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Sunday, May 27, 2012

An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes


The letter is a good balance of guidance and criticism.  I wish the letter was addressed to the body of the educators as well as the students.

Some of you may relate with my experience. In my 2nd year of B.Com in 1969-70, and I had to memorize different elements of the cheques then. Like it is a promissory note, payee, payer, date, amount in numbers and words….. crossing the check, parallel crossing, and writing in between…and how endorsements were done etc…Even though my father had a bank account, the Cheques were in the safe and rarely used. The check was an alien instrument to me and I was 18.  Compare that to your kids and in my case my daughter, in her 6th grade class, she had a day’s workshop called Model City in Richardson, where kids ran mock banks, printing business, restaurant… and the whole thing and balancing the check books.

The Kids coming out of high school in the United States make their own decisions of life, although a few among us hand hold them. My kids made all their own decisions. My father made those decisions for me even in my graduate program; we make them dependent on us. Of course we learn fast, but if we get American education in India, imagine the decision making abilities we would have early on in life….

Mike Ghouse

Now the article;

An Open Letter to India’s Graduating Classes
By MOHIT CHANDRA, May 23, 2012, 6:22 am

Dear Graduates and Post-Graduates,

This is your new employer. We are an Indian company, a bank, a
consulting firm, a multinational corporation, a public sector utility
and everything in between. We are the givers of your paycheck, of the
brand name you covet, of the references you will rely on for years to
come and of the training that will shape your professional path.

Millions of you have recently graduated or will graduate over the next
few weeks. Many of you are probably feeling quite proud – you’ve
landed your first job, discussions around salaries and job titles are
over, and you’re ready to contribute.

Life is good – except that it’s not. Not for us, your employers, at
least. Most of your contributions will be substandard and lack
ambition, frustrating and of limited productivity. We are gearing
ourselves up for broken promises and unmet expectations. Sorry to be
the messenger of bad news.

Today, we regret to inform you that you are spoiled. You are spoiled
by the “India growth story”; by an illusion that the Indian education
system is capable of producing the talent that we, your companies,
most crave; by the imbalance of demand and supply for real talent; by
the deceleration of economic growth in the mature West; and by the law
of large numbers in India, which creates pockets of highly skilled
people who are justly feted but ultimately make up less than 10
percent of all of you.

So why this letter, and why should you read on? Well, because based on
collective experience of hiring and developing young people like you
over the years, some truths have become apparent. This is a guide for
you and the 15- to 20-year-olds following in your footsteps – the next
productive generation of our country. Read on to understand what your
employers really want and how your ability to match these wants can
enrich you professionally.

There are five key attributes employers typically seek and, in fact,
will value more and more in the future. Unfortunately, these are often
lacking in you and your colleagues.

1.You speak and write English fluently: We know this is rarely the
case. Even graduates from better-known institutions can be hard to

Exhibit No. 1: Below is an actual excerpt from a résumé we received
from a “highly qualified and educated” person. This is the applicant’s
“objective statement:”

“To be a part of an organization wherein I could cherish my erudite
dexterity to learn the nitigrities of consulting”

Huh? Anyone know what that means? We certainly don’t.

And in spoken English, the outcomes are no better. Whether it is a
strong mother tongue influence, or a belief (mistakenly) that the
faster one speaks the more mastery one has, there is much room for
improvement. Well over half of the pre-screened résumés lack the
English ability to effectively communicate in business.

So the onus, dear reader, is on you – to develop comprehensive English
skills, both written and oral.

2. You are good at problem solving, thinking outside the box, seeking
new ways of doing things: Hard to find. Too often, there is a tendency
to simply wait for detailed instructions and then execute the tasks –
not come up with creative suggestions or alternatives.

Exhibit No. 2: I was speaking with a colleague of mine who is a
chartered accountant from Britain and a senior professional. I asked
him why the pass percentage in the Indian chartered accountant exam
was so low and why it was perceived as such a difficult exam.

Interestingly (and he hires dozens of Indian chartered accountants
each year), his take is as follows: the Indian exam is no harder than
the British exam. Both focus on the application of concepts, but since
the Indian education system is so rote-memorization oriented, Indian
students have a much more difficult time passing it than their British

Problem-solving abilities, which are rarely taught in our schooling
system, are understandably weak among India’s graduates, even though
India is the home of the famous “jugadu,” the inveterate problem
solver who uses what’s on hand to find a solution. Let’s translate
this intrinsic ability to the workforce.

3. You ask questions, engage deeply and question hierarchy: How we wish!

Exhibit No. 3: Consistently, managers say that newly graduated hires
are too passive, that they are order-takers and that they are too
hesitant to ask questions. “Why can’t they pick up the phone and call
when they do not understand something?” is a commonly asked question.
You are also unduly impressed by titles and perceived hierarchy. While
there is a strong cultural bias of deference and subservience to
titles in India, it is as much your responsibility as it is ours to
challenge this view.

4. You take responsibility for your career and for your learning and
invest in new skills: Many of you feel that once you have got the
requisite degree, you can go into cruise control. The desire to learn
new tools and techniques and new sector knowledge disappears. And we
are talking about you 25- to 30-year-olds – typically the age when
inquisitiveness and hunger for knowledge in the workplace is at its

Exhibit No. 4: Recently, our new hires were clamoring for training.
Much effort went into creating a learning path, outlining specific
courses (online, self-study) for each team. With much fanfare, an
e-mail was sent to the entire team outlining the courses.

How many took the trainings? Less than 15 percent. How many actually
read the e-mail? Less than 20 percent.

The desire to be spoon-fed, to be directed down a straight and narrow
path with each career step neatly laid out, is leading you toward
extinction, just like the dinosaurs. Your career starts and ends with
you. Our role, as your employer, is to ensure you have the tools,
resources and opportunities you need to be successful. The rest is up
to you.

5. You are professional and ethical: Everyone loves to be considered a
professional. But when you exhibit behavior like job hopping every
year, demanding double-digit pay increases for no increase in ability,
accepting job offers and not appearing on the first day, taking one
company’s offer letter to shop around to another company for more
money — well, don’t expect to be treated like a professional.
Similarly, stretching yourself to work longer hours when needed,
feeling vested in the success of your employer, being ethical about
expense claims and leaves and vacation time are all part of being a
consummate professional. Such behavior is not ingrained in new
graduates, we have found, and has to be developed.

So what can we conclude, young graduates?

My message is a call to action: Be aware of these five attributes,
don’t expect the gravy train to run forever, and don’t assume your
education will take care of you. Rather, invest in yourself – in
language skills, in thirst for knowledge, in true professionalism and,
finally, in thinking creatively and non-hierarchically. This will hold
you in good stead in our knowledge economy and help lay a strong
foundation for the next productive generation that follows you.

Together, I hope we, your employer, and you, the employee, can forge
an enduring partnership.

The author is a partner with KPMG, and these are his personal views.

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