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Mind your manners

"A gentleman, whether walking with two ladies or one, takes the curb side of the pavement. He should never sandwich himself between them.” That’s Emily Post on etiquette. Or try this one from the same source: “It is unnecessary to add that the knife must never be put in the mouth; nor is it good form to use the knife unnecessarily. Soft foods like croquettes, hash on toast, all eggs and vegetables should be cut or merely broken apart with the edge of the fork held like the knife, after which the fork is turned in the hand to first (or shovel) position. The knife must never be used to scoop baked potato... A fork must be used for all manipulations of vegetables. Butter for baked potatoes is taken on the tip of the fork shovel fashion, laid on the potato, and then pressed down and mixed with the prongs held points curved up.”

Such instructions perhaps went out with Beau Brummell and the Regency Buck. But soft skills are making a rapid comeback. They may not be as arcane as putting your wife in the middle while walking along with a male friend. (It’s bad manners these days to walk three abreast on crowded footpaths anyway.) But as people make the transition from rural areas to urban jobs or from carefree college to the corporate world, they are discovering that there are several areas where they need to hone their skills.

The infotech majors have for years been training staff who go abroad in subjects such as table manners and politeness. In the West, you greet a stranger if you find him in the lift. But people raise an eyebrow if you do it in India. Does it matter? Ask the techie who went to give a sales pitch to a New York-based company. He found the stranger he ignored in the lift sitting on the other side of the table. Needless to say, he never got the job.

A recent study by business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan brought out this lack of what they call “business proficiency skills” among college students in India. It says (see box) a large number of students lack such skills and they realise it too.

To address this gap, the Indian School of Integrated Learning has tied up with the UK-based Speak First to offer courses in employable skills. On the curriculum will be topics such as effective communication, presentation skills, personal impact training, media skills, interviewing techniques, cultural awareness and many more soft skill solutions. This is for students. At a higher level, there are several specialist agencies to address the executive market. It is not unknown for CEOs to be groomed in, say, cultural practices in China, before they go for a business meeting in that country.

For the domestic market, several firms have come up to tap jobseekers in rural areas. Companies have set up rural job portals — ITC with rozgarduniya.com; entrepreneur Ajay Gupta with ruralnaukri.com; and SREI with chaakri.in. There is a hard skills element to the hands-on training these sites impart. But there is a vital soft skills element too. SREI’s first placement was a barber at Eyecatchers, a unisex saloon in Calcutta. He had to be taught that you can’t tap a customer on his bald patch to signal that the job is over.

In a couple of decades, India is set to become the workforce to the world. But there is trauma ahead unless the soft side of employability is addressed.

THE SOFT TOUCH

Key findings of the Employability Skills study

• Around 46% of the students said that 70:30 should be the ideal course mix ratio of soft skills (presentation skills, communication skills and so on) to domain knowledge.

• Only around 15% of the students surveyed were undergoing some additional courses.

Within this, the majority of the students (66%) had chosen to learn computer basics (39%) and programming (27%) rather than opt for soft skills training.

• Around 66% of the students said that internship is a must at all colleges to help them become “job ready”.

• More than 60% of college goers interviewed said they preferred business proficiency courses to be part time (26%) and, within that, 35% wanted it to be on weekends.

Source: Frost & Sullivan study on Employability Skills amongst 1,000 students in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore

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