Frontrunners of globalisation they are. But when it comes to communicating in English, some IT professionals still seem to be caught on the back foot. In fact, as one senior techie who now works in corporate communications puts it: 'Lack of proficiency in English is a known and a debilitating issue in Technopark, where many of the jobs require high skills in verbal and written English.' And that’s despite fluency in English being a major criterion for recruitment. Sharika, an HR executive at one of the major IT firms, adds: 'An employer’s first priority is always to engage those with strong profession-specific skills but English Language Proficiency (ELP) is often a key factor in recruitment in the IT field. The level of skill, though, depends on the type of role in the organisation.
For example, those dealing with clients would need more sound knowledge of business and communicative English, than those working in more technical jobs. Mostly it’s the new recruits – those who have been on the job for less than three years – who often face this challenge. They may be technically very sound but many of them are just not proficient enough in the language, especially when it comes to communication skills.'
Across the board, techies who are not fluent in English say that they are at a disadvantage especially when dealing with clients. Joseph Peter, a native of Kozhikode, who works at a major animation firm, explains: 'Most of the clients that I deal with are from abroad and English is the mode of communication even if they themselves are non-native speakers of the language. I’m not that fluent in English as I studied Malayalam medium in school and because of that I often find myself frustrated when I can’t convey my ideas, however good they may be, effectively.' His colleague Rajesh, who also faces the same dilemma, agrees and adds: 'People often underestimate us just because our English language skills limit us from actively taking part in group discussions, for example. It can also be demoralising. Thankfully, I mainly work with clients from North India and because I understand Hindi, it’s easier to communicate.'
Both techies opine that career advancement is also an issue. 'Being technically sound only gets you so far up the ladder. There have been instances of missed chances due to lack of ELP,' says Rajesh. While all of them say they want to improve their skills in the language, they cite paucity of time as the primary reason why they are not able to work on it.
That’s where companies step in. In Technopark, companies often organise art of English communication lessons. Some major companies like UST Global, for example, who have the means, have an in-house training team just for the purpose. Attendance to these classes is often mandatory irrespective of skills in English. Toonz Animation recently had a year-long programme for the same which employees could attend if they wished to. Similarly, may others hold workshops led by professional English language trainers. 'It’s not English grammar that’s the issue, neither is writing or speaking in a full sentence. The idea is effective communication,' says Harish R., who recently framed guidelines for English language communication when his MNC set up shop in South America.
'There are a few things to follow when we’re dealing with clients/employees who are non-native speakers of English – speak slowly, don’t confuse with synonyms, don’t jump from topic to topic....' he adds. (Some names have been changed on request)