Engineers as SBI Clerks

8 10 2010

Recently a news item appeared in many newspapers including Economic Times.

ET said:

This may surprise those aspiring to be engineers, and may even cause a rethink among job seekers: Over 3,800 graduate and 200 postgraduate engineers are set to join State Bank of India (SBI) in the clerical cadre. SBI had a year ago advertized for over 27,000 posts in the clerical cadre. While 38 lakh aspirants from across the country applied for the jobs online, 28 lakh of them appeared for the written exam. There were 88,000 successful candidates and 27,000 were finally selected after personal interviews. “It was the biggest such exercise for us,” a senior SBI official said. 

This news item has triggered a variety of responses ranging from bewilderment to pity to anger. Some also see this as a positive happening which will bring in innovation in the dull and staid bank clerks’ job. 

In my humble opinion, this is a reflection of the Indian job market in 2009-10 just after the slowdown. There is a premium for stability and security. In the minds of Indian middle class, an SBI job, it cannot get safer than that. Secondly, there is a glut of engineers in many states. Private engineering colleges have sprung up in such big numbers that annual output of engineers is nearly seven lakhs. The hope of jobs in the fast growing IT industry is a mirage for many engineering graduates, with IT industries slowing down their recruitment and also giving many a certificate of ‘unemployability’. (Just like Rajiv Gandhi’s famous quote of only 15p out of a rupee spent in Delhi reaching the common man, NASSCOM’s finding (?) that only 15 % of Indian graduates are ‘employable’ has been accepted as popular wisdom.)

My message to the engineers who have been chosen is: First of all, congratulations! Being in the top 1 % of any national selection is an achievement. The decision to appear in the SBI clerical examination was a pragmatic one, given the circumstances. Now, that you have been selected make the most of it. It is true that a B.Tech or an M.Tech is an over-qualification for the clerks’ job. You will have batch mates, who may be less qualified. Instead of sulking about the circumstances, prove that by performance you are more capable than the others. Learn banking and acquire whatever professional qualifications are required for getting promoted in banking.

Please do not look down upon the tasks that are assigned to you, because you think you are overqualified. In many foreign and new generation private sector banks, many of the tasks usually handled by clerks in SBI like being a teller or handling counters in the front desk are handled by MBAs. It is just incidental that they happen to have fancy designations like Asst Manager or AVP and get paid higher. Remember, the private bank jobs carry much higher risks.

As for the recruiter SBI, my opinion is that they have done a great service by recruiting in such big numbers in a poor job market. They have perhaps got a relatively superior batch of clerks which includes so many engineers. Accepting engineering as basic graduation, rather than a specialized professional degree, reflects a pragmatic approach to current Indian reality. Rather, than feeling smug about it, SBI needs to design jobs and create a conducive environment so that these talented clerks are able to perform well. Otherwise, in a growing economy, these engineers would leave them as easily as they have joined.

– G. Mohan

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