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Home » Career Resource Articles » Summers - A Learning Experience

Summers - A Learning Experience

Expert Suggestions on Preparation for Computer Based CAT-09

Summers - A Learning Experience

by Rajat Bohra*

The month of March is fast approaching when most of the first year students would be joining various organizations for their summer training. Summer training is an integral part of any MBA curriculum in the country. It serves as the only direct exposure to an organization and its ways of functioning during the entire curriculum. The importance of summer training in any management course cannot be over-emphasized. Irrespective of the general acceptance of summer training among the students as well as the corporate, there still exists some skepticism and confusion in the minds of MBA students about the efficacy and usefulness of a summer training programme.

This raises a fundamental question - Does a summer training programme really help an MBA student? According to the summer placement brochure of IIM Calcutta, " the programme is the most effective aid in enabling the students to relate management theory to practice, and in making an informed career choice." Courses in the first year are intended to provide a cross-functional orientation in basic management concepts, quantitative methods and analytical skills. Since immediacy of application is not stressed at this stage, the person can take his own time to reflect on the subjects and internalize the concepts. Once this conceptual framework is in place, it needs to be tested under real life conditions. The management institutes cannot simulate the real life conditions of a business manager. Although innovative tools like case studies and role-plays do attempt to address these limitations, they fail to capture the reality. Certain areas like Organizational Behavior and Marketing Management require much more then a mere conceptual understanding of facts. Therefore, we need some mechanism by which transfer of skills takes place from the classroom to the workplace. Summer training beautifully fills this gap. It gives him a chance to experiment because mistakes are not penalized while hard work is definitely rewarded. Not only does a student gets an opportunity to implement the concepts, but skill learning is faster because of the constant and immediate feedback from his peers and managers.

Students, especially those with little or no work experience, are slightly confused about the discipline in which they want to specialize and pursue their career. Summer training gives them an opportunity to closely interact with the organization and help identify the pros and cons of various career choices. Armed with this knowledge and understanding, they can take an informed decision about the portfolio of second year elective courses in which they want to specialize. Now the question arises -- Is summer training also necessary for a person who has worked for a considerable period of time in industry and then joined an MBA programme? It can be argued that he also stands to gain a lot. Even though a person may have worked, say as a production engineer, he may like to change his career, say to marketing, which entails learning different skills for which a summer training experience will be invaluable. Studying for a year in a B-School changes his perceptions and makes them broad based and integrated. Summer training at this stage will provide him the intellectual maturity that is necessary to enhance his effectiveness as a manager.

Is summer training only about applying the concepts and knowledge acquired in the classroom? This may not be so. Says Prof. K. Unnikrishnan Nair, professor of Behavioral Science at IIM, Calcutta, "The student should not rigidly confine himself to the narrow boundaries of the project which he is currently undertaking. He should also observe the processes, interactions and the human relations in the organization. Just observing people at their work could be a tremendous learning experience." During his summer training, which is for a period of two months, the trainee gets to see the culture of the organization, how the organization copes with crises and how the managers handle stress under varied situations. When he goes back to the institute, he can share his experiences with his fellow classmates and learn from their individual experiences. This will help him in not only mentally preparing himself about the lifestyle and pressures of a manager but also evolving a distinct way of dealing with diverse business situations.

Summer training also serves as an important opportunity to understand what companies look for in an individual during final placements. Says Pei-Yuan Chia, Group Executive Citicorp, "Essentially what we are looking for is depth, a continuing intellectual curiosity on part of the individual.. the difference between being successful and having an exceptional career is drive, dedication and single minded delivery of results." A student can make full use of his training period in trying to understand how the present system works to fulfill the interests of the strategic constituencies of the organization. In this respect, summer training can be used as an opportunity to inculcate the qualities that are demanded by the profession.

Inspite of all the benefits which a student can derive during the course of summer training, there is a feeling among students that the type of work given to them does not utilize their specialized knowledge and it can easily be done say by a salesman, a programmer etc. So apparently, they do not learn anything and there is little value addition during the course of two months of summer training. However, this should not be a cause of concern because in order to become, say, a good marketing manager, the person has to pass through the stage of actually going to the market and selling a soap or doing a market survey. If the manager has done the work of a subordinate before and has hands on experience, he can better understand the limitations and opportunities of the work that their subordinates are subjected to. This also helps the manager in reducing the communication gap between him and his subordinates and he can command the respect of his juniors. Even though, the summer trainee is not being utilized fully of every knowledge and skill acquired during the MBA programme, the experience itself will make him a lot wiser and will help him to become an able manager who can empathize with his subordinates.

Training in any form is considered to be beneficial to the both the trainee and the trainer. According to summer placement brochure of IIM Calcutta, "A summer trainee can add a lot of value to the company in terms of pragmatic analysis, solutions and implementation." The process of unshackling the kind of protection that the Indian industry was subjected to until the early nineties has suddenly made these organizations vulnerable to the changing market conditions. Entry of MNCs on a large scale has had a profound effect on the practice of management in Indian industries. Assumptions, which were true yesterday, are no longer valid tomorrow. It is here that the summer trainee can play a strategic role in the organization. Since he does not carry with him the set of assumptions or the bias which most of the regular employees are subjected to over a period of time, he can question them and help in fundamentally altering the business practices. But, this is only one side of the story. The organization also needs to be receptive in identifying and implementing the innovative schemes as proposed by the summer trainees during the course of their assignment. For this, the organization needs to plan in advance about the type of project they will be offering to the students. This will not only help the organization to select the right students, but also help the students to do some advance preparation before they actually join the organization. Some organizations like GE Caps actually ask the students to come up with a project proposal and give presentation to the company officials about what they plan to do during the training period. Advance preparation and planning from both students and organizations will greatly enhance the effectiveness of the summer training.

A very high turnover of fresh MBA recruits is a cause of major concern for most of the companies because it not only entails huge costs in hiring MBAs but also disturbs the equilibrium inside the organization. In most of the top business schools in India, the organizations as well as the students work under tremendous pressure during the placement week. This sometimes results in a mismatch between the individual and the organization that sows seeds for disillusionment later. To circumvent this problem, the companies are increasingly emphasizing on a more elaborate recruitment process for summer training. This gives them an opportunity to examine the students more closely before giving them an offer of training. If a company finds that the summer trainee is a perfect fit for its future requirements, he can be given an offer of job even before the final placements start. Companies like P&G, HLL, Price Waterhouse Associates etc. are effectively using this process to give Pre Placement Offers (PPO) to the summer trainees. The organization and the individual can understand each other better during the training period and if the student accepts a PPO, chances of mismatch are minimized. This also imparts a lot of flexibility to the student in choosing the company he wishes to join and reduces the pressure of getting a job during final placements.

The students must take their summer assignments very seriously. A little groundwork is required on their part before going for their summers. Besides a practical exposure to management, a summer project offers other benefits like PPO, and a good relationship with the company. Companies are offering summers in newer areas like project financing, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Resource Information Systems, green field venture planning and Business Strategy. A student is unlikely to get a thorough exposure in these areas in his regular curriculum. Practical exposure to these newer areas will help him during his placements and will give him an upper edge against other candidates. The organization, in turn, will benefit by having access to innovative ideas of trainees. A summer assignment, in this respect, must be looked at, both by the student and by the company, as an opportunity to learn from each other.

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