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Architectural outsourcing - drawing a new design

Abhinav Ramnarayan

Chennai , Jan. 23

ASK an architect fresher what he or she is earning, and he or she will mumble something about `growth prospects' and `initial period', because the field, they say, is a slow starter in terms of salaries. However, today freshers have the option of making close to five figures if they choose to go into offshoring companies.

Architects say that while medium-sized architecture firms pay a starting salary of Rs 5,000-6,000 for fresh architecture graduates and Rs 3,500 for fresh draughtsmen, architecture-outsourcing companies start with a salary of Rs 10,000-12,000 and about Rs 6,000 respectively.

Architectural outsourcing could mean anything from designing an entire building that is going to be erected thousands of miles away with the help of satellite pictures, to receiving a few rough sketches from faraway clients and filling in the details.

Mr Umesh Pujara, ASE Design Soft, an engineering design and draughting services company, said the company's clients provide it with a few rough sketches, and the company then takes over the entire back office work, from detailing to elevations. "The complete job is done here," he said.

The driving force, of course, is the cost, about one-tenth of what it would cost in the US, according to Ms Sujitha Arvind, Lead Architect, Exceed International, India, a company that specialises in commercial development. "Also, the number of professionals in the US and Europe have decreased in the last few years," she added.

Ms Arvind explained that detailing of projects from the US is simple because all the details are standardised. She said that a fresher could be trained in the details over a period of six months. In fact, Exceed prefers to recruit freshers. "We have very few senior people," she added.

And as an industry it seems to be picking up. ASE Design Soft has seen the number of projects that come in double over the last three years since its inception in 2003, according to Mr Pujara.

The real estate division of Exceed's Chennai branch started two years ago with four employees, and now has about a hundred draughtsmen, architects, engineers and project managers. "And we can expect to grow to around 1,000 in two years," said Ms Arvind.

As a result, mainstream architectural companies are being deprived of their share of an already decreasing pool of talent. Mr Pramod Balakrishnan, Senior Architect, Edifice, an architecture and interior design company, said, "Growth in terms of number of employees is not as much as we would like. The volume of work is growing, but there is a real paucity in available talent." Architects said that the top students passing out of architecture schools opt to study abroad, while it is the bottom half that stays back, which might account for that paucity.

Ms Arvind said that not only is the pay much higher, but also BPOs provide a better work environment. "The facilities at a BPO are at the same standard as a multinational corporation, both in terms of work environment and also software," she added.

And the smaller companies have been hit the hardest. Mr Yogesh Sharma, Architect/Partner, Design Works, said the attrition rate at his firm is high. "Freshers work for one or two years, and then go either to a bigger firm or to an outsourcing company. We have become like a training centre."

He said that despite the salary factor, the growth opportunities are not as strong in an architectural BPO, because you cannot build up a significant portfolio working there.

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