The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Early to work
Young employees of Pizza Hut at work and play. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Wanted: Young enthusiastic, presentable men and women with good communication skills, between the ages of 18 and 24. No minimum academic requirement, must be a quick learner. Salaries upwards of Rs 3,000, with opportunities of fast-track growth...

'Situations vacant' signs are beckoning not just managers and engineers, techies and number crunchers but students with zero experience and no formal skills.

Thanks to the boom in the service sector ' led most visibly by BPO, organised retail and F&B sectors ' there are opportunities aplenty for students looking for cash and vital CV enhancement. For the demand of this new, ever-growing workplace is youthful competence eager to learn and get ahead.

Making it possible are decent salaries, good working conditions and flexible leave and shift schedules. Legal constraints ensure that only those above 18 years of age are given entry. At the upper end, the cut-off for sales and entry-level BPO jobs has shrunk to the early 20s.

Take Richard Shaw, a 23-year-old student of commerce at St Xavier's College. He has worked with an ad agency, a bank and a health club, quitting every time just before his exams. Now, the young man, looking for independence and a value-added resum', is working at the 22 Camac Street Caf' Coffee Day outlet, where he knows he will get leave to study at two-weeks' notice.

Riding on the performance of the service sector, the economy has been growing at a rate of more than six per cent for the past few years. The growth run is expected to continue and in turn have a positive impact on these industries. 'The best part about the BPO and retail boom is creation of employment opportunities for the young generation,' says Arvind Singhal of KSA Technopak.

Every year, India adds more than three million young earners to the population and estimates suggest that retail and BPO industries absorb a significant proportion.

Students are undoubtedly the winners, but employers too have clear benefits. The nascent service sector is without a readily available qualified workforce, which is why recruiters look for sharp minds they can mould to start out with. They are also in search of loyalty, which will help grow talent. Retail set-ups report a preference for in-house promotion rather than scouting for new faces to take up senior sales positions.

Campus Crossovers

This is what a few of the thousands of early-bird students who have joined the professional fray by compulsion or choice while pursuing an academic degree had to say:

Despite having a family business I grabbed the opportunity when I was offered a job as an outdoor broadcaster on the radio. This job gives me the liberty to explore newer avenues
Vineet Sharma, 21,
Red FM

I am combining my hobby (music) with work. So not only is it fun, I can also make my own pocket money. And I have been given the opportunity to grow as well.
Vikram Lahiri, 20,

I was afraid of talking to people and in this job, I knew I would have to get over that fear. It worked. I enjoy it now.
Xavier Singh, 23,
Café Coffee Day

And let's face it. No one wants to be served a peppy pizza by salt-and-pepper. 'We need young people. Customers don't want to be served by grey-haired people,' explains a Pizza Hut spokesperson, who observes that in Calcutta over 30 per cent of its workforce is pursuing some kind of academic degree, and is on an average not more than 22 years old. In fact, when the MNC is looking for team members (entry-level employees), the specified age group is 18 to 23 years.

'Not just the demand for goods and services, but the experience a place provides also plays an important role in driving footfall to the retail outlets. The positive energy and the great interpersonal skills of the young employees give consumers that comfort level, which bring them back to the store,' says Ranjan Das, professor of strategic management at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

This is one of the reasons a young brand like Caf' Coffee Day employs youngsters. At outlets like Hungerford Street and Rawdon Street, footfall receives a fillip from St Xavier's or La Martiniere students behind the counter. 'Their friends are that much more likely to drop by,' explains regional manager Arnab Pandey.

The employer returns the favour by putting the young hands on a relative fast track. Students start out working part-time shifts of around five hours, earning just shy of Rs 3,000 a month, with one weekly off, and earned and casual leave options. With a little hard work, they can hope to be absorbed full time.

At Wipro, the largest call centre in the city employing more than 1,000 people, over 60 per cent of the workforce is below 25, starting as low as 18. 'Desire and ability to learn new processes quickly is the biggest advantage of a young workforce,' feels Indu Khattar, head of the company's Calcutta centre.

The HR policy has in-built flexibility to suite the young profile. 'We extend our support to help those who want to continue education,' adds Khattar. This includes leave for exams, tie-ups with Symbiosis, Pune, for management education and BITS Pilani for bachelors in engineering through distance learning programmes and sabbaticals for higher education after two years of service. Similar arrangements are being made with Jadavpur University. In addition to a strong desire to grow and knowledge in IT for technical support agents, Wipro's criteria are the same as retail set-ups: team players with excellent oral communication skills in English.

Pantaloon has, over the years, realised the need for a focussed approach. At the outset, a large section of sales staff was very young, but the requirement has been narrowed to graduates or those who give a commitment to complete their degree in two years.

'We want people to grow. We are not interested in career sales people,' explains R.S. Rekhi, head, operations (east), Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd. The average age is still 25 years on the shop floor, and there is a 'desperate need for people to grow on the job' to fill the chain's growing requirements.

All indicators suggest that happy days for retail are here to stay, and so, power to the early bird. Theories in development economics suggest that the service sector's contribution to GDP grows with the development in a country. During the past few years, the share of service sector in the GDP has increased from around 45 per cent to over 55 per cent, with retail and BPOs in the forefront.

'With availability of retail loans, India has seen the emergence of a middle class with the means to spend. This factor will fuel the growth of the retail segment and opportunities will only multiply in days to come,' observes Singhal of KSA Technopak, adding that cost advantages will maintain the stream of outsourcing and jobs will be aplenty in the BPO sector as well.

At present, around 70 per cent of the population in India is below the age of 35 and this profile of the population will drive employment facts and growth figures.

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