27-year-old Arivazhagan from Chennai was amongst the 15 lakh applicants who sat for an entrance test conducted by the Tamil Nadu Government on February 11. This postgraduate has completed his masters in Engineering at Thangavel University in the city and had even worked for a leading mobile manufacturer.
But on Sunday, as he put pen to paper, he was attempting to crack an exam for a clerk-level position in the state government. And the only qualification he required was a 10th standard pass certificate.
"What else can we do when there is no job security?" asks Arivazhagan, who studied engineering in the field of computer science. "In my previous job, I was made to work for over 12 hours a day and we were under constant threat of being fired. We all know how the IT industry is now and when companies are firing people according to their whim and fancy, where can people like me go?" he asks.
And Arivazhagan is not the only candidate over qualified for the job. There are 9,500 posts for grabs at this Group-4 level which leads to employment as typists, Village Administrative officers (VAO) and stenographers. And candidates, according to reports, included an astounding 992 PhD holders, 23,000 MPhil holders, 2.5 lakh post-graduates and eight lakh graduates. Jobs that come from writing the Class 4 exam provides a minimum salary of only Rs. 5,200.
When TNM spoke to the highly qualified candidates, their reasons for applying to the job all revolved around job security.
"I joined a school as a teacher but they were willing to give me a salary of only upto Rs.8000 despite the long hours," says 24-year-old Ponni, a post graduate in Tamil. "I know that a government job may not offer much more but at least I know that there is security and once I get the post, I can write inter departmental exams and grow further," she adds.
Experts who coach aspirants for the TNPSC and UPSC exams say this trend is understandable. "There are no jobs available for graduates anymore. They know that in a government job, they at least have an opportunity for growth once they get and they cannot simply be retrenched or removed as the case is with private companies," says P Balaji, who conducts free coaching for students in Chennai and Pondicherry.
Some candidates who have written the exam however, see it as a practice test.
23-year-old Gomathi for instance is looking to join the Civil Services. "I want to become an IAS officer and am training for that. So, I thought I should try this exam as well to understand what kind of questions I will be asked," says the candidate with a Masters in Computer Application. But she must have found the exam easy then? "No, not at all. It was really tough and not at all what we expected. So, if I get the job I will take it up and then continue preparing for UPSC."