Wednesday, March 24, 2010

HR: A Mandate for Nation building

It was a meeting with a difference. If most of us recruiters in Hyderabad thought we were meeting an old pal, and catching up with the past, we were in for a rude shock! For it wasn't too long before the guest, in his very unassuming story-telling way, made us reflect and even feel 'vulnerable' -forcing us to think on how we were planning to be relevant as the job market in India evolves in the future!!

I am referring to an impromptu talk given by B Sudhakar, Chief Human Resources Officer ,Tata Chemicals Limited at the ERA Hyderabad Chapter last evening on the "Future of HR". Prior to his moving to Mumbai in 2002, and before joining the highly respected TATA group, Sudhakar's formative professional years were spent in Hyderabad –and so, it was a delight for us Hyderabadis that he chose to spend some quality time with us, and shared some of his experiences and observations!!

He started off by giving a brief round up about some of the trends that are emerging globally:

-There is likely to be a huge shift in the nature of offshoring businesses from 2012, as more Baltic nations become part of the European Union. We in India, must be conscious of the possibility of an entire generation of ITES/BPO professionals -who entered the workforce without prior exposure to other industries, being saddled with skills that may not be employable in the coming decades.

-Touching upon the path Prez Obama has embarked on -especially in reference to the reforms in the health care domain in the US , there is likely to be a paradigm shift in the fortunes of the Pharmaceutical industry, the market for generics, and the challenges for increasing investment in R&D-forcing a re-look of several business models as they exist now.

(Can these lead to lots of opportunities for hiring of 'returning Indians'? There would be a lot of demand for some niche skills -and Indian recruiters may well be sensitive to (and if need be, to evangelising) the kind of topnotch talent Indian corporates are likely to be privy to-in future. eg availability of scientists, doctorates,... )

-The emergence of Africa as a market, and the increasing potential for Indian talent to be part of the growth there. It is, however a process that would require customisation of some skills pertinent in the specific geography, and more than picking up a foreign language or two.

-The likelihood of the present global economic downturn lasting longer, ( 'the worst isn't just over as yet "!!) as fundamentally most Governments have tried to stem the same by various short term stimuli so far. One should expect a shift of focus in the market forces as more fundamental measures are introduced to control the impact on GDP, maybe even tinker with the labour reforms, and policies in the near future .

If all these global changes were not enough to impact the career planning and career management challenges, Sudhakar then went on to hint on a few macro level changes that are likely to be specific to India..within India!!

a) Industries that depended on India as 'cost arbitrage' may find the going tough. Real Estate, salaries and the cost of living in the last couple of decades -are no longer the same. It would not be too long before other low cost centres emerge and the businesses migrate? What would happen to the local talent in India that do not find favour in the new scenario?

b) The increasing share of Services in the Indian economy. Do we see new types of industries (read eco tourism, medical tourism, for example) coming up? What are the kind of skills/vocations that may be relevant? Is the ecosystem geared up to produce the manpower required?

c) Increasing urbanisation, and migration of rural population -threatens to hit India as less and less land is available for irrigation. Already there is an acute shortage of farm workers, and the reduced tendency of the recent generations to pursue occupations /depend on agriculture and allied sources of income.

d) There has not been much thought given to the ageing workforce of the Indian manufacturing industry. The average age of a worker in the public sector units is already about 54yrs, and those in the large private sector( read Tatas, Birlas, Mahindras, Godrejs...isn't far behind with 51yrs.) and will retire in a decade. Compound it with a fact that neither of these sectors have hired any young replacements/substitutes in the past two decades.

Will the increasing dependency on the temporary /contract staffing in the recent past- turn out to be a hot spot of industrial relations issue? Will a change in the local labour reforms be a trigger -when it occurs?

e) The last few decades has seen the decline of students and professionals harbouring the social sciences/humanities stream! Already we in India have seen the demise of the joint family, and the possible hazards of cultural sensitivites/ imbalances that could affect the future generations. There is a dearth of psychologists already!

Is there a thought being given by the captains in the industry to cater to the GenY-who are admittedly more intelligent, assertive, restless, ambitious , and less tolerant of the mistakes our generation is responsible for!!?

Fast forward to the next decade-the world of business will need a workforce that is entirely different from the ones we have been used/prepared to historically.

Sudhakar suggested that ERA -as an institution, has a very important and constructive role in being able to contribute to, and influence this 'nation building ' exercise and nurture the talent required for tomorrow!!

Are we as HR professionals, geared for the same?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Foreign Education bill, Demand in India, & random thoughts

I am not sure if it's the recent trip to US & Canada. It gave me several opportunities to debate--with senior professionals of global firms- the benefits of population vs employment opportunities vs quality of education. Are they inter-related? Is it because a job is very influential in seeking one's own identity?

There is a common thread as we lamented on the lack of 'quality talent' -period. Be it white collar or blue. The work ethic seems to be increasingly disturbing....

I have a nagging feeling it has something to do with our education system in India. Maybe there aren't enough opportunities for all the deserving...

It is perhaps interesting to reflect on the recent developments in India:

- the approval of Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010. This seeks to regulate the entry and functioning of foreign education providers in India. (India has a severe shortage of higher education institutions for its booming population where more than 30% of its 1.1 billion people are under 14 years of age.)

-Georgia Tech choosing Hyderabad as its location for the only campus outside of its 400-acre campus in Atlanta, Georgia, because more than 40 per cent of the students who go to study at the Atlanta campus are from this city.

Even if the above will impact a small percentage of our population, I am positive that with the influx of such global investments, the education sector will open up the job market for sure. It will definitely provide a stimulus as liberalisation in the early nineties spawned improved professionalism. I have blogged about some of my impressions earlier, and here.

However, I am not exactly sure if such attempts suffice in improving the quality of education per se . Or is the malaise in the lack of a robust education system at the elementary levels? There are a lot of thoughts about the role that Government schools can play, as well as those in the private sector.

As a recruiter associated with some exciting work in the Education sector, I can see Private Equity being funnelled into the K-12 sector, ( eg 'Bottom of Pyramid' approach into 'low cost/ affordable 'schools), as well as initiatives being taken in improving Teacher Training. Personally, my mother has been running a primary school for over 33 yrs-and my wife is an educationist working with children of impressionable ages, as well as those with different abilities. So here are some of my observations...

a) there is a huge emphasis on 'rote' or memory-as most education has become 'exam centric' -far away from imparting 'learning'.

b) the increased pressure on remedial teaching and quick fix solutions has resulted in people clamouring for degrees from and association with premier institutes?

c)have placements become the means..or is it the ends?

d)the role of emotional intelligence & quality of work life balance has become minimised?

I feel we aren't yet addressing the right symptoms. Please correct me.

I personally feel -its perhaps time for getting back to first principles? A quick reference to Wikipedia gives me the following hints

-Education in the broadest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on themind, character or physical ability of an individual.

-In its technical sense education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another.

Etymologically the word education contains educare (Latin) "bring up" which is related to educere "bring out", "bring forth what is within", "bring out potential" and decere "to lead".

Is the present education system in India, doing enough to 'bring out & lead"?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Unwind, Rewind, Need for change??

I cannot believe it has been almost 4 weeks since I last posted a blog. Ironically, it has perhaps been a period that is likely to have most impact on my life ahead!!

I guess it all began with the preparation for the 2 week trip in the first half of March-to USA and Canada-and so it was almost as if I had pulled down the shutters of my daily operations as the way I was used to.

The idea was to 'slow pedal' during the second half of February, tying up all loose ends of the tasks I had been attempting, as well as-planning for the trip, the places to visit, the people to be engaged with, ...and it actually amounted to 'emptying myself' so that I could receive all the inputs, energy, thoughts that would eventually help me refresh :-)!

Looking back, I think leaving the iPhone behind with my colleague in India, was one of the best decisions to have taken. One tends to become a slave of habits one has accumulated over time. And with a fancy tool like the one I had, I guess it wasn't too difficult to get seamlessly across emails, news and views from pod casts, opinions from the social networking sites such as Linked in, face book, and twitter, ...and ofcourse, keeping in sync with some blogs, newsletters n updates.

(I must confess that the decision was entirely driven by the telecom providers international roaming policy..especially for data transfer that is so obscenely priced, that I recall I paid over 20k for less than a week's usage in the UK in 2008!! The Matrix phone -that I used this time around for staying connected while abroad, at least as per the billing statement that I got last evening-is a steal!! Oh yes, Google talk was a boon too!!)

Be it New York, Memphis, Toronto, Washington DC that I spent the last fortnight in- and the numerous other cities I passed through (Charlotte, Chicago, Buffalo, Ottawa, Doha..) -it was just action packed-meeting different people from different walks of life-and consequently differing exposure, and equally varying motives and drivers! It was almost as if I had discovered my natural latent talent of observing others, analysing why one behaves as one does...

Once disconnected from the umbilical chord of the Internet and phone, it was back in the realm of personal interactions, live in flesh, building and nurturing relationships, listening, responding and reacting to emotions, thoughts and debates.

I am also conscious that it was after a long time, that I could indeed switch off-and relate to the changing dynamics around, and get inspired and influenced by each of the interactions I have had in all the above cities, the deliberations and the reflections thereof :-)!

Well, as you would notice, I have really not been able to articulate the learning's that I have picked up-but I am positive that there are going to be a lot of changes in the way I think I will be approaching life from now on. Please stay tuned in, as I hopefully metamorphose a globally active recruiter and leverage collaborations to add value to my clients, colleagues, candidates and associates.

Potentially it means a lot of new exciting alliances, business models, ..and perhaps some that would evolve into new offerings that I could contribute to.

Phew, for one thing, I have got off the writers block-and this post would help me hit the ground as I land back in India..and back to overwhelming demands of the emails, phone calls, desperate deadlines, pending tasks, earnest promises, wilting resolutions, et al .