Indian IT firms are using a new method of recruiting new tech employees. "Sponsored training" programs grab promising techies straight out of high school.India is a land of innovation. In fact, hustling about each morning, few of us give any thought to how Indian ingenuity has helped make our daily routines easier. For example, when washing your hair, you likely used one of many different brands of shampoo. The word “shampoo” is derived from “champo,” a massage oil first used by the Nawabs of Bengal way back in 1762.

You can also thank the Indians for your comfortable cotton-blend clothing — they were the first to cultivate cotton more than 2,500 years ago. And, while we’re on the topic of clothing, give a nod to the ancient inhabitants of the Indus Valley, who invented the button sometime around 2,000 BCE.

Indians, in fact, seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the adage that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Their latest idea is helping to solve a critical shortage of skilled IT freshers.

The IT sector in India is approximately $150 billion (U.S.) and they have a problem finding enough well-trained talent, particularly at the entry-level. Industry experts place the blame at the feet of the nation’s tech schools for their inability to produce enough qualified IT workers. They say that these institutions utilize outdated curricula and suffer a deficit of qualified instructors and other teaching resources.

D-I-Y education and training

To find skilled talent, corporations are increasingly recruiting and training workers on their won. The Chennai-based software products maker Zoho Corporation, instead of competing to hire from top-ranked tech schools, visits government run high-schools to recruit promising students — essentially anyone with the ability to learn coding

Zoho representatives give the students aptitude tests and conduct interviews. Students who show they have the ability to be software programmers are offered slots in Zoho University (ZU) to participate in an 18-month training program with the promise of a full-time job upon successful completion of the training.

The evaluation process is rigorous, and while students need not be at the top of their class grade-wise, a solid grade point average is a plus. Promising students will also have strong communication skills and be competent in basic logic and mathematics.

Created in 2005, ZU is a way for Zoho to identify and recruit promising high-school students for valuable entry-level positions. The results, thus far, are promising. Of Zoho’s 4,500 employees, a full 15 percent came through ZU, and 30 of them have moved into management positions.

Cutting edge learning

ZU instructors attribute the success of the training program to several factors. Instead of being restricted to learning through books, students are exposed to real-world hands-on experience utilizing current technologies and programs.

Whereas established tech-degree institutions tend to be slower in adopting new technologies and practices, ZU gives students exposure to current technologies and languages as soon as they are introduced. For example, while tech schools often focus on legacy programing languages like C, C++, Visual Basic, and Java, ZU is training in the newer languages like JavaScript, Python, Ruby and CPP.

In addition to programing skills, ZU students also receive instruction in mathematics and the English language. After 12 months, students are again evaluated and, based on performance and interviews, assigned to internship teams within Zoho. This gives the students real-world experience and an opportunity to show how well they can work with others and fit into Zoho’s corporate culture. Those who perform well land long-term positions with the company.

During training, ZU students receive a monthly stiped of Rs 8,000 ($123 U.S.) with periodic increases. Completing the program results in being hired on for a permanent position. Based upon performance and company need, new hires join Zoho at one of two levels Rs4 lakh ($6,210) and Rs6 lakh ($9,315) annually — salaries on par with those earned by entry-level engineers.

Students who complete the 18-month course and spend another 2.5 years learning the ropes and working their way through the ranks typically end up earning salaries greater than fresher graduates coming to Zoho.

A pool of willing trainees

High-school students are eager for the ZU experience because they avoid the expense of a four-year degree that may or may not be relevant, receive cutting-edge training, and enter the workforce sooner.

Zoho’s “sponsored training” method of growing talent is gaining in popularity. Some of the other firms who have jumped into the arena include Tata Consultancy Services (which sponsors TCS Ignite to train graduates from non-engineering backgrounds) and HCL Technologies (which earlier this year began prepping 200 high-school students to fill entry-level software engineering positions).

Indian IT firms are using a new method of recruiting new tech employees. "Sponsored training" programs grab promising techies straight out of high school.While corporate India is onboard with sponsored training, there is resistance. The big hurdle seems to be convincing parents that it is a good idea for their child to forego college and enter the program. Many students come from small town and lower economic standings and are the first in their families to have much opportunity. Their parents often blame their low financial status on a lack of formal education and believe that a regular university degree is the only way to go.

Another concern is that the sponsored training model can lock employees into the culture of a specific company. When they change jobs, they may learn new skills, or relearn old ones; an often-difficult task that could hinder an individual’s job search.

There is also skepticism on the part of IT industry, which retains a tendency to value formal degrees above certificates, and the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) which fears a decline in the quality of IT engineers.

“[If] every IT company starts doing this, then the quality of engineers in the workforce will dip,” a Nasscom official told The Times of India. “A one-year, company-tailored course isn’t a viable substitute for prestigious and rigorous academic institutions. Instead of compensating for a skills shortage, it may exacerbate the problem in the long run.”