The CAT (common admission test) for the Indian Institutes of Management makes big bucks. In fact, the tax authorities are eyeing both CAT and on-campus placements for their cut. So why shouldn’t others try and tap this lucrative opportunity'
The latest to join the bandwagon is the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom). The apex body of the IT software and services sector has now decided it should play policeman in the business process outsourcing (BPO) arena. It has introduced an entry-level assessment test for aspirants to a BPO job.
In software, people have fudged their qualifications and work experience to get into top companies. But you can’t get away with it; sooner or later, your lack of skills is exposed. In BPO, you don’t need qualifications or experience. So what exactly is the entrance exam going to do'
According to Nasscom, the programme — designed in association with Hewitt Associates — will be modelled along the lines of TOEFL or GRE. It will look at seven different skill-sets — listening and keyboard skills, verbal ability, spoken English, comprehension and writing ability, office software usage, numerical and analytical skills, and concentration and accuracy. The NAC (Nasscom Assessment of Competence) will be rolled out in Rajasthan on November 18.
The fee for the test has not been finalised. According to reports, it will be between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500. Nasscom itself says that it expects to test at least 200,000 candidates every year. So it will pocket a cool Rs 30 crore every year. And that’s only for starters.
There is a problem, however. As every schoolboy knows, a test makes sense when passing it gives you a cachet. The CAT or the joint entrance examinations (JEE) for the IITs act as sieves. The demand for seats at the IIMs or IITs is several times more than they can accommodate.
In the BPO arena, according to the Nasscom’s own figures, the country will face a 350,000 demand-supply gap by 2010. This is already reflected in the high attrition rates in the sector, sometimes as much as 100 per cent. Companies are now looking at the elderly, the retired and housewives, who they feel will be less likely to job hop.
What is the NAC going to do in this context' According to Nasscom again, only 25 per cent of technical graduates and 10-15 per cent of college students are suitable for employment in the IT and BPO industry. So the test will reduce the numbers of the eligible. Today, India is prominent on the world BPO map. A survey shows that the top seven cities for BPO are all Indian (see box). Nasscom has been responding to the needs of this sector in a sort of knee-jerk reaction to reports in the Western media. The trade unions in the UK and the US build up fake cases of privacy concerns in Indian BPO companies and Nasscom starts creating a blacklist of BPO employees. The same vested interests rant about the poor quality of Indian BPO staff and Nasscom comes up with this NAC filter which, if the industry were to actually use it, would cripple the entire sector.
Left to itself, the BPO sector will boom. Nasscom’s ham-handed efforts — even assuming that revenue generation is not behind it all — is not doing any good.
COMING UP TRUMPS
The most attractive cities in the world for back-office operations
• New Delhi • Bangalore • Hyderabad • Mumbai • Pune • Chennai • Calcutta • Ho Chi Minh City • Manila • Shanghai • Moscow
The most attractive destinations for technology operations
• India • Canada • China • Poland • Ireland
Source: Global City Competitiveness survey; Mapping Offshore Markets; neoIT