Article: Engineering the workforce – What it takes


Engineering the workforce – What it takes

Companies will not only need to look at increasing skill-based training but also relook at their hiring policies to mirror changing business dynamics
Engineering the workforce – What it takes

India has a talent friction than dearth of talent; talent is available in certain pockets, but the need is elsewhere


Professionals who are based abroad are superior thanks to their advanced education and global exposure


“Don’t blame India for your failure to hire great engineers. They join for culture and challenge.” This tweet from Sachin Bansal, Flipkart Co-founder and Chief Executive sent the business world into a tizzy. He was reacting to Sachin Bansal’s comment that they were not “quality engineers in India”. Snapdeal had been looking for programmers with a decade or more experience dealing with Big Data and Cloud Computing and was finding it difficult to find talent within the country and went scouting abroad.

The comment put the focus back on an issue that had been simmering in the Indian industrial space for long—the quality of engineering talent in the country. Every year, India produces some 1.5 million engineers from its 3,345 colleges, 30 per cent of whom run the risk of not getting a job. With the advent of new indus-tries like e-commerce, there is a massive need for a whole new level of skillsets. We caught up with a few headhunters to get the big picture and to find out how deep the problem really is.

Employability of talent is a burning issue in India. Lack of education and inadequate exposure to industry are the major reasons why the workforce is found lacking with the required level of competence and expertise and this is present across all levels. According to Udit Mittal, MD, Unison International, only 2 per cent of the Indian workforce can be considered skilled compared to 95-98 per cent in countries such as Japan.

On whether the talent in India is found wanting, Kamal Karanth, Managing Director, Kelly Services, said, “India has a talent friction than dearth of talent, which means talent is available in certain pockets, but the need is elsewhere or the talent available is not ready enough.” While there is no lack of talent from a numbers standpoint, companies today are looking at hiring “ready-made” talent that requires minimum training and are productive from day one. Only a handful of established companies have structured training programs to fine tune candidates as per their specific requirements, Karanth said.

According to Ashish Tulsian, Co-Foun-der & CEO, POSist Technologies, India has exceptional talent, but not in critical mass. “The dearth of talent is not really specific to certain sectors but areas like technology or R&D where the approach has to be “I Practise & I Learn” rather than “I have to practice to get work”. We need more self-taught people in techno-logy and research, which India lacks but is now catching up fast.

Reiterating his point, Karanth said, “The talent crisis as we see is specific to certain industries. The urban infrastructure sector in India has a dearth of competent Civil and Structural engineers. The specialty chemi-cals sector has a dearth of talent in the ethy-lene, polypropylene, aromatics, process, stru-ctural, catalysis space. In the IT/technology space, we see a dearth of competent product, R&D talent and data scientists. In the Poly-mer industry, there is a dearth of good talent in Bio-Polymer Material, Healthcare and Pharma applications space. In the clinical trial industry, there is dearth of talent with international exposure in the CRA, Project Management, Clinical Data Management, Biostaticians & Regulatory aBy and large, most companies that hire fresh talent are aware of the talent’s capabilities and what is expected of them. The entire hiring process is also customized with the role that the candidate is being hired for and if they can deliver as per expectations. The problem arises when the hired talent does not match the expectations and stalls the ambitions plans of the company. Companies tackle this by providing a certain grace period for the talent to deliver and established organizations also assign mentors to bring the new talent to speed. Companies like Snapdeal and Flipkart have been hunting abroad for talent. POSist Technologies’ Tulsian feels that is because those kinds of business models have existed for a decade or more abroad. “While senior level talent in India is still ramping up, people from similar successful companies abroad can come and deliver immediately,” he added. Vidur Gupta, Director, Spectrum Talent Management, too echoed similar views.

“Global employees have wide exposure to international market. They offer a globalized standard of operation and maintenance of the company. They are better contenders from the standpoint of competency and ability. Education in developed countries such as Europe and US is the driving factor behind this,” Gupta said. Jivan Pant, Director & Principal Consultant, Career Shapers, said that leveraging international senior-level employees provides a world-class standard to a company. Professionals who are based abroad are superior thanks to their advanced education that proffers industry standard knowledge. “A major drawback in Indian education is its incapability to keep up pace with global industrial development. On the other hand, countries such as US and Europe being capitals of innovation and technology always have an updated education curriculum providing hands-on experience and knowledge in any industry domain,” Pant said.

As business paradigms change, it is not fair to blame the workforce. India is experiencing hyper growth and seeing the advent of new businesses for which people have to be ready for roles they never heard of or saw. All the service providers we talked to said that India is definitely facing a skill problem. Unison’s Mittal said that shortage of training is the primary reason for this. But, it is not just the training bit that needs to be fixed. Pant believes that there is a lapse in the hiring process and methodology as well. HR should focus on hiring the right talent for the right job roles. Changing industries and workforce dynamics should prompt companies to focus on new methods of hiring. And the companies have responded by going social with their hiring. Unison’s Mittal said the emergence of staffing companies in the country can be considered as a leading indicator of economic growth. With vast resources at their disposal, staffing companies help companies in choosing the right talent for the role. Gupta concurs with Pant. “The lack of skill and glitches in hiring are emerging as problems within the industry. The lack of efficient hiring methodologies is magnifying the employability issue,” he said.

In conclusion, poor quality engineers are a symptom of a bigger underlying problem: Lack of skill development. Between 2011 and 2013, the workforce increased from 393.1 million to 397.4 million in India, where there was a 7.2 million increase in the formal sector workforce. But, the workforce addition has not kept pace with skill development. While the government agencies are pulling out all stops for the same, the corporate sector needs to pitch in. While companies are aware of the issue— according to Kelly Hiring Process Report 2015, more than 66 per cent identify skill shortages as a major obstacle in the hiring process—the issue is not being tackled on an industry level and hence the corporates miss out on the big picture. Secondly, another major problem is that companies need to recognize that the youth are not being trained for jobs that exist in the industry today. The e-commerce industry is an excellent example of this. The curriculum in universities and colleges has to change and mirror the changes in the industrial sector. If not, the quality of talent will never improve. Lastly, companies have to find innovative ways of hiring and that is what will differentiate them from the rest of the pack. Karanth feels that technology can bring the employer and the candidate closer. 

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Topics: Skilling, Training & Development

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