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Skill spanner in outsourcing
- Headhunters blame lack of fluency in English

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government may be dreaming of a resurgent Bengal riding on the business process outsourcing (BPO) boom, but there is a bother in the basics.

Recruiters in this fledgling industry are being tripped by the scarcity of a talented workforce, caused primarily by the no-English policy followed for years by the chief minister's party.

According to estimates, only four to six per cent of those interviewed match the requirements, making the search cost quite high in an industry where recruitment is carried out through the year. Industry insiders point fingers at poor communication skills and job-profile constraints.

'When we need technically skilled people, though they are aplenty and even highly skilled, their communication skills and fluency in English are often a problem. Besides, the call centre kind of work does not appeal to many of them as much as software development,' says Suresh Menon, chief operating officer, BNKe International Call Centre.

With Wipro BPO setting up shop with a bang in Saltlec ' at present, it has over 1,000 employees ' and companies like HSBC Electronic Data Processing, GE and Daksh scheduled to kick off operations in a year's time, headhunters are in for a hard time.

'In the next two months, we have to recruit around 400 people for one of our clients, but getting the right kind of people here is becoming increasingly difficult,' admits Anand Mohta, senior consultant of leading headhunting company Mafoi.

'Since the BPO business is booming, all these companies have aggressive ramping-up plans. But talent is a major constraint,' adds Mohta.

Though skill levels and, hence, supply of human resources vary across regions, lack of talent is a national phenomenon and needs immediate attention, observes Kiran Karnik, president, Nasscom.

'The problem is due to short supply of employable skills. In the industry, there are more jobs but fewer people and so the attrition rates are high,' explains Karnik.

Rakesh Sharma, VP strategic sourcing, Wipro BPO, echoes Karnik: 'It needs to be addressed at the school and college levels, so that the candidates meet the minimum threshold in communication skills as desired by the ITES industry in general.'

To address the issue, the apex body of the country's IT and ITES companies has decided to launch a certification programme for potential employees of the sector, with the objective of defining the skillsets required for bagging a job with a BPO company.

'We will be conducting the pilot in some metros in the next two to three months and will roll out the programme in six months,' says Karnik.

The supply constraints are pushing up salary levels and reducing margins for the companies.

'In less than a year, the entry-level salaries in the BPO industry in Calcutta have gone up from Rs 6,500 a month to Rs 8,000,' says Aditya Bajoria of Vishnu Solutions. The company employs over 400 people and is planning to add to the headcount.

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