India's new expats: Highly qualified and worldly-wise
BANGALORE-BORN Aditya Afzulpurkar has this to say to Singaporeans: Get real.

The 26-year-old senior consultant is full of praise for our clean, well-oiled system and 'blend of both Asian and Western working styles' - our knack for delivering professionalism, quality and efficiency with a personal touch.

And finding that independent thinking and risk-taking are appreciated far more here than back in India, he moved here to work full-time recently. He feels more readily at home here, compared to his stint in Canada.

IT managers credit their Indian counterparts for persisting where the typical Singaporean would have walked away.

But he is also surprised to find many Singaporeans 'detached' from the harsh realities of the world. He cites with some incredulity a taxi driver's complaints about a 'catastrophic' 4 per cent unemployment rate - a paltry concern in light of the dire conditions in much of the Indian sub-continent, where many still live in poverty without the social security, infrastructure and opportunities we take for granted.

For years, the stereotype of the Indian information technology worker in Singapore was of an unassuming, slightly awkward but courteous young man with a barely intelligible accent: somewhat out of sync with the relentless corporate pace in Singapore and often in need of supervision. But he was also noted for his unstinting diligence, technical proficiency and a knack for getting the job done with little fuss, in contrast to his local colleagues, who could get cocky over their skills.

IT manager Luke Goh credits his former Chennai-born colleague Raghu for 'persisting when the typical Singaporean would have walked away', despite cultural, social and technical difficulties, in order to secure projects that have allowed the company to establish itself abroad.

A veteran of the early days of India's IT industry, Mr Goh still remembers the 'unbelievable' conditions his team had to overcome when setting up a factory in Bangalore a decade ago.

These days, Indian IT professionals wear their origins and credentials with much pride. Many of the early pioneers have left Singapore, returning to promising careers in an India in the midst of a breathless economic renaissance, even as our own economy lurches slowly towards recovery.

Mr Afzulpurkar is typical of a savvy new wave of Indian expatriates coming to our shores; a far cry from the humble programmers and low-level software developers ubiquitous here during the boom days. Articulate, confident and offering a far more sophisticated range of high-end services than their predecessors, the new generation of young Indian professionals arrive armed with postgraduate degrees from some of India's best engineering schools, whose reputations now rival those of elite colleges in the United States.

Many have also worked internationally before coming to Singapore. Their purpose here? To learn our best tricks.

Mr Ramkumar Balagopal, 28, a business development executive at IT services giant Cognizant, is a prime example. A native of Chennai in southern India, he holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, and has worked in India and the US.

How does he think Singapore stacks up globally as a place to work? Plus points go to our advanced infrastructure, central location in Asia, collaborative work culture and a genuinely global workforce. 'Singaporeans are very open to people from other countries coming in and working here,' he observes.

In his view, the large number here of 'expats and locals with real cross-cultural work experience' is an invaluable pool of knowledge and experience.

His decidedly cosmopolitan outlook is characteristic of the new Indian expatriate - in stark contrast to the wave of protectionist sentiment sweeping the US as white-collar jobs flow out towards emerging centres like India. Indeed, there is much to admire in this fresh crop of young Indian pioneers: a healthy appetite for cultural difference, variety, learning and change; a tolerance for risk and imperfect conditions; and retaining a certain down-to-earth pragmatism and quiet gumption - traits our local professionals have come to appreciate in their Indian counterparts over the years.

India's explosive growth is an ever-present lure for these ambitious young expatriates. But their time abroad in more mature economies such as Singapore is seen as well spent - a chance to broaden their experience before heading home to make bigger things happen.

Their advice to anyone venturing into India: be patient with the infrastructure, which is still catching up. But prospects are excellent, particularly with the free-trade agreement between India and Singapore expected to come through by the end of this year.

The Singaporean model is still one that commands respect in India, and will stand our ventures in good stead. While we still have that edge, perhaps it is high time our own young men strike out abroad and get down and dirty with the real world.