The college placement cell – helping students help themselves

Most Pre-University students who have signed up for the science stream tend to join a professional course to further their education. Most land up in engineering colleges. It is here that life changes for them. They encounter a different style of teaching, learning, and campus etiquette. They have responsibilities and deadlines galore and their personal lives and personalities are just beginning to evolve. Vidya Bhat a placement officer tells us how a placement cell helps the students ready themselves for the corporate world that is to come and also offers a few tips to the students on what they must do to stay ahead in the competition.

As a student joins an Engineering or any other ‘professional’ course, (and not any Basic degree college), post his/her Pre-University education, we understand that he/she aspires to become a professional in whatever field he or she chooses and obtain a job in his/her dream company! Engineering is the most popular professional course opted for by students emerging from the Pre-University level. This article will, therefore, concentrate on the role of the Training and Placement Cell in engineering colleges in grooming students for a corporate role as they emerge with a degree.

The role of the Placement Officer starts as soon as they enter the college. The Training and Placement Cell normally plays a combined role of strengthening students’ technical skills and grooming them with soft skills and attitude to become “a complete man” to increase their employability quotient.

The transition from school to college life is challenging in two ways. Firstly, as they transit to young adulthood from their teenage den, their life is set for many changes - Physiological, emotional and psychological. The understanding that the life of an adult is one of responsibility and challenges is where the first signs of struggle are seen. The expectations of responsibility by parents and teachers, a new life at college, and as a young adult individually, can be difficult to cope with when they converge. At this stage, individual and group counselling sessions go a long way in helping first-year students to cope with their altered life circumstances.

Secondly, students need to prepare for college life. They come with their set systems of learning from school. They believe that the study methodology is the same as what they have been doing since childhood at school. That all subjects have text books which the teachers would teach from, with an exam pattern like before that decided their knowledge base and intelligence. These expectations can lead to disappointment when they see that a Professor talks about concepts and theories and does not share notes or guide them to the text books. Often he is seen as an ineffective teacher. However, a college education is much more than that.

Most colleges in Karnataka have their engineering syllabus (overall subject topic summary) framed by the Vishveshvaraya Technological University (VTU - established by the Govt of Karnataka) which defines the curriculum (overall content). The curriculum is framed keeping in mind the current technologies used in various Industries. In addition to building the knowledge base, VTU also has as its objective to apply this knowledge practically through mandatory project work and internship programs during the course. Hence, the first goal of a college education is to apply the knowledge gained through theory and concept building taught in college practically through project work, training’s, internships, apprenticeships, technical competitions, etc. This helps build cognitive skills (the ability to acquire knowledge and understanding it through thought, experiences and senses), enhancing one’s learning. The objective is to get students to understand subjects that are current and trending so that they come up to par with the industry requirements. This will help to get them a suitable job as they graduate.

The process of Placement seems pretty simple - study, get decent to great marks, register for job placements in the 6th/7th semester, attend recruitment drives of attending companies, get job offers in hand (depending on the college placement policy), make a selection of any one, graduate and join a company - in that order. There are plenty of jobs available in the market. However, competition is high and companies’ find that the skill levels of the candidates are not sufficient to hire them. Hence, students find it even more challenging to get a job as they complete their education.

How can the students get an edge that will help them succeed in getting a job of their interest rather than any job that is open in the market? A few important points for all freshers to be aware of are mentioned below.

First and foremost, the Placement cell does not guarantee any student a job. It works as a facilitator to help the student get a job! The Placement Officer’s responsibility is to sharpen the taught and learnt technical skills and polish them along with soft skills that helps every student transition from campus to corporate life with an awareness and understanding of what is expected from them to become productive at the workplace – professionally and personally. This is done through the Placement Trainings during your 3rd year.

Another important thing to remember as you enter your engineering college life is that marks matter to get a good job offer as a fresher, with no work experience! While this is a sad state of affairs to contemplate, it is the reality. As companies come for campus drives, they have selection criteria to filter the applications at the first level. Most companies have a cut-off percentage criterion of 70-75% aggregate, while a majority of the visiting companies insist on 60-65% aggregate, no backlogs and no breaks in education from 10th Std. This means that every student has to work hard and stay smart to keep their results consistent right from the first semester to the end of the final semester.

This needs to change. Many students can and do get high marks through memorization rather than a real understanding of the subject matter. This is because our schooling system is set up that way and the brain is trained to study that way. However filtering and selecting a candidate based on marks scored in qualifying exams does not justify the end for the companies – of hiring competent well-rounded candidates who will be an asset in times to come. Marks alone should not be the criteria for identifying a zone of consideration. They might be missing out on real talented people if they do. Selection based on the understanding of their subject knowledge and project work which is the practical application of the knowledge may be more helpful. This is why the University has introduced the concept of projects which will help the student apply their theoretical knowledge and see how it works in real time. If there are problems, then the student learns to work around it to resolve it and get a befitting solution to the problem.

The third important point to remember is that while it is perfectly acceptable for students to talk in their local tongue with their friends and family at home and outside campus, it is important to understand that English language fluency is very important when they enter the working world. English is the common thread used in the business world that helps one understand and communicate with other people who come from different backgrounds and cultures in a company. Many students come from a Kannada medium background and they need to put in an extra effort to brush up their English speaking skills. Speaking in English in college with the Professors and within their peer groups needs to become a practice ground to polish their English speaking skills. Speaking in English within the campus with no fear of ridicule, from the first year onwards makes it easier for students to become fluent in spoken English. In turn, this will make them proficient as they reach the final year in time to attend group discussions, technical and HR interviews. This is one aspect that needs to be encouraged by parents and teachers alike. Another important aspect relates to Communication. It is very important for students to communicate proactively and effectively in class. Many students hesitate to ask or respond to the Professor in class creating the impression that they don’t know the subject matter. Many students may be shy or may have a fear of speaking in front of others and do not express their opinions openly. Many wait for the faculty to leave the class, run behind them and ask their doubts privately.

The observation is that students are hesitant and do not open up in spite of knowing the answers/subject matter. Not sharing their opinions and perspectives will be detrimental in the professional world where they will not be considered for a job or promotion if they are not heard clearly in a group or team or don’t share an opinion whether they agree or differ especially during a Group Discussion. Their individuality should stand out and their voices heard even in a crowd for them to move ahead, not only at work but in their personal lives. This will give them the confidence; boost their self-esteem and self-respect when they make even the smallest bit of progress in life.

One solution for students to open up is to volunteer. A volunteer group in a college during College fests and cultural events, or competitions help students to meet new people, interact and engage with strangers, etc. It opens up avenues for the students to meet their seniors and juniors, get more familiar and informal with their faculty and improve their communication and initiative learning skills. It also creates a good networking ground for the students. This is real learning!

The experience of this kind, in turn, leads to a more assertive(not aggressive), confident and well-rounded individual whom companies will be eager and willing to hire rather than students going out in search of any job that comes their way. This is the vision of every Placement Department – where the job comes in search of the student rather than the students going in search of a job!!! What a life!!!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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