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Corporate May 24, 2012

India Inc to Youngistan: You’re spoilt, semi-literate and unprofessional

By Lakshmi Chaudhry

Dear Youngistan: You are spoilt un-professionals with minimal English language skills and not an ounce of creativity. That's the message penned by Mohit Chandra, a partner at the consulting firm KPMG. And he wouldn't hire you if he had a choice.

In an acerbic open letter published on India Ink, Chandra indicts a new generation of Indian graduates, "spoiled by the 'India growth story'"; low supply of "real talent"; decline of Western economies; and "the law of large numbers in India, which creates pockets of highly skilled people who are justly feted but ultimately make up less than 10 percent of all of you." [The letter is a must-read and you can read it in its entirety here]

Translation: you kids have it good - and not because you're any good but because you're lucky.

Chandra's letter is purportedly "a guide" for the new and coming generations to help them "understand what your employers really want and how your ability to match these wants can enrich you professionally." But, more accurately, it's a scathing checklist of their failings. These kids are certainly not alright.

The op-ed identifies five pet peeves, but just as interesting are the counter-arguments offered in the comments section. The result is a discussion that is richer, and less one-sided than the original piece.

Chandra's first issue is that most prospective employees - even from A-list institutions - do not speak or write fluent English. For example, this "objective statement" in a resume: "To be a part of an organisation wherein I could cherish my erudite dexterity to learn the nitigrities of consulting." Chandra insists that over half the resumes his firm receives fail to demonstrate a modicum of English language skills.

Students at St Xavier's College, Mumbai. Reuters

Counter argument: If English isn't a problem for China, why should it matter in India? Isn't this just another example of our colonial hangover?

Yes, well, given that our knowledge of English has been a major asset in attracting foreign companies - especially vis-a-vis the more efficient Chinese - we can't now pretend it doesn't matter. Chandra isn't asking for Shakespearean flair, but the ability to clearly communicate in a business environment - which is also critical in a country where it remains the sole shared language of the educated classes (Sorry, Hindi). Just imagine the kind of memos and presentations that kid will spew in the future!

The reality is that our English skills are indeed declining with each passing generation. A senior colleague of mine once predicted that we will be the last Indian generation to produce high literature in the English language. And I'm inclined to agree with him.

Then again, declining language skills are a problem even in English-language nations like the United States, Britain et al. What is an issue today may be moot tomorrow. In the future, we may all be writing/speaking in semi-literate SMS-driven haiku.

The next three points that Chandra raises are different iterations of the same theme: this new generation has not embraced a modern global work culture or mindset. He claims young hires are terrible "at problem solving, thinking outside the box, seeking new ways of doing things" - blaming this on our rote-intensive educational system. They also don't "ask questions, engage deeply and question hierarchy." And young people do not "take responsibility for your career and for your learning and invest in new skills." Chandra points to a training course created in response to demands from new employees. Yet, less than 15 percent enrolled in the course.

Counter argument: Almost no one denies that the Indian education system squelches creativity and independent thinking. But as many point out, so do the employers, especially in big corporate environments. Junior hires end up doing all the grunt work, and following orders from bosses who are every bit as determined to stay safely within the box.

Continues on the next page

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by Lakshmi Chaudhry

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