In ambitious India, workplace etiquette rounds out the coursework
NEW DELHI -- They call her India's Miss Manners, and she is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar industry to make Indian companies more competitive globally by improving their workers' social skills.
Pria Warrick has become the guru of graces for a new generation of call-center techies, chief executives, animation artists, MBAs and Bollywood film stars, all of whom are helping drive India's rise as a world economic power but sometimes without a certain polish.
"Backs straight! Napkins on lap. Great. Class, cut your burger neatly," Warrick told a class of young Indian professionals, methodically performing fork-and-knife surgery on a McAloo Tikka patty -- a spicy potato burger from McDonald's -- as practice for dining in Europe and the United States.
Warrick's school is part of a fast-growing trend in corporate India to remedy what analysts and recruiters call a serious impediment to India's global economic goals. Although many skilled Indian workers have degrees from top universities, analysts said they are often jaw-droppingly inept at the basics of international workplace etiquette: dressing properly, hosting a meeting, making inoffensive small talk and even using cutlery.
Fearing that such deficiencies are hurting India's leadership potential, companies are spending millions of dollars on corporate finishing school for tens of thousands of workers. In many cases, those workers are products of India's burgeoning middle classes who are the first generation in their families to enter the nation's booming and globally minded economy.
The outsourcing giant Infosys built a Global Education Center in the southern city of Mysore, teaching more than 50,000 graduates leadership and corporate manners, or "soft skills." The company has also partnered with 400 engineering schools to train 4,400 faculty members to teach more than 80,000 students how to be "industry-ready" when they graduate.
"Before my training, I actually lost a client because I barely talked during a presentation," said Srikantan Moorty, vice president of education and research at Infosys, who has helped design the company's soft-skill classes. "The report was technically correct. But I was so shy that it was hard to seem persuasive."
Tata Consultancy Services, the country's largest information technology company, has an in-house training center along with an affirmative action program. It has joined with the government to help economically disadvantaged students improve their office and leadership skills.
There are also thousands of neighborhood storefront corporate manners institutes holding packed classes on weekends in cities and small towns across India. In tiny offices, they offer "Spoken English" and "Personality Grooming." The schools are unregulated, and the quality of the programs varies. Many are run by hucksters preying on the ambitious and gullible.
Still, analysts estimated that more than half of India's 3 million graduates go to finishing schools, making it a growing, $60 million-a-year industry.
"Everyone sees an opportunity right now in finishing schools, from the big corporations to the retired teacher who thinks they have wisdom to share," said Pallavi Jha, managing director of Walchand Dale Carnegie Finishing School, which teaches the art of winning friends and influencing people in an emerging Indian economy.
In the northern city of Varanasi, placards in winding alleys advertise classes teaching "Personality Development." One recent evening, in a narrow lane where women cooked over open fires, flight attendants and customer service trainees filled an air-conditioned classroom at the Arora School for Spoken English, Body Language and Accent Training.