Business Today

A bittersweet employment market

Smart employers have decided to filter freshers for life skills- creativity, confidence, curiosity, learnability and teamwork- rather than technical skills.

Manish Sabharwal        Print Edition: June 13, 2010

By the end of this placement season, business and engineering graduates of the current class will relate to the lines of Charles Dickens: ..."It was the best of times and it was worst of times...." This class will graduate to a bittersweet employment market where employers are confused; they know India had a good crisis and is growing but this crisis reminded them about productivity-that they can do more with less.

The downturn has created scar tissue for a generation of managers who grew up in twenty years of high tide but had to face the brutal consequences of lower productivity and "anticipatory hiring" in the last two years. Other companies, however, felt the train had left the station but now find themselves presented with a unique opportunity to re-board the train.

So after two years of hiring being biased in favour of people with experience, fresher hiring will come roaring back. But the difference from the last high tide is that companies are not willing to lower hiring standards driven by the hope of making it up by expensive "on-the-job-training".

So being an engineer or MBA is no longer good enough because employers have realised that our education Nazis have done a bad job of college accreditation and there is a quality challenge beyond the top 100 institutions.

So smart employers have decided to filter freshers for life skills-creativity, confidence, curiosity, learnability and teamwork-rather than technical skills. But independent of which institute a student graduates from, employers now recognise that summer internships, extra-curricular activities and noacademic courses demonstrate initiative which is a strong predictor of workplace performance.

The labour market is also diverging between "India as a market" and "India as a production base". India as a production base for exports is still not completely rocking because the global economic gloom has still not fully shifted. We see some early signs of change in the outlook for IT and ITES that should cheer students but it's still early to call for a broad recovery across all export sectors. However, the overall mood has clearly reversed as indicated by upward momentum in the BTTeamlease Employment outlook which rose by 11 per cent in the last quarter.

Freshers would increase their chances of getting lucky by targeting fertile geographies and industries. The industries most likely to recruit are telecom, financial services, hospitality, health care, and education. The most optimistic city continues to be Bangalore, though the performance of Ahmedabad and Kolkata continues to surprise.

This may be because India's labour market is diverging from China, which decided that the best way to reduce poverty is by exports. It is still early to say if our model of domestic consumption and services will help reduce poverty on a wide scale, but it offers huge opportunities for skilled and motivated youth because there is a lot more diversity in jobs, functions and geographies.

Overall, talented and skilled freshers are lucky to graduate this year: corporate India is positioning itself to catch its next high tide. The downside for everybody is that employers have raised hiring standards and it will be up to students to differentiate themselves.

A word of caution to students graduating from the top institutes profiled in this issue: Education is an important differentiator in the early stages of a career but finally workplace success is about what you can do. More often than not patience, persistence, and temperament trump intelligence. Corporate India is finally catching on.

- The author is Chairman, TeamLease Services

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