selective pictures.

This is not because her boss is on her friends’ list, but because her company has begun checking social networking profiles of employees regularly for the past few months. Goel is furious with her company for the intrusion, but there is little she can do. She is happy with her organisation and her work, so she doesn’t create a fuss about this clause enforced by her company.

Hers is not the only company doing it. There are several others who have started taking the social networking activities of their employees seriously. In fact, some have even been keeping it in their records for possible future use. The HR head of a top wealth management firm in India explains that the employees’ social media updates and photos are constantly monitored to keep a tab on their post office activities. “The company image is at stake. Even though we do it discreetly, most employees are aware about the process. So I don’t think that should be problem,” he says.

Companies justify this step by explaining that it is better to be safe than sorry. They use the information available on these sites to expose particular employee behaviour, especially issues like substance abuse and other delinquent cases. Appropriate action is taken against these employees at the right time. Being a popular concept in the west, this is finding wide acceptance among Indian companies. And specific agencies dealing with employee background verification are the ones helping companies in their efforts.

Does this sound the alarm bell for employees? Not yet, claim HR experts. They say that companies only look out for exceptionally delinquent behaviour. Harmless office jokes and bad-mouthing the boss behind his/her back on social networking sites is often not taken seriously, though it is a bad idea to expose him/her to this information, say consultants. Even if one doesn’t add the boss to his friends’ list, there are always those few boss’s pets who are mostly added to one’s network and pass on this information on a regular basis.

At this juncture, the safest option would be to play it safe on the internet. You may want to share your drunken picture with the world, but not at the cost of your job. Because here, the Big Boss is carefully watching your move.

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Is the Indian workplace gender neutral?

May 14th, 2012

Gender is the main focus of the diversity efforts of companies in India, said a survey by a HR consulting firm. It would include developing women for leadership roles and attracting more diverse talent to the organisation. Though companies are now going several steps ahead to get more women on board, the question really is whether the workplace itself is gender neutral.

The CEO of a global consulting firm dealing with women related HR issues at workplaces says that the Indian workplace is far from being diverse. “The irony is, though the companies are doing a lot on paper, the benefits do not percolate to the women in the office,” says the CEO. It is no surprise that this firm has set up operations officially in India to assist the Indian companies.

The CEO reiterates that even if the benefits do reach the women, it is often not appreciated by the fellow male colleagues who term it discriminatory. Therefore, all the male members in an organisation too, are also offered consulting services by this firm.

There are certainly some professions where women are ill represented. Engineering/manufacturing and automobile sectors are among the most prominent ones in this category, say HR head-hunters. But is this true for other parts of the world? Not quite so. An auto maker’s factory in Japan is certainly bound to have women across the board than its factory in India, informs the MD of a global head-hunting firm. Even among the sunshine sectors like IT, they tend to drop out when there is an absence of an adequate growth opportunity beyond a level in a company.

Absence of enough role-models from the female gender to look up to is also another concern of the female employees. Especially in the male dominated sectors, women have expressed desire to be mentored for senior leadership positions by their own gender.

There is a still lot to be done in terms of gender diversity is the popular perception in the country. Implementation of gender friendly policies and acceptance of talent by fellow workers is key, say women professionals. Overall, though companies have started to take serious efforts, the general belief is that it would still take time to achieve the perfect 50-50 gender balance and retain it throughout.

I would appreciate personal experiences and perceptions about this issue. Please comment.

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24/7 work pressure: Is there any end?

April 13th, 2012

A recent survey by an HR firm says majority of public sector employees feel that they are expected to be available by their employees 24/7.  Here the figure for public sector employees is significantly higher than that of the private sector. But the question is: Don’t we all undergo it?

Tell me, whom among all of you switches off his/her cell-phone as soon as you leave office? Or, don’t check messages at home from your bosses?  Further, would not look at an official mail when you are out of the workplace. After all, who among us can attempt to earn our superior’s wrath?

Work-life balance is something that has always remained skewed towards work from time immemorial. You cannot afford to miss a call from your boss or not promptly respond to their messages even if you are away on a holiday or a social event. This is regardless of whether you are a public or a private sector employee. I would even go to an extent of saying that in a public sector company, one can at least give excuses of a weekend, unlike the private sector where even a Sunday may mean work. Taking into consideration the whimsical hire and fire policies, one just cannot be callous about these issues.

While technology has definitely played an important role of maintaining this status quo, the work culture is also to be blamed. Frankly, how many of us have ever turned down any call on a Sunday saying that it being a holiday, we would not work. For professions such as ours, a holiday may end up giving additional pressure to work and produce better content than the normal days.

The western economies have accepted the work-life balance principle as an essential HR tool in their companies. No matter how much ever is the work pressure, a holiday is always considered a holiday.

If one looks at the present survey, the Indian scenario is quite clear. It has been revealed that more than half the employees handle official matters during private time. Also, most employees (79 per cent) also shared that they would receive work-related phone calls/e-mail even on a holiday. Shocking? No, this is completely normal. Also considering that I am one of them.

Here we have come to terms with the fact that once you start earning, work never seems to get over. Though one cannot expect any miracle to happen overnight with the boss shooting an e-mail strictly prohibiting one from working after office hours, one can hope to see a slight change in the HR practices. With Indian firms gradually adapting western work practices, it may not be very far  when one can safely switch off the cell-phone while on leave. That is, neither having to answer the 101 questions of the angry boss later for this behaviour nor having to give excuses for doing so. Happy hoping!

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Why this 24/7 tele-shoppingveri di?

March 15th, 2012

A sofa that makes you feel like you’re sleeping on air, a machine that multi-tasks as a vacuum cleaner, iron and a wiper, a home spa that helps detoxify cum reduce acne/extra kilos — these are just some of the products among the array of products available on your very own 24/7 tele-shopping channel. If the 24/7 news channels that keep screaming throughout the day haven’t irritated you enough, try watching these tele-shopping channels.

The whole phenomenon started off as harmless half-hour programmes on Indian television channels. It essentially had a ‘non-Indian’ host with a funny Hindi accent, with products priced at an amount which is a rupee lesser than a whole number.
With 24-hour news channels taking control of television, why would these tele-shopping guys stay behind? That is when they too came into the picture.

One has a variety of tele-shopping channels to choose from. It is good news for regulars to these channels that there are Indian hosts too, in some of them. The format is simple. Mornings to evening to night, useless products are on display. Each product is advertised atleast 7-8 times everyday, accompanied by irritating faces and loud voices.

The best part of the ads is the user testimonial. Their failure to fame story after usage of the product is totally entertaining. Consider this: “I could never fit into my old clothes and hence couldn’t be a part of my hubby’s social circle by wearing those sexy dresses. That is when my friend suggested XXX fitness belt to me.  After using the product, I lost 8 kgs in a week. Thank you XXX fitness belt,” proudly says a middle-aged American woman in anglicised Hindi. To add to this, there is also a funny looking doctor to testify the statement.

This doctor is talented for sure, because he switches between being a dietician, gynaecologist and an ophthalmologist, depending on the type of the product. The products themselves aren’t anywhere behind, having medicinal and cosmetic properties at the same time. Reviews of the products are below average most of the time.

Consumers needn’t be disheartened. Apart from these ‘magic products’, there are other items too. You may purchase 20 saris for 4K, or 500 pieces of jewellery for 2K. Do you actually need them? This is a question that must not be answered.

If you are wondering why I even chose this topic to blog on, it is simply because I was/am a victim of them. I was lured to spend 3K on a worthless vegetable dicer that was supposed to work like a wonder by chopping in seconds.

As I recuperate from my monetary losses, just a piece of advice: ‘Watch these channels purely for entertainment purposes’. Coz, it hurts when their products don’t work.

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