Article: Upskill to navigate tech-led challenges in the automotive industry, says Continental India’s HR head


Upskill to navigate tech-led challenges in the automotive industry, says Continental India’s HR head

Ajay Kumar, Head of Human Resources at Continental India, shares the company's forward-thinking workforce strategies, navigating the automotive industry's technological shifts with a focus on addressing skill shortages.
Upskill to navigate tech-led challenges in the automotive industry, says Continental India’s HR head

In an exclusive interview with Continental India which develops technologies and services for sustainable and connected mobility, People Matters spoke to Ajay Kumar, head of human resources to get perspective on their proactive approach to workforce management amidst the unprecedented technological shifts and challenges in the automotive sector. From addressing skill shortages to embracing digitalisation and fostering a culture of continuous learning, Continental India's HR practices are not only adapting to industry changes but positioning the company at the forefront of the automotive revolution.

From an HR perspective, what are some of the key challenges the automotive industry is currently facing in terms of workforce management?

The automotive industry is navigating unprecedented challenges due to technological transformation and the pace of change. We are in the era of software-defined vehicles, which is a fundamental shift in competencies and skills within the workforce. This automatically means challenges in workforce management, including the imperative to rapidly adapt to technological shifts, acute shortages of skilled talent, and the ever-changing dynamics of market demands.

At Continental India, we see the challenge not as a hurdle but as an opportunity. We are addressing these challenges head-on through strategic talent acquisition, cutting-edge training programs, and a relentless commitment to attracting and retaining top-tier professionals. We started a software academy for the skilling and reskilling of employees in the latest technology trends within automotive. As lines blur between industries, we also see a lot of cross-movements across industries, which means a  meaner talent war but also a wealth of available talent from diverse industries.

In your perspective, what emerging trends do you foresee in the automotive industry, and how is the company preparing its workforce for these changes?


Today, the industry speaks of the trend of CASE, or Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric, as the future of mobility. This is already a trend in motion. This adds a move towards digitalisation, smart manufacturing, and a shift toward sustainable practices. Smart manufacturing is another interesting development we have seen over the last few years. To prepare our workforce, we have targeted training programs, innovation programs, fully equipped state-of-the-art labs, and collaborations with educational institutions, ensuring our teams lead, rather than follow, industry trends.

How is the company adapting its hiring strategies to attract and retain talent in the evolving automotive industry?

At Continental India, our ongoing hiring strategy goes beyond traditional approaches; it's a continuous journey aimed at cultivating a dynamic community of innovators and disruptors. We move past conventional packages, fostering an environment where diverse perspectives not only thrive but actively contribute to a culture of collaboration, inclusivity, and endless opportunities for career growth. Aligned with our commitment to staying ahead in the automotive industry, we seamlessly integrate futuristic technologies across all automotive domains. Our employees experience ongoing global exposure, engaging with international customers and OEMs, and collaborating seamlessly with cross-location teams.

To support individual growth, we've established the Internal Talent Job Market (ITJM) platform, accessible after 18 months of an employee's tenure. This platform empowers our team to continually explore diverse roles internally, facilitating seamless transitions both locally and globally. In tandem with this, our enduring connections with universities ensure a perpetual influx of fresh perspectives, actively enriching our talent pool.

Are there specific skills or qualifications that the company is currently placing more emphasis on in its hiring process?

Our hiring strategy is a dynamic blend of essential skills and a passion for innovation. We seek candidates with not just technical prowess but also a flair for digital fluency, sustainability, and relentless innovation. Soft skills like adaptability, creativity, and effective problem-solving are highly prized in our ever-evolving automotive landscape. Beyond conventional qualifications, we value cognitive skills, quick learning, and adaptability.

Most importantly, we're on the lookout for individuals who bring an authentic passion for both technology and the automotive industry. Our approach is not just about filling roles; it's about building a team ready to conquer the challenges of the automotive future.

How is the company navigating challenges such as skill shortages, global supply chain disruptions, or changes in consumer preferences?

Continental India's approach is not reactive but proactive. We address skill shortages by investing in local talent, ensuring our supply chain is agile and resilient, and staying ahead of consumer preferences through a deep understanding of local markets. It's not just about adapting; it's about leading change in the face of challenges. We are proactively addressing skill shortages through targeted recruitment efforts and partnerships with educational institutions. 

Additionally, we're bolstering our internal capabilities through upskilling initiatives, focusing on niche and digital skills. We've strategically tapped into finishing schools for fresh talent, welcomed MTech interns and trainees in specialised skills, and leveraged employee referrals and social media platforms, including active participation in tech forums, to broaden our talent pool and stay at the forefront of industry developments.

We have a strong academic connect program; for example, our R&D center, Technical Center India, has a robust university connect program under the banner of “UniConn” managing these engagements. We have strong joint academic partnerships with universities, which also establishes a strong pipeline. To give a few examples, we have partnerships with top institutions like IIT Madras, IIT Palakkad, Amrita Institute, IIIT Delhi, IIIT Bangalore, IISc, etc. on various topics on autonomous mobility.

Are there any innovative HR practices or strategies that the company is adopting to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving automotive landscape?

Our innovative HR practices are a cornerstone of our strategy, strategically designed to make a lasting impact in the ever-evolving automotive landscape, positioning us at the forefront. Demonstrating our commitment to staying ahead, we place significant emphasis on flexible work arrangements and tailor our employee well-being programs to align with the nuances of the Indian context.

One noteworthy success story in our pursuit of innovation is the establishment of a global software academy headquartered in India. This academy serves as a hub, directing global initiatives and empowering our Research and Development community with lifelong learning opportunities to shape the future of mobility. The Software & Engineering Academy, a comprehensive initiative covering Software, Systems, Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and AI & Data, provides a rich learning environment. This extends beyond traditional engineering roles, ensuring a holistic competency development approach for both engineers and non-engineers at our company.

In tandem with our dedication to nurturing talent, we've instituted mandatory training programs for employees in managerial and leadership roles. These programs feature specially curated forums in collaboration with IIMB. Additionally, we've implemented an intensive merger of AC & DC for development purposes, fostering an integrated approach that aligns with our forward-thinking HR strategies.

Given the technological advancements in the automotive sector, what initiatives or training programs are in place to upskill or reskill employees?

Our initiatives go beyond upskilling; they are about empowering our employees to pioneer technological advancements.

One unique example is our software academy. With this, we aim to prepare Continental globally for the ongoing software transformation within our industry. We have a structured upskilling approach to skilling various types of employee audiences based on various aspects of software, starting from awareness to basic to advanced and different levels of skills. These training programs not only focus on standard automotive domain topics but also new-age technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cybersecurity, ensuring our workforce not only adapts to change but leads it.

How does the company encourage continuous learning and development among its employees to keep up with industry changes?

Our culture of continuous learning is ingrained in the fabric of Continental India. Internal training programs, mentorship initiatives, and strategic collaborations with external providers create an ecosystem where employees aren't just keeping up; they are driving the industry's evolution.

For example, joint university programs are benefiting our people not just by upskilling their expertise but also by helping them strengthen a career choice towards an expert career path at Continental. Under the umbrella of Uniconn, we have advanced certification courses with universities on topics like advanced radar sensing and advanced automotive cyber security. Niche skill development for our talent is critical, especially for our R&D center, to prepare our workforce for future business opportunities.

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Topics: Skilling, Strategic HR, Employee Relations, #HRCommunity

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