India Inc learns to teach

Written by Jyotsna Bhatnagar | Updated: Feb 27 2011, 18:56pm hrs
Whether its Gautam Adanis infrastructure institute or Kishore Biyanis Future Innoversity, business houses seek to overcome manpower shortage in sunrise sectors by getting into niche business management education

The business of management education is coming of age as employers become more and more choosy, looking for managers who can hit the job running. No longer does a management degree or diploma guarantee placement. Indeed, gone are the days when one course met the requirements of all recruiters. Today, sectoral or niche management courses are becoming the need of the hour. With over 3,700 institutions offering management degrees and diplomas, its the USP they bring to the table in terms of sector specialisations, which is going to be the new game changer.

Says Bakul Dholakia, former director of the countrys top-rated b-school, the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad and currently the vice-chairman and director of the two-year old Adani Institute of Infrastructure Management (AIIM): Personally I believe that as competition increases across sectors, the differentiation in management education will not only proceed in the direction of quality, but also sectoral or niche specialisation. Industry is now looking for people with solid management knowledge combined with the ability to apply it to specialised areas.

Not surprisingly then, when thrown the gauntlet of creating a world class b-school by Gautam Adani, chairman of one of the countrys largest corporates in the infrastructure space, the Rs 35,000-crore Adani Group, Dholakia chose to transplant the culture, pedagogy and approach to education and training inculcated at IIMA to create a management school specialising in infrastructure, the fastest growing sector of the economy.

But why infrastructure Recounts Dholakia, Between 1988 when Gautambhai laid the foundations of the Adani Group as a partnership company and 1998 when the first vessel berthed at Mundra Port, he faced many challenges, the most formidable of which was to find trained managers for the diversified projects he planned to execute. In the global trading business that Adani was in, finding people who understood both infrastructure and global trading was almost impossible. At that time, Gautambhai had to resort to recruitment of suitable young managers who were willing to invest substantial time in learning infrastructure management on the job.

It was with this in mind and foreseeing a huge demand for qualified managers in the infrastructure sector, which as per the estimates of the Planning Commission needs an aggregate investment of more than $ 500 billion over the 11th Plan period, the Adani-Dholakia duo set up a b-school offering courses in infrastructure management. According to Dholakia, infrastructure is the fastest growing sector of the economy with the result that demand for trained professionals for the area is growing rapidly. The corporates in this sector are looking for people with domain knowledge since a straitjacketed application of management principles cannot be done.

Dilip Ponwal, the topper of AIIMs first one-year post-graduate programme in infrastructure management batch, chose the fledgling AIIM over the reputed XLRI where he had also bagged a seat for the simple reason that he was looking to hone his skills in the infrastructure space.

Armed with seven years experience in the power sector, this electrical engineer who had worked with multinationals like ABB and Atkins decided to top-up his qualification to improve his job prospects. I got to know about AIIM from the internet and what swung my decision in its favour was that not only was it the first institute of its kind offering me courses in infrastructure, but also it had a galaxy of management gurus as its faculty members including Bakul Dholakia and Indira Parikh, former dean of IIMA. Ponwal has been absorbed by Adani Power at a remuneration 50% higher than his previous job and three rungs higher on the designation ladder.

But doesnt the fact that most of these specialised courses are not degree courses deter those who provide them as well as those who pursue them Quips an unfazed Dholakia, The real criterion for judging these courses is placement and the market is the test. The fact that AIIMs first batch secured 100% lateral placements speaks for itself.

But infrastructure is not the only sector where b-schools are now offering specialisation. In view of the exponential growth in the retail sector, more and more players in the retail space are queuing up to set up schools imparting sectoral skills. For example, take the case of the Hyderabad-based Indian Retail School (IRS). Established in 2005 by the House of Pearl, a leading apparel exporting house, the school offers management programmes tailor-made for the fashion industry and retail sector.

Elaborates Rajendra Prasad Nadela, director of IRS, The next five years are expected to throw up five million jobs in the retail sector at the entry level, which means well need thousands of trained managers as well. Thats the reason why we chose to create a school, which provides specialised management training in all aspects of retail ranging from store operations to supply chain management and HR. Few people realise that retail business is unique in the sense that the store manager of a store is a mini-CEO, who is expected to be well-versed in all facets of management from manpower training to maintaining inventories to marketing, finance and accounts.

With a batch size of 200 students per annum, Nadela claims the school has a 100% placement record with recruiters including the whos who of the retail spectrum from international fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger to white goods giant Samsung. In fact, there is so much demand for our students that we are planning to increase our batch size shortly, reveals Nadela.

Endorsing the popularity of retail management courses, Suyesh, an alumni of IRS who now works for Landmark, a Tata enterprise, states, I had an interest in retailing and was on the lookout for a career specific course in this sector. I happened to see IRS ranked as one of the best schools offering management programmes in a survey conducted by a leading news magazine and enrolled myself for a short term certificate programme in the school after my graduation. It has really helped me in honing my knowledge of the sector.

But its not only corporates who are entering the education arena to create niche management schools specific to their area of operations and expertise. Moving with the swiftness one does not normally associate with government institutions, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has, in a novel initiative set up a centre exclusively for niche courses catering to the requirements of India Inc.

IGNOUs Centre for Corporate Education Training and Consultancy, set up in 2008, is forging tie-ups with corporate, which would not only ensure trained manpower for them, but would also provide students numerous options for specialised management degree courses under the umbrella of a recognised university. Explains P R R Nair, OSD and coordinator of the department, Its a win-win for both students as well as corporates. Furthermore, unlike private institutes, which either offer diplomas or degrees, which may not be recognised, IGNOU provides recognised courses, which are structured with the assistance of the company, which ties up with us and in that sense, are completely customised to suit their sectoral requirements.

Most importantly, however, the IGNOU-corporate partnership courses are face-to-face full time programmes and not distance learning courses, which IGNOU normally offers and are, according to Nair, extremely affordable unlike courses offered even by the IIMs. A two-year PGP in management from an IIM costs upwards of Rs 12 lakh, fee of private institutes range anywhere between Rs 7 lakh and Rs 18 lakh while a two-year specialised MBA from IGNOU costs just Rs 2 lakh. The main aim of setting up this centre is to reach out to as many sectors and teach programmes conducive to develop employment and skill sets.

Currently, IGNOU has two such public private partnerships in education. The first one, forged three years back, is in association with the Cochin international airport, which offers a full-fledged two year MBA in aviation management, two postgraduate programmes, one in airport technology and another in airport management as well as three certificate programmes in fire fighting, resources and commercial management.

However, it is the other PPP, which IGNOU forged with retail czar Kishore Biyanis Future group a year back, which is grabbing more eye balls. The tie-up offers an MBA in retail apart from a slew of long and short-term diplomas and certificate programmes conducted at four centres created under the auspices of Future Innoversity at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata.

Says Muralidhar Rao, CEO of Future Human Development Limited (FHDL), which oversees such educational initiatives of the Future Group, Of late, a lot of corporate are entering the education arena, leading not only to the corporatisation of education, but also to the formulation of courses driven by the industry demand. We, at Future, took a conscious decision to enter the management education arena largely because only a handful of top-notch institutes are producing good professionals who can do justice to functional areas. The industry now is demanding specific MBAs and the creation of specialists as opposed to generalists. By that yardstick, Id say it reflects the maturing of management education in India.

Rao maintains that industry is also now taking an active interest in educating future managers because it is suffering from poor quality intake. Agrees Dholakia, It is observed that companies recruit managers and then put them through 9-12 month long orientation and induction programmes within the organisation and it is only after this that they are deployed as managers. At the time of setting up AIIM, I figured that if education itself could provide both the context and the content of the sector it would cut down on induction time by at least 50%a value proposition for both the students and the recruiting companies.

Currently, Future Innoversity has a batch size of 200 students across all four centres, but in view of the phenomenal demand in the retail sector, plans are afoot to increase intake next year. Says Mitul Dave, a student of the inaugural batch of MBA in retail, The career opportunities are phenomenal for us and I cant wait to complete my course.

As Rao succinctly sums it up, A management degree is no longer seen as a placement ticket any more. Students and industry are clamouring for more and that gap can only be filled in by niche management courses.