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Imparting Employability Skills among Students - Prof. M Chandra Sekhar, Academic Affairs Director, JKC

Interview Date : 15-11-2012

Every year around 7 lakh students come out of colleges as graduates. While the number is huge, several surveys reveal that only 15 to 20% of the pass-outs are job ready. The AP Society for Knowledge Networks has started Jawahar Knowledge Centers to arrest such trend and train the students to become industry-ready.

Prof. M Chandra Sekhar, Academic Affairs Director, JKC in an exclusive interview with KAB Television details on the genesis, progress and the current status of the JKC. Below are the edited excerpts of the interview for the readers of TCG.

TCG: What was the idea behind starting JKC and what is its objective?

Prof. Chandra Sekhar:Government of AP started the JKC centers in the year 2005. The concept was conceived to help the students from engineering colleges to improve their employability skills. The number of colleges has grown in the last few years and large numbers of students are coming out of these colleges particularly from tier – I and tier – II cities. In this context, the need was felt to start a programme that educates students on employability skills and industry preparedness.

The program was conceived with the help of Industry partners. The State Government had come up with this initiative to help the students of engineering colleges to secure the jobs in the private sector.

TCG: What is the overall process of JKC? Do the engineering colleges approach you or vice versa?

Prof.: If you look at the scenario before the JKC was introduced, the companies used to visit major colleges like University Engineering Colleges and NITs for recruitment. Students, say for example, from Srikakulam, Adilabad, Karimnagar,Chittoor had limited opportunities. In this context, we thought of training students from the rural engineering colleges in acquiring job-readiness.

So, we initiated the process of registrations from the colleges. Later the students from these colleges register with the JKC program individually. The content of the JKC sessions was designed by the Industry and the trainers were trained by our industry partners. That way, we get to know what the industry requirements are and the same is delivered to the students through activity based learning process. Generally, if you look at the class room procedures in a college, a lecturer would deliver a lecture for 45 minutes or one hour and students passively listen to him. And that’s it. But, in the JKC training sessions, it is only for 10% of the time that the trainer would teach students and the remaining 90% of the time, the students would either interact with the trainer or among themselves or work alone to improve their skills.

TCG: What are the advantages of registering with JKC?

Prof.: First, the students can take part in the training sessions organised by the JKC. Second, the students will get discounts - ranging from 40 to 50% - on the certification exams conducted by the companies. Third, the students can participate in several industry contests like ASPIRATIONS2020 by Infosys, The Great Mind  Challenge by the IBM, ThinkQuest by Oracle etc. Last, the registered students can participate in the campus recruitment drive conducted by the companies tied up with JKC.

TCG: The students need to study many subjects during their course of study. Over and above it they need to take up JKC training programme. What are the contents of JKC that make students job-ready?

Prof.: Before starting the JKC programme we went to the industry to ascertain what the industry looks for in a student. They came up with their expectations. Say for example, they were very particular about communication skills. They were particular about the student behaviour which is today called as soft skills. Then they were very interested to know the problem solving skills and the domain skills i.e. the technical skills, the students possess. In the JKC training programs we gave lot of importance to train students on communication skills, soft skills, problem solving skills and technical skills. We deliver the lectures or training sessions as part of their curriculum. We conduct two sessions per week in a college and deliver them along with their regular course curriculum. We don’t modify the curriculum prepared by the Universities. But we design add-on programs that and deliver them at their respective colleges.

TCG: You mentioned that JKC sessions are conducted two or three times a week. That means resident faculty should be sufficiently equipped with the JKC program for follow up. Does JKC train faculty so that they can engage students successfully?

Prof.: In training students we adopt two methods. We engage the faculty of the respective colleges to conduct training sessions for the students. In cases where the faculty did not find time due to the work pressure we took the help of IT Associates. They are full time employees of JKC. These Associates will be trained initially for 4 to 6 weeks and the training material would be given to them as modules. These modules will be delivered to students at the respective colleges. We give lot of material to the students for handson practice after the completion of the training program.

TCG: How many colleges so far registered for JKC programs? What is the progress?

Prof.: Initially the JKC was started in about 40 colleges. Now the program is offered in 400 Engineering and MCA colleges and about 200 Degree colleges. Around eighty thousand students undergo JKC training.

TCG: Generally speaking, in the advanced western countries, the students in a big way take up entrepreneurship and research. One of the objectives of JKC is to encourage students to undertake Research. What program does the JKC have to bring out the entrepreneurship and Research aptitude in students?

Prof.: we are planning to offer entrepreneurship as one of the elective courses. This JKC elective has been developed with the help of ISB - the International School of Business, Hyderabad. If the pilot project turns out to be effective, we will take it to rest of the colleges.

TCG: Can you please tell us which companies have tied up with the JKC and the services they offer.

Prof.: Several companies have been partnering with JKC. To name a few, we have Infosys, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, TCS etc. Each company is contributing in its own way. Some offer free software to JKC students, some companies offer training to the faculty in their technology and still others offer discount on their certification exam fees.

TCG: It seems that there are more IT, ITES and other service sector companies partnering with JKC. What about the core engineering courses like Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Metallurgy etc? Is there any component that is specifically designed for students of these courses?

Prof.: One must accept that JKC has not done pretty much for the core sector engineering branches. One reason for this is the employment generation potential of the service sector. The openings in the core sector are less comparatively. That’s why we did not focus on the core engineering branches. However, in the past two years we have been trying to avail the employment from the core sector also. Especially for Mechanical and Civil branches the JKC is working with Autodesk and are promoting Auto CAD certifications both at professional and associate level. This will improve the employability rating of Civil and Mechanical Engineering students.

TCG: One of the objectives of JKC is to enable socially and economically backward students to become employable. Can you explain the programme of JKC for them?

Prof.: We charge very nominal fee for socially challenged sections. In the last couple of years we have taken exclusive programmes for the minorities and socially challenged like giving them six month residential programme after they graduate. We have got many students placed in respectable companies. The results are really encouraging.

TCG: For every technical student the final year project or the major project as they say is very important. Is JKC offering any help to students in completing the final year projects?

Prof.: Yes, we generally help students in completing their projects. The projects are very important to test what the student has acquired and what he is able to present. But, in the last couple of years several players sprung up offering help in projects. Companies like HCL, HP entered the fray. In this context, we have not aggressively gone to colleges offering assistance in the project work. We are only helping those who approached us. Previously, we used to offer projects to all registered students in the final semester of their course.

TCG: Another objective of JKC is to involve students in egovernance projects. Does that take off? What is the result so far?

Prof.: We are involving students in the e-governance projects. The JKC students approach the collectorates in the respective districts to check if they have any e-governance applications to be developed as part of the district administration. But we are not aiming at big projects because, such projects are delivered in specific time and they need lot of deliverables which the students may not cope with.

TCG: Career guidance is an important aspect of education. Unless a student has clarity over the career he cannot go forward. Does JKC include career guidance as a part of it?

Prof.: JKC addresses career guidance and counseling. Especially in the first year we conduct a couple of workshops in first semester and another couple in the second to make students understand what is industry and what are the requirements of the industry. What is entrepreneurship and what are the several other pathways available for the student.

The workshops enable students to identify one of the pathways and set them as their career goal. We also work closely with colleges and students so as to know what the demands of the industry that he would be expected to meet at the end of the course.

TCG: Generally, in which year should a student register for the JKC training? In which month of the year should a college approach JKC?

Prof.: Generally we keep the JKC registrations open at the beginning of the academic year. We start the registration of the colleges and students in the month of June or July and finish by August. The students can register in 2nd, 3rd or 4th years. It is a onetime registration. So we recommend students to register in the second year so that he gets ample time to undergo training sessions to improve his employability skills.

TCG: What role does the student play in the entire JKC training process? How do you want the students to avail the JKC programme?

Prof.: The student should take the JKC training sessions seriously. He should work on the practice material we have given them. Take any of the certification exams that JKC offers in third year like DB2, .Net, Java, Oracle etc. He should work seriously on his mini and major projects in the chosen technology. That will make him a prospective employee for the company. Just joining JKC and looking for the placements at the end of it is of no good. He should follow the path then the success will definitely be there.

TCG: What has been the experience of the JKC programme so far? How effective has it been?

Prof.: If you want to know the effectiveness, you should look at the acceptability among the stake holders first. We have started JKC with 40 odd colleges, today we have 600 colleges registered with us. If the stakeholders do not see a value in this, I don’t think they will volunteer to join JKC. Another parameter is the employment generated with JKC compared with the absence of it. We only have statistics of direct employment through JKC i.e. before one leaves the college. But the students also get placed after leaving the college. If we sum up these, the employment generation we achieve is around 3o to 35 percent which is a reasonably good number.

TCG: The students in their final year of the course will be placed through the JKC. What preparation should a student needs for getting placed?

Prof.: The student needs to clear the written test first. It typically comprises of problems in aptitude, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and General English. They need to practice a lot to solve these problems in a stipulated time. The next step would be a Group Discussion (GD) or Just-a-Minute session. In these the student will be tested on how he is articulating a particular idea or concept. Say for example, if he’s asked to explain how to make coffee he should do so to a person who doesn’t know preparing coffee. He should be able to give clear instructions to that person so as to enable him to make coffee. In the GD, he should know how to interact with the team. He should neither argue with the team members nor should he be vey submissive.

So there are some dos and don’ts in a group discussion. A student should be aware of these. Then he will go for HR and Technical interview. If the student is thorough with his final year project, it is very easy for him to clear the Technical interview. In the HR round he would be asked several questions to ascertain his behaviour. Some of the common questions are available on the JKC website as frequently asked questions (FAQs). He should sit and prepare answers to these questions. He cannot just jump into an interview room without such preparation.

If the preparation is good there will be good performance on the placements day. All these components are part of the JKC programme. We distribute material covering these components and conduct GDs, Just-a-Minutes and mock interviews. But the student needs to put in his best efforts.
There’s no short cut!