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BW Businessworld

Flagging A New MAST

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Many FMCG, telecom and insurance companies face a simple problem. The managers they hire do not want to work in small towns. But these companies find it hard to find employable candidates from these areas. Despite the scores of business schools in non-metro regions, most MBA graduates remain unemployable.  This lack of uniformity in the quality of management education continues to vex recruiters.

Most companies have launched their own training programmes for entry level positions while some prefer to stick to tier-1 B-Schools. But since the number of companies chasing graduates of such schools is higher than the supply, recruiters end up paying more than their real value. This also inflates the entry level salary of some B-Schools while the average for the rest remains low.

Such is the politics of the hiring policy that recruiters go for branded B-Schools, even if the quality is below expectations. While quality may exist in B-Schools lower in the profile order, recruiters find it risky to hire from such campuses.

In the end, nobody really comes away happy. New business schools suffer as their students do not have any legacy advantage. They may be good, but recruiters tend to be sceptical.

To tackle this, a new initiative was launched by the All India Management Association (AIMA) in September last year. This was based on feedback from HR heads who said that they want employable candidates who can live and work in non-metro towns and cities.

Testing Employability
AIMA launched a test to assess the industry readiness of the students who graduate from B-schools. Known as Management Aptitude and Skills Test (MAST), it is a filter that will rank students from different schools on common parameters. MAST has already been endorsed by over 100 recruiters including, Britannia, Nokia, Fab India and HDFC Standard Life. These companies have offered over 500 positions to students based on MAST score.

The way it works is this: students participate in MAST in regional centres across the country.  These scores are sent to the companies that have endorsed the test. These companies are now calling students for interviews and are using MAST score as a parameter for hiring.

The HRD Ministry and the education system do not really assess the outcome of a teaching process.  Indian B-Schools that have chosen to be accredited by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) have a common syllabus. But what they don't have is a common examination system. As a result, comparing the scores of students from different B schools is a futile exercise. "Until now, recruiters had no choice but to assume that students with similar scores in the management degree have similar capabilities. Now with MAST, they can assess which student has the potential to be a better manager," says Rekha Sethi, Director General of AIMA.

MAST promises to change that. The data from the inaugural test in September has been analysed now and the results confirm the experience of recruiters. Only about 23 per cent of the 1000 students who took MAST were found employable.

Most of these students are from tier 2 or 3 B-Schools. The top recruiters now can pick and choose the best students with help of a uniform parameter without fretting about the quality of education imparted. It will widen the talent pool from where they access entry level managers.
This clearly opens up options for the students graduating from such schools. Earlier they had to struggle to prove their worth. But a MAST score will boost their self confidence and credibility in the eyes of the recruiter.

The Key To Specialisation
MAST is now creating industry and campus specific solutions. On the main MAST platform, it is adding sector specific testing. So there would be a MAST variant for retail sector, another for insurance sector. Some B-Schools have asked AIMA to create a Campus MAST. This will boost the college's credibility and also make it convenient for the students to take the test. For campus recruiters, this would offer a procedural and time-saving convenience.

Most students who took the MAST were from the NCR area, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune. There is scope for it to be expanded to other regions. About 85 per cent of the candidates had been working for up to a year after graduation but wanted a better break. What MAST does is assess the student's readiness on parameters like industry domain knowledge and psychometric test that checks their emotional and ethical values. What MAST does not do is improve the quality of education provided at B-Schools. This will now depend on B Schools.

Since MAST has created an industry backed platform, B-Schools would benefit from taking the scores of their students from MAST to assess their own teaching processes. This is critical feedback for the B-Schools to ensure improved employability of their students. As the test evolves, it should review its relevance in consultation with B Schools and industries. Unless the educators, examiners and recruiters close the loop, MAST would serve a limited purpose.

The recruiters' relationship with colleges should grow beyond annual hiring visits. They must hold deeper interaction with the B-Schools using parameters such as the MAST scores to improve the quality of talent being created. With more initiatives like these, the challenge of employability can be tackled successfully.

Pranjal Sharma is a senior business writer