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India tries exam to boost quality of outsourcing

Country launches national entry exam aimed at improving quality of recruits for call-center and IT jobs in the outsourcing industry.

India has launched a national entry exam aimed at improving the quality of graduates recruited into call-center and IT positions in the country's booming outsourcing industry.

The competence exam has been launched by Indian IT industry body Nasscom, and an initial three-month pilot will run in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai covering 36 key IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies and 15,000 graduate recruits.

Nasscom, which stands for the National Association of Software and Service Companies, said the aim of the industry standard assessment and certification program is to ensure the transformation of a "trainable" work force into an "employable" work force.

The Indian IT and BPO sector currently employs around 350,000 people, but companies are already under pressure from high attrition rates due to competition for competent staff. That pressure is likely to increase with the sector predicted to need 1 million skilled people by 2009.

The skills tested by the Nasscom Assessment of Competence (NAC) exam include listening and keyboard skills, verbal ability, spoken English, comprehension and writing, office software usage, numerical and analytical skills, and concentration and accuracy.

Nasscom said a national rollout will begin after successful completion of the pilot and asserts the plan will result in 50 percent cost savings in the industry's sourcing and recruitment costs. The program has been developed in conjunction with Hewitt Associates.

The project comes at a time when the Indian IT and BPO industry is under pressure to address the problems of data theft in call centers exposed in stings by Australian and U.K. journalists.

Following the most recent data breach last week, Nasscom said it is working to support Indian law enforcement agencies in tackling cybercrime and to establish a national register of IT professionals to help companies vet employees.

Sunil Mehta, vice president at Nasscom, said the Indian IT industry is determined to raise security and privacy standards.

"The problem is not unique to any single nation; it is one that affects us all. And each of us has a responsibility to take on the criminals," he said. "This problem, unfortunately, is also likely to grow as the world becomes increasingly interconnected and the criminal intent is likely to outpace technological solutions."

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported London.

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