HEAD START

Indian engineers are so unemployable that a tech giant will train high-school graduates itself

Obsession
The Office
Quartz india
Obsession
The Office
Quartz india

High schoolers now have a shot at getting jobs college graduates dream of.

Starting this April, Noida-based software giant HCL Technologies is going to prepare 200 high-school students for entry-level software engineering jobs. Half of the incoming class will undergo a year’s training at the tech giant’s Madurai campus in Tamil Nadu while the other half will be coached in Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow, Business Standard reported. To be eligible for the program, 12th graders must secure an average of 85% in their board exams, according to the Times of India.

These students will be trained for a year with nine months of academic courses, followed by three months dedicated to on-the-job skills training. They will be taught application development, software testing, application support, and infrastructure management services. At the end, students will receive a certificate in information technology from SSN College of Engineering in Chennai.

Although SSN is no Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the head start at employability might appeal to scores of students. HCL intends to absorb the students into entry-level positions with annual salaries pegged around Rs1.8 lakhs($2,752). Typically, starting salary at HCL for college graduates is closer to Rs2.5 lakhs($3821).

Still, it could be a risk worth taking.

Clean slate

Only 2% of India’s workforce is considered skilled. Even after being armed with university degrees, an overwhelming majority of engineering graduates are deemed unemployable. So, instead of banking on the churn of subpar engineers, India’s fourth-largest software enterprise is plucking raw talent and skilling them up in-house.

This new pathway to tech hiring “views the community as a pipeline for future employment,” says Felix Flores, Jr., the national director of #YesWeCode, a US-based national initiative that helps train youth to code. “If done right, I can see these type of programs leading to better models of apprenticeships in the industry and, later, grooming a professional development culture in the industry, much different from the ‘plug and play’ culture of hiring trained professionals that we now see in the US.”

While HCL is both able to subsidize education for aspiring engineers— especially for those who may not be able to afford a college education—and create model employees, Anindya Ghose, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, warns against the limitations of the strategy. “These employees may get ‘locked in’ because they are sacrificing the traditional degree programs that the market on the whole values,” Ghose told Quartz.

India’s IT trade association Nasscom is also worried about this strategy becoming a trend in the industry. “[If] every IT company starts doing this, then the quality of engineers in the workforce will dip,”a Nasscom official told the Times of India. A one-year, company-tailored course isn’t a viable substitute for prestigious and rigorous academic institutions. Instead of compensating for a skills shortage, it may exacerbate the problem in the long-run.

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