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Dark side of the jobs boom in India

By Shyamal Majumdar
May 01, 2008 10:03 IST
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Smita Rajan (name changed), an MBA from one of the lesser-known B-schools in Mumbai, was glad when she got a job at one of India's leading private sector banks in its marketing department. The salary was alright for a beginner and the career prospects sounded rosy enough.

A year later, Smita's father has managed a Rs 5 lakh personal loan -- the amount Smita is bound to pay her employer if she quits before two years.  "She signed a bond with her employer. But I would rather pay the high EMIs than see my daughter go through this daily torture," he says.

Here's his version of what Smita has to go through at her workplace: the 24-year old MBA graduate has to maintain a 9 am to 10 pm routine everyday; her job profile requires her to do door-to-door canvassing for opening accounts; and the monthly variable component of her salary has been cut by Rs 8,500 at least thrice for failure to meet the targets. "You surely don't need an MBA to do this job. My daughter is a psychological wreck as the bank has destroyed her confidence," Smita's father says. The bank apparently has appointed MBAs even to man the teller machines!

To be sure, Smita isn't alone. There are countless other examples of the uglier side of the much-hyped jobs boom in India.

Debashis Bhowmick (name changed) is an engineering graduate from one of the lower-rung private institutes in Kolkata. He came to Navi Mumbai to join a windmill company which has its headquarters in Europe. The quality of the job, however, was "slightly better than that of a security guard," he says. Bhowmick, who was lucky enough to find another job within four months, says his earlier 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 happening in one of its godowns. The engineering graduate was asked to station himself in the security office to see the lacunae in the system. One of his observations was that some people left the godown unmanned during lunch time when the security guard went to the canteen to bring food.

Impressed with this finding, the boss then asked him to find out whether this was happening during tea or dinner time also, or whether the security guards went to the toilet often leaving the gate unmanned.  "I didn't do engineering to observe people's tea and toilet habits," Bhowmick wrote in his resignation letter.

Or, take the case of this first class B-Com graduate who works as a service officer in a BPO. The 4 pm to 2 am routine and the mindlessly repetitive task are bad enough leading to a host of health problems; what's worse is that the company has asked him to practice speaking English with a marble placed below his tongue to imitate the American accent better. The attrition rate in the company is as high as 30 to 40 per cent but they are quickly replaced as there are enough English-speaking graduates available for  Rs 12,000-a month job.

Talk to most of these first-class graduates, or MBAs, or engineers from the relatively lesser known institutes, and the common refrain is that companies offer unreachable targets, unrealistic incentive temptations and poor work profile. At a time when everybody is gung-ho about the huge employment boom in India, these examples indicate that many Indian companies are perhaps hiring for the future recklessly without having a clue as to the relationship between qualifications and job profile – a fact that prompted Larsen & Toubro Chairman A M Naik to lash out at the IT sector for hijacking engineers when all they required were plain B-Com graduates.

But companies on their part say that a pressure-cooker existence is inevitable in an economy that is growing so fast. And that is true even for students who pass out from the premier institutes.

On the practice of recruiting over-qualified people for jobs that don't require specialised degrees, companies say this is also inevitable in a country where everybody and his uncle is either a first-class graduate or an engineer or an MBA.  But the quality of teaching in most of these second-rung institutes is abysmal and companies often have to pay through their nose to train them. "Even after training, we have no option but to offer these people jobs that are out of sync with their so-called degrees," an HR manager says.

He may have a point. Studies have indicated that only one in four graduates from India's colleges are employable. This means till the time the quality of education improves, the other three will have to remain content with either door-door canvassing for savings accounts, or watching people's tea and toilet habits, or honing up their American accents in graveyard shifts.

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Shyamal Majumdar
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