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'Bench' Warmers Often Lack Experience

August 17, 2007
Related Topics: Career Development, Global Business Issues, Employee Career Development
When Nagarajan Sankaran graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay in 1976, the only way to get a good position in computer engineering was to go back to school to earn a master’s degree. Times have changed.

"You needed a master’s to get a job," says Sankaran, who is COO of Bangalore-based software developer HealthAsyst and got his master’s from Tulane University in New Orleans. "Now you do not."

As a result, the quality of entry-level employees has declined, he says. The highly regimented training programs of large Indian outsourcing companies like Infosys and Wipro have become famous as fast tracks that turn inexperienced college graduates into able workers.

Can Wipro turn an unskilled graduate into a productive employee? "Absolutely," says Gurudutt Rao, lead consultant for training at Wipro.

But Sankaran says workers often overstate their abilities and work experience. "We can’t trust the résumés," he says.

Blame it on the "bench."

Most Indian outsourcing companies increase the size of a team that is dedicated to a client’s project by an extra 10 percent to 20 percent beyond what is needed, Indian HR executives say. These extras act like understudies to an actor: They spend their time training to learn the skills needed to work on the project in case the company scales up or an employee quits.

"If you just train and rain and you don't have hands-on experience, you might as well still be in school."
--Nagarajan Sankaran, COO HealthAsyst

In India, this is known as the "bench," because employees, like athletes, must be ready to sub in at a moment’s notice. But since companies require employees to work on a project for as long as a year and a half before moving on to something new, an employee can face months on the company bench without ever actually working.

"One of the biggest frustrations of a technical person is to be left on the bench," says Nandakumar Prabhakar, director of sales and marketing at HealthAsyst.

Though client companies can benefit from a vendor’s bench—and they have the right to interview those employees as they might anyone who works on their project—employees can easily get impatient if all they do is train. Those who quit show up at another company claiming to have experience they don’t actually possess.

"They just do training," Sankaran says. "If you just train and train and you don’t have hands-on experience, you might as well still be in school."

Workforce Management, August 20, 2007, p. 32 -- Subscribe Now!

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