Saritha Rai visits Infosys's giant Mysore training centre to gauge how outsourcers are using education to maintain their edge in challenging economic times.
Just before nine o'clock every morning, thousands of twenty-somethings stream across an expansive landscaped campus - past the Domino's Pizza, the 24x7 library, the official merchandise store - and into large classrooms. A hundred or so file into one room, firing up their computers as their lecturer clips on his microphone and gets started on a two-hour session about Java technologies.
This could be a university classroom anywhere in the world but it isn't. It is the sprawling training centre of India's second-largest outsourcing company, Infosys Technologies, which boasts $4.6bn in revenues and 104,000 employees, at last count.
The 336-acre expanse, with its capacity to train 14,000 people, is likely to be the largest dedicated corporate training centre in the world. Even global outsourcing rivals would find it hard to replicate this scale in other offshore centres like Ireland, Russia or Vietnam.
But despite its grandeur, the campus has not been able to insulate itself from the effects of the global recession.
Given Infosys's extensive hiring - peaking to 10,000 or more new hires during some quarters - it has no option but to take on fresh university graduates. And the chosen ones are not handed an appointment letter and herded to their work desks. Instead, they are bussed off to the training campus in Mysore, a three-hour drive from Infosys' headquarters in Bangalore.
Infosys executives say intensive employee training gives the company an edge over its rivals. "It helps us meet and exceed customer expectations while maintaining our competitive edge," says Mohandas Pai, director of human resources at Infosys. "When a global customer is experiencing different suppliers, our employees come out differently," adds Girish Vaidya, senior vice president and head of the Infosys Leadership Institute.
At Mysore, first-time visitors to the training centre may think they have walked into a corporate Disneyland. The campus features a geodesic dome-shaped three-cinema multiplex, a vast palm-tree-lined swimming pool, an eight-lane bowling alley, a floating restaurant and a huge gym. The residential quarters are laid out in letter shapes that spell 'Infosys' from an aerial view. (See our exclusive photos of the Mysore campus.)
One awestruck recent hire gushed that his first visit to the campus was like "entering the gates of heaven".
The buildings have a Las Vegas-style showiness. The largest of them, a Greco-Roman edifice, can train 9,500 individuals on any given day. One of the two Infosys global education centres on campus, the building houses one million square feet of training facilities, including 84 100-seater classrooms, three 200-seaters (named after Silicon Valley luminaries such as Moore, Chambers and Jobs), five examination rooms, an induction hall for 300 trainees, a library with 60,000 books, a cybercafé for 230 and a basement food court that can seat 1,700 diners.
Nearby are opulent buildings shaped like Origami art and sleek glass-and-steel structures reminiscent of Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley. The landscaping is pristine. Students amble down garden walkways and bicycle along the well-laid out paths.
"Many of my classmates dreamed of getting into Infosys," describes Sharmila Ramamoorthy, 21, a trainee hired from an engineering college, after graduating in electronics engineering. Last year, 500,000 applied but less than four per cent managed to pass the gruelling entry test, which is comprised of maths, logic and analytical questions.
Overseas visitors often wonder why Infosys built such a huge training infrastructure in a country said to be brimming with skilled talent. But India's higher education system can be outdated and out-of-sync with the hiring demands of multinational companies.
Indian offshore outsourcing providers like Infosys and TCS pride themselves on making employees 'customer ready' and use training as a key differentiator between themselves from the multinational players such as Accenture and IBM, says Arup Roy, a senior researcher at Gartner India. "Training is definitely one of their levers," he says.
Evidently the showpiece training campus in Mysore, like Infosys's vast corporate headquarters in Bangalore, is designed to impress. Infosys has to make an impact not just on…
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Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.