A billion people, and nowhere to go

Rather than putting it as ‘a billion people’, I should repeat the
age-old question of ‘quantity versus quality’. Putting an IT industry lens,
the relative importance of this question is magnified a hundred fold.

In my column in December, I had mentioned why it is imperative that we
look at the education segment on a war footing, lest it becomes too late.
Nasscom has been talking about a $60-70 bn revenue target by 2008. While this
helps bring the proper context to policy makers, I think we should start talking
about availability of quality manpower in the same breath. Usually, the manpower
requirement is mentioned in one para and is forgotten after some time. 


Let me give you two examples of why I keep coming back to the education
issue. Recently, as a precursor to our annual Top T School Survey, Dataquest,
along with IDC, initiated a focus group discussion and the HR people of a few
top IT companies along with placement officers of a few Tech institutes. What
came out of the meeting was another vindication that something needs to be
done-about the quality of education in the country; or that it’s time to
rework the $70 bn projection quickly and, maybe, also to stop believing in the
dream that we can become the IT Superpower.

Something needs to be done about
the education quality in the country, else it is time to rework the $70 bn
projection and, maybe, to also stop believing in the dream that we can
become an IT Superpower

Now for the examples. Recently, HCL Technologies wanted people (which IT
company does not?) and decided to look at Tech institutes across Uttar Pradesh.
After a long process, the company managed to get a shortlist of about top 20
colleges in the state. The company invited resumes from these institutes and got
about 600 (a positive of having a billion people). Getting resumes is certainly
not an issue in India. Of course, what happens later is my contention and
concern. After whetting the resumes and talking to various candidates, the green
signal was given to only TWO candidates. Yes, only two people. Wow, talk about
abysmal ratio, bad luck, more hard work, whatever. 

Forget technology schools, even management schools are no better. The NCR
based RMSI went to a well-known private B school and the experience was no
different. Of the 60 students who applied, the company took only two people.
This was after spending a full day in the institute. In fact, what surprised the
interviewer was the lack of awareness among these students. At one point of
time, the exhausted and exasperated interviewer asked the candidate to suggest
to him topics on which he should ask questions, given that the candidate drew a
blank to practically all the questions asked. 

While the Tech (private and public) institutes are churning out engineers
by the dozen, is anyone monitoring the quality that is being churned out? As of
now, I do not remember hearing about any government or private agency doing this
job for the IT industry. No wonder that over 70% of these engineers are not
usable by the industry.

So a billion people might be great in terms of a great opportunity for
marketers to fully work on CK Pralad’s ‘bottom of the pyramid’ potential,
but for IT companies, I see it as beginning of a big, bad nightmare. And the
problem will be pronounced for the tier 2 and tier 3 companies. While it will be
a field day for the employees, given the demand-supply imbalance for a long time
to come, for IT companies and HR heads it is business (nightmare) as usual. Till
such time, let’s stop fooling ourselves that we will become an IT Superpower.

We have potential, but reality and potentials are not synonyms. Are they?

Yograj Varma, associate editor, Dataquest

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