Monday, March 14, 2011

Tackling the talent conundrum

The Economic Times today carries an interesting article by Dr Chandrasekhar Sripada, the VP& HR head for India and South Asia at IBM, where in he advocates that 'there is need for renewal of talent & companies must focus on training those currently rejected.'

Some of the thoughts shared by him-instigate that changes ought to be made at the organisational level as handling the deficit of talent at national level is quite a complex challenge:

-Companies need to invest in creating talent.
The industry is constantly dipping into the existing pool of talent. Can we invest in identifying prospective employees early, invest in training and refining their skills to make them employable-say by adopting ITIs, polytechnics, universities & departments in their respective areas?

- Companies need to hire for competencies, not for track record or pedigree. There is an obsession for flogging a few proven people to go around the musical chair of opportunities, instead of significantly expanding the pool ad inviting unusual suspects, and thus growing talent! If for each job we wait for the picture perfect Ivy League MBA, we will only worsen the talent deficit. Can we formally retraining of a qualified housewife to integrate her into the work stream?

- Accelerate learning and training. Just like power breakfast and power yoga, can we not inculcate power learning? Companies must infuse the training setups with capabilities of boot camp style rapid learning facilitation.

Coming from a company that has been hiring most aggressively in India for the last 4-5 years, during which it is proposed to have added almost 100,000 members, and is rumoured to be giving stocks to retain employees in 2011, I for one, take it with a pinch of salt ;)! Am reminded of the Hindi proverb "sau chuhe kha ke billy haj ko chali "(which when translated is ""After eating 100 rats, the cat goes on a pilgrimage.")!!

While one is tempted to borrow ideas from the old economy & use jargon like re-engineering, supply chain management, sourcing etc, what is often missed that we are not dealing with commodities, but with human beings -with aspirations & feelings. While some companies 'manage' their headcount intact by hiring on 'contract to hire' mode, it would be interesting to see how one addresses those who do not shape up to the quality desired. Are we going to see a market for 'seconds' a la the consumer durable industry?!!

I think there is a need for a more conscious re-look at the whole system. I for one, think that the whole demand for 'engineers' in the IT industry was driven by the body shopping companies in the late nineties-to get the H1-B visas as the US consulate insists on a 16yr education system as a pre-requisite for employment of foreign workers in speciality occupations. As a result, a whole generation of students have embraced engineering education -irrespective of whether it was mining, chemical, civil , biomedical etc, as anyway the onus was on the industry to train the 'campus trainees' in the basics of software !!

The realities today are different. Time for different strokes?

In a market where there is indeed a dearth of good talent, and a case for survival for the lesser glamorous employers, it is indeed the "Davids" who embody the spirit of growing the market -even as they battle the "Goliaths".

The example of Mr Sridhar Vembu's hiring initiatives -of 'experience based education' have been really inspiring

Here is the chronicle of another attempt -courtesy a discussion on one of the online groups of start ups over the weekend, the experiences of Mr Vijay Yalamanchili, the promoter of a tech start up Ramp Technology Hyderabad.

"In our heavy services based IT industry in India, the techies suitable for start ups are much less in percentage. Most techies from services industry are very limited in their technical exposure and used to their old ways, which does not cut it for a start up.

We need people who can work with multitude of technologies in both depth and width, can see and find solutions for a bigger problem and go-getters. These are rare and the ones available are all highly paid already. However a few of them are even smarter and know what its like to work in a start up and are willing to join a start up for an equity + some salary sacrifice.

I think these are the ones you want to hire as one of your core technical guy who can drive rest of the technical delivery. Rest of your team can be college freshers who are out of the campus and searching for a job. They are young, dynamic and willing to put extra hours and effort. They do come with their baggage of problems and investment of time and energy in grooming, but overall I've always found this model consistently working. Of a mix of 6 freshers, I find at least 2 of them turn out to somehow get passionate about their work and put their heart into what they code or test. These can become your super stars!

Lately the big companies are hiring freshers massively and their base salaries have also gone up and the freshers' are getting multiple offers and expecting higher salaries. I am also seeing the trend where they don't show up on the first day after accepting the offer. I'd still rely on the freshers though. Its a low-cost risk.

So the key I think here is being able to have at least one strong technical guy in your team who can build the rest of the team. He is definitely at a higher price in terms of salary or equity. Depending on how core technology is to your business, you might want to make the guy your partner."


I shall sign off by provoking if a better way would be to educate/counsel the students of our schools today-as well as their 'vicarious' parents (who want their children to live out their dreams!) about the various emerging career opportunities-beyond the handful of professions we were exposed to in the 70s/80s, so that each one is encouraged to 'follow his/her heart'' and look for a lifetime of 'leveraging on one's strengths' a la 'inside out' approach instead of the 'herd mentality' of 'which jobs are in demand'!!

India needs more entrepreneurship to create the jobs needed for our ever growing population, and a society that encourages 'non-conformity'.

Guess we can then use the improved technology & have a good quality 'work /life ' balance too!!

I shall look forward to your comments!!

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