When he was in college, Subrata Das would wonder what career to pursue. By the time he had graduated in English Honours, he still wasn’t sure. Like most of his classmates, Das began appearing for the various exams that would land him a “secure” government job. Then, an ad in a local newspaper caught his eye. Kolkata-based Technable Solutions was organising an aptitude, competence and employability test (ACET) under a programme run by the West Bengal government’s Department of Information Technology.
Santanu Bhattacharjee, founder-Director of Technable, measures the programme’s success with its ability to improve candidates’ skills. Of the 5,000-odd who underwent training, 4,000 were placed in the IT/ITeS, telecom, retail and insurance industries, among others. That’s a strike rate of 80%. And a reassuring one for potential trainees—the fee for a six-month course is Rs 11,000. Most students come from families with a monthly income of Rs 10,000-15,000.
Over 80% of those placed come from the vernacular medium, with 30% being women. The starting salaries range anywhere between Rs 3,500 and Rs 9,000 per month.
However, what surprises Technable’s trainers is that barely 2% of those who have taken the ACET till date have scored an A (the grade gives them a job-ready tag). The vast majority have been found below par in terms of employability and require training.
On their part, educational institutions are beginning to acknowledge the gap between the knowledge and skill sets they impart and the actual needs of industry. More than a dozen under-graduate colleges in West Bengal have approached Technable to manage their career development and placement cells.
Expansion and Break-Even
Starting off with one centre in Kolkata, Technable now has 20 centres across West Bengal and the North East. In 2007, Bhattacharjee decided to take the franchisee route to spread Technable’s reach. While his current focus remains on east India, a pan-India spread is planned for the latter part of 2010.
In the last three years revenues have grown from Rs 8 lakh (FY07) to Rs 1.5 crore (FY09). The company broke even in FY08, only its second full year of operations.
“We got into education and training because of the social impact,” says Bhattacharjee, who has already invested Rs 50 lakh of his personal wealth into the venture. He is also in talks with venture capitalists for an infusion of about Rs 3 crore in exchange for a stake in
Bhattacharjee, 49, is no stranger to the corporate world. He spent 22 years in the IT and telecom industries, both in the US and India. His CV includes names like Nortel Networks and MCI Worldcom. The man isn’t new to the world of start-ups either, having launched four tech start-ups during his 18-year stint in Texas.
He completed his Masters in computer science in the US in the 1980s. Prior to that he got a degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology in Rourkela, Orissa. “I had decided early on that if I was to re-locate to India it would be during my productive years and not when I’m retired.” Bhattacharjee moved back to India in 2003. But most of his friends were surprised by his choice of city—Kolkata. He concedes that it would have been easier to nurture a tech-start up in Bangalore or Gurgaon. At the time, West Bengal was waking up to an economic revival and there was degree of restlessness in the socio-political situation. “The chaos provided opportunities” says Bhattacharjee.
Working Within The System
Instead of re-inventing the wheel while setting up a delivery infrastructure, Bhattacharjee integrated his strategies with government policies. For instance, the government has appointed Technable its nodal agency for a number of IT/ITeS training programmes. “The idea was to keep cost of delivery minimum, and that would not have been possible if I were to re-create the infrastructure,” he says.
The biggest challenge he faces is in finding quality trainers. Those from Kolkata are not willing to move to small towns. That’s where Bhattacharjee’s background in telecom and networking is coming in handy. He is adopting e-learning techniques so that students can get top-quality teaching without a teacher being physically present.
He also recognises the need to keep training programmes tailored to the changing dynamics of the industrial world. The global downturn has taken some of the sheen off the IT/ITES sector over the last year. “Job openings in the BPO industry have come down in recent months,” says Bhattacharjee. “But there is huge demand in technology, marketing and customer-support jobs related to the domestic telecom sector.”
His next objective is to find jobs for 40,000 people in the next four years—a ten-fold increase from 2008. “It is a debt I owe the country. People like us have benefited hugely from the subsidised higher education system financed by taxpayers,” he explains. “We can only pay back society by helping create jobs.”
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