By March this year, the country’s top three Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), had secured job offers for almost 4,000 students. Placement season is usually celebration time on campus but this year is different — than any other in recent history.
Earlier this week, a leading US-based consultancy rescinded its offer to 11 students across IIT-Delhi, IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Madras and six at IIM-Calcutta this week. This is being seen as an early warning sign across campuses, putting as it does a question mark over jobs secured by the graduating batch of these top engineering and business schools. The COVID-19 lockdown and the looming economic distress, the IITs and IIMs fear, could force many more companies to rethink their placement offers.
The All IITs’ Placement Committee (AIPC), in anticipation of problems, has reached out to all companies (that visited for campus recruitment) requesting them not to rescind placement offers made for the academic year 2019-20.
On Friday, IIT-Delhi director Ramgopal Rao issued a public appeal to all recruiters. Rao argued that since all IITs strictly follow the equal opportunity principle (one candidate, one job), withdrawing an offer would mean students “will end up not having any job right now”.
“We all understand these are difficult times. But please be considerate to keep your promises. A few months of delay may be fine. Please do not complicate the lives of these brightest children in an already complex environment. If at all, they are capable of getting you out of recession faster than you can imagine,” he wrote in his appeal shared on social media.
On March 30, IIT-Kanpur director Abhay Karandikar assured support to graduating students affected by rescinded offers. “I understand that some companies have withdrawn job offers. We will arrange a special placement drive in July/August time frame once the situation returns to normal. We will also tap our vast network of IITK alumni, who, I am sure, will come forward to help all of you,” Karandikar wrote in his email to all students.
Whether Rao’s appeal and Karandikar’s assurance translates into anything substantive isn’t clear. Both IIT-Delhi and IIT-Kanpur have decided to conduct an exclusive placement drive for students who have lost their job offers.
“We are watchful of the situation and are aware of the possibility that because of COVID-19 (outbreak) some (companies) may withdraw their offers. A few companies have already come back to our placement office to discuss offers made by them. Given the (economic) situation, these companies don’t know what they should do,” said a senior professor of IIM-Bangalore.
To help students affected by the last-minute withdrawals, IIM-Bangalore will reach out to recruiters, who were interested in participating in the placement drive this year but were turned away, to check if they are still keen on hiring.
Incidentally, the US consulting firm that withdrew offers this week, was among the companies that participated in the placement drive at IIM-Bangalore this year.
“All of us are worried. It will be chaotic,” said the director of a second-generation IIM on the condition on anonymity, when asked whether he expects the pandemic to affect the final placement offers. “Moreover, if companies start cutting salaries (of existing employees), we’ll be fooling ourselves to think that our students will not be affected by those decisions.”
“In my experience, international companies, especially those based in the US, take such decisions (on withdrawing offers) faster. I am sure we will see an impact. Indian companies take a little longer to decide (on such matters). Some of our best students are picked up first by global forms. It will be ironic if such students are left behind,” this director added.
While the IITs have taken preemptive action and reached our to the employers requesting them not to withdraw offers, the IIMs are being more cautious. “I think it will be an overreach on our part to speak to companies at this moment,” said a senior officer in the administration of IIM-Ahmedabad.
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“It (outbreak) will affect (placements), but we don’t know exactly how. Currently, we expect companies to defer the date of joining till June-July. Given the current circumstances, that should be fine,” the officer said, adding that he doesn’t expect cancellation at this moment.
But even in case of the IITs that are currently negotiating with the US consulting firm, a director admits there’s not much one can do to change such decisions. “Placement is not an entitlement but a critical aspect. We can engage with the companies, but there’s only so much we can say to them. Deferring date of joining (instead of cancelling offer) can be our negotiating ground. We cannot force them to hire students. It’s a Force Majeure situation that everyone’s facing,” Rao said.
Although six of the institute’s graduating students are among the first to face the brunt of the sputtering global economy, IIM-Calcutta is confident more placement offers will not get affected. “I am not particularly concerned at this moment. See, campus hiring is a multi-year activity for companies. We have longstanding relationships with most of these firms,” said Abhishek Goel, placement in charge of IIM-Calcutta.
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