Being one of the few women HR leaders in the automotive industry in India, Pooja Bansal, CHRO, Piaggio India, firmly believes that the HR function should continuously challenge the status quo in a bid to enhance the efficiency of an organisational system. And one of her greatest passions is how to better attract and retain talent in a way that benefits both the organisation and the people working within it.
We hear her perspectives of the automotive industry and what works - or doesn’t work.
What inspired you to choose the automotive industry to pursue your career?
Very early in my career, I realised that I was passionate about people management and knew that the automotive industry offered a compelling blend of innovation, global impact, and talent management complexities, making it an inspiring choice for pursuing my career. Not to mention the automotive industry was a male-dominated industry and I wanted to carve a niche for myself.
Joining Piaggio as a young manager and rising to the position of CHRO has helped me realise my dream, especially as a professional seeking a dynamic and intellectually stimulating career.
My journey in this rapidly evolving automotive industry has exposed me to unique and exciting challenges in terms of talent management, implementing innovative HR strategies, and guiding the organisation through its transition towards a more digital, sustainable, and customer-centric approach. Embracing the industry's transformation, leading with purpose, and making a positive impact on employees and society are some of the exciting challenges I look forward to each day in my role as a key leader in the automotive sector.
What are the key challenges the automotive industry -- considered conservative and change-resistant -- faces in terms of human resource management, and how are you addressing them?
The global automotive industry and its supply chain are going through a time of great change. Businesses will need to be aware of fast-moving trends and ready to make significant shifts in their operational and people practices to keep up with how the sector is evolving.
Talent acquisition and management practices will prove critical in determining whether you not only survive but succeed and thrive during this period of upheaval.
Technology will continue to gain influence and importance in the automotive sector in the coming years, but it will be the people working in the industry who have the biggest impact on how it evolves and which companies enjoy the most success. We have proactively taken significant steps in this direction.
- Critical Resource: Identifying critical resources and positions and risk mapping them has become a crucial task. This has helped succession planning allowing us to target talent investments to ensure leadership continuity and mitigate risk from leadership attrition.
- Preparing the workforce for automation and robotics: Technology will continue to play an important role in HR, with an emphasis on automating routine tasks and using data analytics to gain insights into employee behaviour and performance. Individuals from Gen Z are on the rise in the workforce and we are prepared to woo these digital wizards from a technological standpoint.
- Employee wellness, Health and Safety: If you want to retain your most valuable employees and attract new talent to your organisation, you must be able to show a commitment to protecting people's health and wellness. This has proved more important than ever in the COVID and post-COVID era.
- Workforce diversity and inclusion: Giving yourself access to the broadest possible range of talent and experience by making diversity a core principle of your recruitment and workforce management. The wider you cast your net, the higher your chances of acquiring the sort of talent that will raise your business performance to the next level.
- Stay interviews: The intervention of stay interviews was conducted within the scope of building a culture of performance. It aimed to provide insights into the key parameters that keep employees motivated and engaged with the organisation for a longer tenure. The intervention assists in capturing the triggers that might cause the employee to disengage. Qualitative and quantitative data helped in delving into what is working well in the context of employee satisfaction and alignment towards the organisation and also identifies areas needing improvement.
- Also moving with the trend of the workforce becoming dynamic, we have increased our dependence on contract, freelance, and gig workers.
What strategies do you employ to attract and retain top talent and foster a culture of innovation and creativity within the organisation?
The pandemic led to disruption in the job market and accelerated some trends that were already underway, such as remote work and the use of technology in the hiring process, though remote work is not feasible for all manufacturing jobs. We have seen some significant changes in the process of hiring over the past year. There has been an increased focus on skills and competencies rather than just qualifications and experience, we look for candidates who can adapt to changing work environments and situations. We are also open to recruiting candidates who demonstrate a willingness to learn new skills and groom themselves in a new work domain. In addition, we are scouting candidates who excel in multi-skills and varied experience so the company can leverage their unique knowledge and skills for cross-functional projects. Some best practices at Piaggio include
Corporate induction: There is a two-day induction program where new joiners are oriented to the organisation, its products, processes, systems, and initiatives. They also get an opportunity to interact with the senior leadership team and seek inputs/knowledge about the organisation and its expectations.
E-Induction module: It ensures that the new joiner is equipped with the relevant knowledge and information to feel safe and empowered within the organisation.
First impression: Post joining the organisation our new joiners provide us with crucial inputs to understand their joining experience. Their input is gathered within 30 days of joining through an online survey. It is further backed up with a survey after 90 and 180 days. This feedback received on various parameters helps us enhance the new joiner experience.
AI-enabled Chatbot: As there is a war for talent, it is always advantageous to know the pulse of our employees. AI-enabled bots are deployed as confidantes of employees who are comfortably sharing their work problems with them. This employee listening tool helps gather frequent feedback, get detailed insights, and take effective action.
The Evaluation Management System (EMS) is a fully automated annual performance management system to assess our employees across the organisation. This process provides us with critical inputs for succession planning, talent management, compensation management, risk mapping, etc.
Rewards & Recognition: A cloud-based SaaS solution a Reward & Recognition platform has helped us structure total rewards, enhance executive connect, and build brand loyalty measurably.
Employee wellness, health and safety: If you want to retain your most valuable employees and attract new talent to your organisation, you must be able to show a commitment to protecting people's health and wellness. This has proved more important than ever in the COVID and post-COVID era.
Besides, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries or other significant milestones in employees' lives can make a big difference in making employees feel appreciated and valued. Piaggio also has the ‘Gift of leave’ policy. Under this initiative, all management staff will be allowed to donate accrued leave from their unused balance to their co-workers who need additional leave for any medical emergency.
The diversity of talent in the organisation is also leveraged by implementing Business Driven Initiatives like Think Innovation and Design Thinking War Room to engage and explore ideas from especially talented employees.
How do you ensure and promote diversity and inclusion in the traditionally male-dominated automotive field?
It is traditionally a strong belief in society that “Manufacturing Industry” means “Men’s Industry”. Any change calls for a cultural shift and this can be a daunting and upheaval task.
We aim to create a more inclusive workplace by focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring practices, creating in-house employee resource groups, women mentoring, programs designed for women on financial planning, and encouraging male colleagues to follow a fair, transparent, and unbiased approach to selection are a few initiatives to name. Hiring women in niche areas or male-dominated fields like spare parts or distribution working boldly with local garages and providing training on managers to avoid ‘bias’ in selection are a few initiatives taken by the company.
What skill sets, and competencies are needed for those who are seeking employment opportunities in view of the changing demands of the automotive industry?
As the automotive industry continues to evolve and adapt to changing technologies, consumer preferences, and environmental concerns, job seekers must possess a diverse set of skill sets and competencies to remain competitive. Some crucial skills and competencies to consider when seeking employment opportunities in the automotive industry
Technical expertise: Knowledge of automotive mechanics, engineering, and technologies is fundamental. This includes understanding traditional internal combustion engines and emerging electric and autonomous vehicle technologies.
Electronics and software proficiency: With the increasing digitization of vehicles, skills in electronics, embedded systems, and software development are highly sought after.
Data analytics and artificial intelligence: The automotive industry is collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from vehicles and drivers. Competencies in data analytics and AI are valuable for optimizing vehicle performance, predicting maintenance needs, and enhancing safety.
Cybersecurity: As vehicles become more connected, the risk of cyber-attacks grows. Understanding automotive cybersecurity protocols and having the ability to implement secure solutions is crucial.
Alternative energy technologies: Knowledge of alternative energy sources and energy storage systems, such as batteries and fuel cells, is becoming increasingly relevant due to the rise of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Problem-solving and adaptability: The ability to adapt to new technologies and think critically to solve complex challenges is highly valued in a rapidly changing automotive landscape.
Collaboration and interdisciplinary teamwork: Automotive companies work in cross-functional teams, so the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively is essential.
Environmental awareness: As sustainability becomes a central concern, understanding eco-friendly practices and regulations is vital for making environmentally conscious decisions.
Regulatory compliance: Staying up-to-date with automotive regulations and safety standards is critical for ensuring compliance and avoiding legal issues.
Marketing and customer relations: Understanding consumer trends, market demands, and maintaining good customer relations are valuable for success in the automotive business.
Continuous learning: The automotive industry evolves rapidly, so a willingness to learn and update skills throughout one's career is essential.
Manufacturing and supply chain knowledge: Understanding manufacturing processes and supply chain management is vital, especially for those interested in production-related roles.
Sales and negotiation: For individuals interested in automotive sales and dealership roles, strong sales and negotiation skills are essential.
Multilingual and cultural awareness: As the automotive market is global, being multilingual and culturally sensitive can open doors to international opportunities.
Overall, being well-rounded with a mix of technical, analytical, and soft skills will provide job seekers with a competitive edge in the automotive industry's dynamic and evolving landscape.
What role does technology play in your human resources strategy, particularly in areas such as recruitment, talent management, and employee development?
Technology plays a transformative role in human resource strategy across various areas, including recruitment, talent management, and employee development. Here's a closer look at how technology influences each of these HR functions:
Focus on automation: There has been an acceleration in the adoption of technology in the hiring process like replying to application tracking systems, video interviewing and using other digital tools to streamline the recruitment process.
Increased focus on digitalisation: We are now investing in new technologies such as digital showrooms, online sales platforms and virtual test drives. This has led to an increased demand for employees with skills in digital marketing, data analysis and e-commerce. As an organisation, we have also invested in providing a customer experience both physical & virtual.
Increased focus on sustainability: The automotive industry is increasingly focused on sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint. This has led to an increased demand for workers with skills in areas such as electric vehicle technologies, battery design and production and renewable energy. To meet the challenges posed by high attrition, as a company, we have focused on creating a young talent pipeline.
Social media and employer branding: Technology enables HR to leverage social media for employer branding and talent attraction, showcasing company culture and values to potential candidates.
Overall, technology optimises HR processes, increases efficiency, enhances candidate experiences, and supports the growth and development of employees. By integrating technology into human resource strategies, companies can stay competitive, attract top talent, and retain skilled employees by providing them with meaningful learning and development opportunities.
How do you balance the need for automation and technological advancements with the preservation of jobs in an industry that is undergoing digital transformation?
The automotive industry is going through a time of great change. To keep abreast businesses will need to be agile, aware of fast-moving trends, and ready to make significant shifts in their operational and people practices to keep up with how the sector is evolving.
Technology will continue to gain influence and importance in the automotive sector in the coming years, but it will be the people working in the industry who have the biggest impact on how it evolves and which companies enjoy the most success.
In an environment where change is constant and there will always be new challenges and opportunities on the horizon, a well-trained and competent workforce will give us the adaptability and capabilities we need to succeed as an organisation.
- Implementing next-level HR solutions to use digital and analytical tools to improve vital processes such as workforce planning, talent identification, recruitment, onboarding, learning and performance management. Bringing in technology has also enabled us to use data analytics to make data-driven decisions which has resulted in reducing hiring costs among other things.
- Identifying the critical roles that generate the most value for the business and focusing on developing talent for these positions.
- Working in 2021 taught us we need to develop resilience to adapt to rapid-fire changes in how and where we work. It also taught us we need to become proficient at seamlessly working across multiple technology platforms using power skills which include Human Skills and Digital.
Reskilling and upskilling the employees has proved particularly important considering the growth of automation and robotization in the automotive sector. As cutting-edge systems and technologies shape how automobiles are designed, manufactured, and used, we have been able to future-proof ourselves by cultivating crucial capabilities in our current employees which is one of the key factors in our success. Our customised learning interventions have enabled quicker reskilling and upskilling of our employees.