Enhancing students’ employability quotient

Dr Anand K Joshi, Vice Chancellor, CMR University explains their student skill enhancement initiative with NASSCOM that will heighten the employability quotient of their students

CMR University is integrating NASSCOM provided content into undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to make students IT industry ready. They are introducing an overhauled curriculum, training their faculty through the NASSCOM’s Sector Skills Council and calling in senior industry professionals; and subject matter experts to give their students an edge in employability.

The 5WH in brief

Who: Dr Anand K Joshi, Vice Chancellor, CMR University, Bengaluru

What: Has spearheaded a novel student skill enhancement initiative

When: Starting in the 2014-15 academic session

Why: To enhance the employability quotient (for the Information Technology and Business Process Management industry) of non technical graduates and post graduates

Where: On the CMR University city campus

How: By integrating the NASSCOM Global Business Foundation Skills curriculum with the curricula of CMR University’s graduate programmes in commerce, management and economics, and the post graduate programmes in commerce and management.

Founded just one year ago vide a notification of the Government of Karnataka, CMR University Bengaluru (CMR) recognises the need to act fast to establish itself as a serious player in the intensely competitive private sector higher education space. “Although the higher education initiatives of the CMR Group span several campuses and faculties, and date back 20 years, we do realise we are a new university. It is important for new universities to think differently and do things differently to stand out,” says Dr Anand K Joshi, Vice Chancellor, CMR University.

Searching for industry-readiness

According to Dr Joshi, the Indian information technology and business process management (IT and BPM) industry currently employs about 3.1 million people directly and another 9 million indirectly. Perspective 2020, a NASSCOM report, suggests the industry has the potential to absorb 30 million people (directly and indirectly) by 2020.

Despite the IT and BPM industry’s growing demand for trained non-technical graduates, skilled “industry-ready” freshers are hard to come by. This acute paucity presents major challenges for even leading companies. Fresh graduates are majorly unproductive and take a long time to get industry ready, after which they can be productively deployed on projects. From the perspective of fresh graduates, it means they struggle to find employment.

Curricula overhaul

Recognising that current curricula are to blame for the lack of skills in fresh graduates and therefore limited employment opportunities, CMR has sought to align the syllabi of its courses with real-world problems and solutions. Since the IT and BPM industry is Bengaluru centric and hence a major possible employer of its graduates and postgraduates, CMR determined to open its programmes to that very industry, in particular, open non technical programmes in commerce, economics and management.

So, CMR has tied up with NASSCOM to widen the scope of the curricula of several of its undergraduate and postgraduate courses and fill the skill gap. NASSCOM, in association with its large partner companies like Genpact, Accenture, Convergys, Deloitte, Dell and IBM, has designed the Global Business Foundation Skills (GBFS) course—a course designed to increase the industry readiness of students who want to embark on a career in the IT and BPM industry. Integrating this curriculum with undergraduate and post graduate programmes can enhance students’ employability quotient.

Interestingly, K S Viswanathan, Vice President, Industry Initiatives, NASSCOM, and a member of CMR’s Academic Council, introduced the university’s top management to this NASSCOM initiative. Dr Joshi believes this shows the importance of bringing the right people onboard as advisors.

Here is what the agreement provides for and how CMR is going about implementing it:

INTEGRATE CURRICULUMS: Under the agreement, on an average about 35% of the content of traditional B Com (Hons), BBM and M Com programmes will be comprised of the GBFS courseware. GBFS courseware covers communication skills, industry awareness, customer management skills, personal computer and data skills, and skills to smoothly transition from the campus to the corporate setup.

According to Dr Joshi, “Doing so doesn’t take away from the traditional programmes. Students will continue to study the core courses making up the programmes. The GBFC courseware covers some new topics and replaces some of the existing courses, introducing in their place courses that are more relevant to industry.”

FIX TOP LEVEL RESPONSIBILITY FOR IMPLEMENTATION: CMR’s Director for Industry & Academic Collaborations will implement the programme in coordination with the Directors of the School of Management and School of Commerce & Economics. Dr Sabitha Ramamurthy, Chancellor of CMR University and the Vice Chancellor, with support from the Academic Council, are monitoring the execution of the agreement in its true spirit.

ESTABLISH IT ENABLED ACADEMIC DELIVERY PROCESS: Since the GBFS course’s delivery model spans several modes of content dissemination, including hard copy, digital content and e-content, CMR is introducing IT enabled academic delivery processes. According to Dr Joshi, “This mandates setting up technology-enabled classrooms.”

TRAIN FACULTY: NASSCOM’s Sector Skills Council (NASSCOM-SSC), the skill standard setting body of the IT-ITeS industry, also NASSCOM’s education and skill development initiative, will implement a “Train-the-Trainer” programme for CMR faculty involved in this project. Faculty will be given a holistic view of the collaborative initiative. Only trained faculty members will be permitted to train students. CMR has already selected faculty to embark upon this initiative, “adhering to NASSCOM’s guidelines for selecting faculty and putting prospective candidates through a rigorous selection process,” says Dr Joshi.

NASSCOM will also guide the selection of students for the programme—“Students with good communication skills to start with are always preferred,” opines Dr Joshi. Students will sit for the Diagnostic NASSCOM Assessment of Competence (NAC) test before the programme, a pre-assessment test to evaluate their competency and ensure the right candidates are selected for the course.

IMPLEMENT PARTICIPATORY METHODS: If suitable trained faculty is not available for a certain course or topic, CMR will arrange for senior industry professionals and subject matter experts to deliver guest lectures in person and through webinars. Students will also visit industries. “We expect the tie-up to open doors for students to take up internships in NASSCOM partner companies and acquire hands-on experience,” says Dr Joshi.

ASSESS STUDENTS: Post the training, the students will sit for the NAC Final, which will be a scorecard of their skills and competencies. According to Dr Joshi, “A key feature of the training is its measurability, and this will reflect in participants’ before and after scores.”

Stepping up placements

CMR has been quick off the mark in tying up with industry to ensure its fresh graduates get placed. But then Dr Joshi is equally quick to opine: “Prioritising academic and research collaborations and knowledge partnerships adds value to programmes, ensures students study industry relevant courses, and enhance students’ employability quotient and hence the quality of placements.”

Students who successfully complete the GBFS course will have preferential employment opportunities. NASSCOM will circulate data of such students to its member companies, who will have the first right to offer them employment. Essentially, the employers will be assured of the technical skills of candidates. “Students will be put through no further technical skills written test. They will only need to sit for an interview with HR for their employment to be finalised,” shares Dr Joshi. About 2000 students are expected to benefit in the initial three years. In future, the initiative may be expanded to students from other programmes.

Integrating industry-prepared courses into its programmes to prepare industry-ready students is a smart move on the part of a new university. “It is the need of the hour,” says the futuristic Vice Chancellor. The university’s willingness to take a critical look at its curricula and openness to industry inputs is where CMR’s fresh thinking shows through.

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