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The great rush for IT talent

KARTHIK SUBRAMANIAN

The IT and ITES sector needs more graduates who are `industry-ready', but colleges are not working hard enough to produce them.

Photo: R. Ragu

NEW ECONOMY ISSUES: A participant making a point at the NASSCM HR Summit in Chennai.

This is one forecast that has stirred a hornet's nest in the sunshine industry. According to estimates by a study conducted by NASSCOM and KPMG, by the year 2010, more than 2.35 lakh jobs in IT and ITES sectors could go abegging for want of qualified professionals in the country.

Human Resources executives and educational institution representatives discussed the issue at the `HR Summit' organised by NASSCOM in Chennai recently, where both sides highlighted the upside and the downside of the great rush for IT talent in a session titled `Profile of the emerging IT-ITES workforce: shaping the talent pool'.

For the IT industry, the next few years are going to be all about roping in the best talent, and if the numbers predicted are anything to go by, all talent available. For the engineering colleges, the next few years are going to be all about producing `industry-ready' students who can join the production line on Day One.

Hema Ravichandar, HR consultant, said IT and ITES companies were already starved of people and middle management-starved. Though the number of engineering graduates passing out of colleges has substantially increased in the last five years (from 1,85,000 in 2000 to 4,50,000 in 2005), the demand is still far too high to meet completely.

She pointed out that the key factor was not the `number of students', but the `average suitability of students for the market'. She pointed out countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have a higher ratio of converting their graduates into `industry-ready' candidates. This poses a threat of other European nations `near' shoring their work to these countries rather than outsourcing them to India and other Asian countries.

Soft skills

Ms. Hema said the most important skills that colleges could impart to their students to make them `industry-ready' would be the soft skills that include communication and group activities.

"It is very important that students know how to behave in a cross-cultural work environment. That is the present and the future of IT sector."

Shasikant Albal, director, SSN School of Advanced Software Engineering, said colleges would do well to introduce more activities for their students than proceed with a marks-based approach.

"All courses must have electives related to IT or ITES fields. Students must also be encouraged to do summer projects so that they have some hands-on experience."

Most academicians agreed that it becomes important to simulate work environment for the students so that they have a fair idea of what they might be doing once they pass out.

Madan Padaki, co-founder and director of Meritrac, country's leading skills assessment company, said colleges would do well to market their students in principles much similar to that of marketing guru Philip Kotler.

The mantra: understand the customer, differentiate your products, package them and communicate to the world.

The key behind preparing would be to "strengthen the strengths." There was a misconception that high standards of communication were a must for all jobs and that students were forced to spend their energies honing the skill.

But the fact remained that certain jobs would require less of communication skills and more of coding. It is better to work on one's strengths, Mr. Padaki said.

Several professors who attended the seminar made a request that could make several students cringe. "Please ensure that the recruiters offer jobs for students only after the fourth year," they said.

"Students who receive job offers in their third year lose interest in their fourth-year studies," they explained.

The industry reaction was on expected lines: Given the demand, we might actually start making offer in the fifth semester next year on.

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