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What is to be done? November 14, 2009

Posted by Stephen in English for Progress.
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The fact that 85-90% of college leavers in India are not considered immediately suitable for employment in the ITES sector presents a huge challenge for the industry. So what is the solution? One of the action points from the 2008 NASSCOM-Everest BPO report is to:

“Increase employability and access untapped talent pools by creating greater linkages between the current education system and the needs of the BPO industry, and facilitating the development of BPO-specific education models.”

The report goes on to make a number of recommendations in this area:

“Initiatives related to education are required to expand the employable talent pool in India. The industry needs to work more aggressively with the Government to create greater linkage between the current education system and requirements of the BPO industry. This can be done by 1) policy changes like liberalization of higher education, 2) increased collaboration between industry and academic institutions to take up initiatives such as introduction of BPO-specific curriculum and improving students’ access to funds for higher studies, 3) introducing coursework changes and teacher training at the school level in accordance with future requirements of the BPO industry. There is also a significant opportunity for private players to step in and create a BPO education industry. Such a move should be based on creating longer-term training programs to improve communication and other skills required by the BPO industry. Specific training programs need to be developed to create several intermediate levels of skills and specialisation (between generalists and highly trained specialists), and to bring alternate talent pools (e.g. high school graduates, educated housewives) into the BPO workforce.”

I think educationalists would probably disagree that the purpose of education is to provide employees for the BPO sector, although they would probably agree that teacher training and curriculum development are needed.

What are your views?

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Comments»

1. Uma - November 16, 2009

The BPO sector is one of the growing sectors…Maybe the country needs to think of a degree in this!!!
But fundamentally what this sector really requires are youngsters with excellent communicative skills and the right attitude…like any other profession…
If schools across the country can ensure that students who pass out are at a B2 level in LSRW…BPO/ITES will have enough people to recruit and they can then invest less time and money to get them to deliver specific to their verticals.
In my experience the greatest challenge is to train recruits within a stipulated time and bring them to either a C1 or a very high B2 in language…Technical and cross cultural training are not as much a challenge .
An additional paper/s that can be offered to students during their degree course taht could focus on the requirement of the BPO/ITES. Six months Apprenticeship with BPOs/ITES companies while in College will also help to improve the quality of resources….

2. Stephen - November 16, 2009

Hi Uma

I think you’re right but I guess the question is how to achieve this. In Egypt, which is a new BPO destination, the government have sponsored a final elective year course of ‘call centre skills’. This is a very wise move by the Egyptians. Do you think a similar initiative would be possible/desirable/effective in India?

Kalyan Chattopadhyay - November 17, 2009

Hi Uma & Stephen,
I was in a committee of the ministry of IT, Government of India sponsored project to develop a course outline and handbook for ITES/BPO aspirants. Based on my experience, I would like to submit the following:
We need to teach English not as a subject but as a language in use, and focus on the nuances of the oral communication. I mean we need to develop in our learners the ability to use discourse features of spoken English.We need to teach them too.
I am against the teaching of English to prepare call centre employees as we see that companies offering such services keep on relocating themselves in different parts of the world. moreover, a majority of learners, I have talked to, want to learn the use of the language in different workplace contexts. They are more intested to concentrate on basic skills rather than on call centre specific skills so that they can switch over to other jobs easily.
Regarding vocationalisation of the call centre training, I see a point in it, but Stephen India (which has 90,000,000 speakers of English) doesn’t need to follow Egypt model. I feel what you need to do now is to revisit our courses and give more emphasis on LS.

3. Stephen - November 17, 2009

Hi Kalyan

Thanks for your comments. I completely agree with your comments on how to teach English. I’m intriged about this govt sponsored course/handbook – what happened to it?

I also agree that it is basic skills which are needed, rather than just English. The perception by foreign companies is that ‘everyone in India speaks English’, which is one of the main reasons they look to set up operations here. But for me, communication skills are bundled up with a whole lot of other soft skills which could be called ’employability skills’. And this is where the majority of Indian graduates fall short, according to NASSCOM and the many HR and Training Managers I regularly meet. So the question is how to bridge the gap between a rather academic education system and the practical demands of the modern workplace. There are many private organisations trying to do just this – the Rayat-Bahra Institute of Leadership Training in Punjab is one example. You’ll be able to find out more about this by viewing the live session ‘Meeting the Recruitment Challenge’ on 19 Nov at 15.30: http://www.britishcouncil.org.in/efponline/sessions/19_4_3.html

The earlier session ‘Transforming the Workforce for 2020’ is also going to debate these issues. I hope you can tune in. There will be opportunities to interact with these sessions via the blogs and comments page as you watch the film.

Hope to see you again online!

Stephen

Kalyan Chattopadhyay - November 17, 2009

Hi Stephen,
I am not aware of the fate of the handbook we prepared as part of the ITES BPO Banking Verticals: English Language Skill project in 2006-2007. I have a copy of the handbook at home in Kolkata. But right now I am at the University of Leeds as Hornby Scholar.
I agree with you regarding ’employability skills’ requirement among Indian graduates. Incidentally I completed a project on “Requirements of Communicative Skills in English in Today’s Workplaces” sponsored by University Grants Commission, New Delhi, Government of India. The main project features were the following:-
to observe and analyse the communication skills requirements in workplaces including different new age jobs;
to ascertain tertiary level learners’ preparedness to face these emerging workplace challenges;
to examine the effectiveness of the existing UG Curriculum and teaching methodology to prepare our learners for the workplace;
to find out whether there is any need to change the existing curriculum or to reinforce it;
to map out future directions of teaching of English at the tertiary level that respond to the needs of the learners and the prospective employers;
to suggest appropriate need-based curriculum for communication skills development for the greater employability of the learners.

I made a request to Ms Nirupa Fernandez to consider a presentation entitled Communicative Skills in English in Today’s Workplaces: A review of UG Curriculum of Compulsory English in Indian Universities, at the British Council organised conference on English for Progress – 2nd Policy Dialogue at Kolkata. But I couldn’t as Nirupa said, “there is no scope for inviting paper presentations from the public”.
Some of the major findings of the project were the following:

Non-convergence of expectations between employers and academia

· Academia is partially indifferent, partially not sufficiently knowledgeable about emerging communication skills requirements in workplaces

· Employers partly suffer from indecision whether to reach out to academia or how to inform the academia regarding their needs, partly from their self-imposed hibernation thinking developing skills is the task of the educators. Educators equally live in the ivory tower lacking in interest to reach out to industry in understanding the skills deficiency of their learners in the context of fast changing workplace.

Sharp divergence in communication skills requirements in new –age jobs

Disempowered UG curriculum in English, large scale absenteeism and drop outs

· Lack in focus on oral skills development

· No component of soft skills

· Learners’ frustration in getting jobs

Inadequate Communication Skills Training in UG and the rise of un-employability

· Two years of UG course does not offer any component on communication and soft skills

· No Basic Skills Training is mandatory in the course

· No provision to receive job-specific communication skills training

Teachers’ need for empowerment

· Need for professional development courses appraising the changing pattern of communication for team working and service interactions and developing expertise in communicative teaching methodology, material development and assessment strategies.

Need-based curriculum for communication skills development

· Long-term Communication Skills training

o Basic (in First Year)

o Advanced (in Second year)

· Short-term Job-specific Training on communication and Soft Skills (in the Final year)

I agree with you that we need to look at ways to “bridge the gap between a rather academic education system and the practical demands of the modern workplace”. Academics are doing some reserch to finds ways to bridge the gap, but we need to share our ideas. It should be an open dialogue otherwise some of us will have thaat misapprehension that only private institutions are working to bridge this gap between academia and industry.

4. nashanoojam - November 18, 2009

Hi Stephen

Some interesting views have already expressed in this topic . I agree with Kalyan that students should be taught English in such a way that the overall employability increases. Probably that is what Uma also has said; if B2 level can be ensured for the students who pass out of schools the ‘call centre’ requirement could be met. However teaching English shouldn’t be aimed at only grooming a person for ‘call centre’ job, so that anyone who wants to shift to another field won’t require more training. Also I wonder what percentage of Indians actually aspires only for call centre jobs.

I can’t agree with you more- the purpose of education is not to provide employees for the BPO sector only. Education should make the students ‘job ready’ with a lot of adaptable and transferable skills. For that a lot of changes need to happen in the form of curriculum development and teacher training. Isn’t the third ‘Policy Dialogue’ a step in that direction?

Stephen - November 28, 2009

Hi Anooja and Kalyan

Actually I think in some ways the debate about whether education should be turning out potential employees for call centres is a bit reactionary. What does the BPO sector need exactly? It needs candidates with a good level of spoken English, basic computer skills, and interpersonal skills. This is not particularly specialised and if the education system is not turning out people with these skills then what exactly is it turning out?

One thing I’ve seen consistently in call centres is agents who are unable to take control of a customer interaction and show that they can take responsibility and solve problems. Their UK counterparts seem to have this ability, even though they are often much less academically qualified. At a basic level they lack confidence. I think this must go back to the (mostly state) eduction system, where these characteristics are not developed in the classroom, sad to say. So it’s not only about the content of the curriculum but the way subjects are taught. A school system which does not develop the confidence of its young people is a failing system, in my view.

What do you think?

5. Susan Hillyard - November 28, 2009

Hi Kalyan,
You said,
___I agree with you that we need to look at ways to “bridge the gap between a rather academic education system and the practical demands of the modern workplace”.______
And I cannot agree more.

I am a teacher trainer and materials writer based in Argentina and trying to convince the various authorities that ITT colleges must change the curriculum. They need to prepare teachers to teach English for communication and the best way to do it, in my humble opinion, is through Educational Drama.

I have been working through Ed. Drama in ELT for 30 years and have seen striking results. BUT it’s hard to convince people.

Susan H


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