What Makes a Person Employable?

16 Jul

In my last two posts, I wrote about the length of school year and immigration policies with regard to competitiveness. In this post, I’m going to write about the differences between Indian and American employees, based on my personal experience.

Last month, Computerworld published a blog post in which it was mentioned that the CEO of an Indian IT firm, HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar, called the American IT grads unprepared and unemployable. They are not interested in learning about the mundane things and too expensive to train. How true is this statement?

At the undergraduate level, I think more people in India and China are available to work with the same level of skills. The number of people graduating with a degree in computer science and related fields is much more in India and China than the US. The number of jobs are limited resulting in fierce competition, which forces people to constantly upgrade their skills. They are also available to work for a lot less money than a person in the US. Many companies outsource IT work to India, some to cut costs, some to tap the available talent, and some both. The IT grads in the US don’t have to face a tough competition, at least until last year, which may lead to complacency and outdated skills. However, there is a small percentage of young students who are truly innovative and entrepreneurial, and they help develop products and create job opportunities. In short, Indian IT grads will beat most of the American IT grads hands down.

However, the stark difference is seen at the graduate level, both masters and doctorate. While thousands of people, both American and immigrants, graduate from the American universities every year with master’s and PhD degrees in IT, very few people even want to enroll in higher education in India. The main reason is that education is not valued and is considered a means of securing a good job and moving up the social ladder. Innovation and entrepreneurship are virtually non-existent in India, at least until very recently. Things are changing on this front though.

While the American companies focus on research and developing new products, the Indian companies just want to do the back-end job of software development and maintenance. This work suits the mindset of the employees. It’s part and parcel of the Indian culture of targeting the low-end of the spectrum. The talent is abundant in India but it’s not nurtured, not presented with the opportunity to bloom.

While I was managing elearning projects for a big American consulting company when I was working in India, the products were designed in the US. I had experience in instructional design but not enough knowledge to dig deeper to understand what makes for a good online learning experience. I completed my master’s at Stanford University, focused on educational psychology, and now in a position to better design products that help people learn effectively.

So do I agree with Vineet Nayar’s statement? Yes and no. Because it depends on the kind of work his company does. For some high-end design and research work, he won’t be able to find too many Indian or Chinese people. But for low-end work, he would do well to hire Indian and American people.

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