While virtual hiring has broadened opportunities for students, the digital divide in education impacts job placements as well.

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Coronavirus Education Monday, May 24, 2021 - 13:17

Earlier this year, students of NRI Institute of Technology in Vijayawada, who are set to graduate soon, were informed that a major IT services company would soon participate in their campus placement drive. While nearly 460 students were eligible for the role, only 210 of them had access to laptops for the remote recruitment process. “We couldn’t just leave them out, so we arranged tie-ups in coaching centres in Vijayawada, Nuzvid and other towns. We had to take permission from government officials and even record the process on video, so we had proof that COVID-19 protocols were followed in case we were later questioned,” said the college’s Placements Director NV Surendra Babu. Eventually, nearly 100 students received offers from the company. The pandemic has had a considerable effect on students graduating this year, with the delayed academic calendar and shift to online classes. While the second wave of the pandemic has led to uncertainty over the final semester exams, campus recruitment drives have continued as usual, after switching to virtual mode. 

Last year, several students set to graduate in the summer of 2020 had their job offers rescinded as a repercussion of the COVID-19 lockdown. In a few cases, students had to wait for several months before they could join the company, according to Surendra Babu, who is also the General Secretary of Andhra Pradesh Training and Placement Officers Consortium. Yet, students and college managements say that opportunities for students graduating in 2021 have not been badly affected by the pandemic. However, the switch to online education and virtual recruitments has its share of advantages and disadvantages, they say. 

Several students who were in their final year of engineering, studying in autonomous colleges in Hyderabad and Chennai, told TNM that the quality and quantity of companies hiring from campuses has not changed much compared to previous years, especially for computer science, IT, electrical and electronics streams. Many engineering colleges had started campus recruitments for soon-to-be graduates as early as January 2020. Kailash, a final year Computer Science student from a private engineering college in Chennai, said that the placement activity has been similar to previous years, with many significant companies recruiting from his college in the first semester of this academic year. Students from Guru Nanak Institute of Technology in Hyderabad and SSN College of Engineering in Chennai, also said that the quality and number of companies recruiting has been the same as before. 

With online recruitment, many companies which would earlier not visit campuses in smaller cities and towns including Vijayawada are now open to hiring students from such locations too, said Surendra Babu. “The opportunities have nearly doubled since companies earlier restricted to a few campuses have now turned to open hiring. Engineering students from rural backgrounds, studying in colleges that may not usually be visited by these companies, are also able to participate in the hiring drive this time,” he said. Echoing Surendra’s view, Prof Manish K Srivastava, who teaches Human Resource Management at Hyderabad’s Vardhaman College of Engineering and oversees campus placements, said that the number of companies recruiting has increased with virtual hiring. “There are more opportunities compared to last year, since many companies which earlier couldn’t visit certain colleges have now opened up to them,” he said. 

Moreover, students with access to necessary resources said that virtual interviews also take the edge off the whole interview process, which most of them are facing for the first time. “I found the online interview to be a huge advantage. Otherwise, the interviewer can notice every small thing from the moment you open the door,  how you sit, how you present yourself, making you nervous and conscious. But here, there are fewer chances for that.,” Kailash said.  Shwetha*, an Electronics and Communications Engineering student from Guru Nanak Institute of Technology, also said that online interviews can help nervous students feel more assured. “One company wanted to do the final round of interviews in person, but I couldn’t go because of the COVID-19 situation. But most interviews have been online and that’s an advantage,” she said. However, she notes that some of her classmates have faced connectivity issues, which have also been a hindrance with online classes. “If they’re lucky, some companies will reschedule the interview. But not everyone is given that chance,” she added.

Surendra Babu, who has been arranging alternatives for students without access to resources, said that in spite of the rise in opportunities, final offers have reduced due to lack of infrastructure and employable skills among students. “There has been a drastic decrease in final selections of students. Many of them are not used to online training and have been unable to get enough practice, or they are facing technical issues due to which they are unable to perform in interviews,” he said. “But students will have to get used to it, since it’s likely to be this way for a couple of years,” he added. 

According to a recent survey on hiring for technology roles, conducted by edtech startup Scaler which involved around 150 companies (including MNCs and startups), 90% of companies said that they would be hiring at the same pace as the pre-COVID-19 period, and that there was likely to be a slight increase in entry-level jobs. The survey said that there would be high demand for software developers, data scientists, web and mobile application developers and UI/UX designers. For the imminent graduates too, most opportunities have been for similar roles, mainly in companies offering IT products or ITeS (Information Technology Enabled Services). While this is in line with the usual trend, the switch to remote working and virtual onboarding of employees etc might have deepened the divide in opportunities for different disciplines, Surendra Babu said. 

According to both Manish and Surendra Babu, the automobile and manufacturing sector companies have continued to have similar opportunities for freshers as in previous years. However, opportunities for civil engineering graduates, which have declined steadily over the past few years, have worsened now, said Surendra Babu, with constructions being halted and firms ceasing to hire freshers. “Cities like Hyderabad have avenues for civil students to enhance their skills by taking extra design courses. Here in Andhra Pradesh, such avenues are rare,” he noted. Avinash, an automobile engineering student from Tamil Nadu, said that the situation has been bleak with core companies. “It’s mostly IT and consulting jobs that are available. Students are forced to take irrelevant jobs or internships so the college can justify the placement fees and pad up placement rate figures,” he claimed.

*Name changed on request

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