Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Sep 06, 2006
Info-Tech - Interview
The biggest challenge India faces in the next 20 years is the HR challenge, and more so in the public sector. "We have to invest in human resources, recognise and reward talent... this should be put firmly on the national agenda," said Mr P. V. Mohandas Pai, Board Member and Human Resource chief of Infosys Technologies, talking to Business Line.
Excerpts from the interview:
Does Infosys, or the top 10 Indian Information Technology companies, have a problem in finding quality manpower?
Yes, we do have a problem in finding people in the numbers we want and we have access to the best. But look at what the IT industry has done; it is at the root of the fundamental change in the education system.
India produces about 3.6 lakh engineers, two lakh of good quality; bright and trainable. This year the IT industry will recruit about 1.4-1.6 lakh and next year about 1.6-1.8 lakh, if things go well. So there is nothing left for the rest of industry.
What will they do?
The rest of the industry is in trouble. The manufacturing industries are not getting engineers. So, for the first time in Indian history, there is respect for knowledge; we have to go after people. The power balance has shifted in favour of educated people. That is the way it must be; you have to pay them well, train and respect them.
We've have had a very feudal business culture in this country. When I qualified as a CA in 1982, I had 12 job offers, all from the public sector, except for one. In the private sector, more than talent, jobs went by relationships.
But the public sector took the brightest people; till the last decade it was the one that respected the educated middle-class with no connections... who didn't have a chance in hell of getting into a good private company because it worked in very feudal and family oriented ways.
But now the balance has shifted and it's a great time to be an educated middle-class person; the IT industry has created this. It has sent a message to parents: Invest in a child and pay good fees, because he/she will get a good salary. We've also expanded the education market and raised aspirations, giving vent to the dreams of Indians.
We've done an interesting thing called Campus Connect. There are 1,540 engineering colleges in India with 5.25 lakh seats. Maybe 4.6 lakh people will join this year. They have 30,000-40,000 vacancies in faculty. The HoDs are Ph.Ds and M.Techs, the next levels are B.Techs. The attrition in faculty is 15 per cent a year; they're not able to get people.
We needed a systemic solution, so we came up with Campus Connect, saying we'll go to 500 colleges we've already tied up with 250 get their computer science faculty here and give them a 15-day refresher course.
We've done this for three years, and will spend this year about Rs 18 crore on this. We also give these colleges the 16-week course curriculum used for our internal training, text- and work-books... All the intellectual property that we have, free of cost.
So in a way you're investing in your own future...
Yes. About 10,000 students are now taking the course in the 250 colleges. Over one year we want 50,000 students to benefit from this initiative and after that they can join any company of their choice. The first batch of Campus Connect has joined us.
Do you find a difference?
Oh yes, we find they are able to assimilate and finish our training course much faster, and are a grade higher than others. We see a qualitative difference.
But the youngsters of today are very different...
They are; very adept at technology and the web, but the unfortunate part is that younger people are losing their social skills.
The tragedy of the whole IT revolution is that people are becoming less humane in the sense they're losing inter-personal skills, the ability to move with people, be sensitive to each other. The softer side of life is giving way...
IT has put a dream into the hearts of youngsters from the small/rural areas too, but are they getting into companies like Infosys?
The best from the smaller areas do join us. Walk through the Mysore campus and you'll see people from small towns and villages.
A young man joined Infosys from a village in Gadak, North Karnataka, and the whole village celebrated!
But it's a minuscule number...
Yes, but it is better than yesterday!
But despite all our progress, life in the tribal areas is abysmal, education in doldrums, giving tribal children no hope...
This is where the government has failed. It pampers the educated middle-class... it pours money into the rural areas but the execution is very poor. In the urban areas there are many private initiatives by NGOs, cultural organisations, etc.. But in the rural areas there is a vacuum. The government has to invest in education, infrastructure, and above all, try and shift people off the land into industry. China has shifted 150 million people in the last decade from land into manufacturing. We can't allow so many people to depend on land because land cannot sustain them, and hence we're seeing so many farmer suicides.
Returning to HR shortfall, is the industry going abroad to recruit?
Yes, of our 60,000 employees about 3.5 per cent, or 2000 people, are of non-Indian origin.
How do you find them?
They're as good as anybody but Americans and Europeans bring a different set of skills, they are very articulate with great presentation skills and a great degree of confidence.
What about the Chinese?
They are very interested and keep sending us batches to train. They want an IT industry like ours. They come in delegations every 15 days, invite us, give us fabulous infrastructure and are very open, much more than our own States. Go to any town in China, the mayor will meet you and offer space with subsidies, anything you want, saying please come.
Here it is only empty words. And they criticise the IT industry; `Oh you're crowding the city, grabbing land.' Which is such nonsense. Just last week an approval was given by a (Karnataka) State high-level committee where real-estate developers got huge quantum of land for setting up technology parks. None of them is an actual user. What's the point?
They'll make huge profits of it.
I have no problem with anybody making profits. What I object to is discriminatory policies.
Do you see a threat from China?
No, we've passed that stage. I see a complementarity between China and India. The Chinese policy is to grow 8-9 per cent, move people off the land into industry, provide high quality jobs to people, urbanise by investing in infrastructure. But the Chinese have a problem; their average age is 30-31 years, ours is 26. China has a shortage of manpower and its own challenges.
We had earlier discussed the ageing Government work- force...
The public sector is in a crisis on the HR front. Take the financial sector. We have a million people in the financial sector, average age 47-48 years. In the next five years maybe about one third will retire. And they still haven't started the process of filling the vacancies. The public sector with 85 lakh people and average age of 47-48 has been downsizing and hasn't hired in 15 years. There's a big challenge there, as the average age has crept up, and there is no pipeline of younger people. And the public sector business is growing. I think there is a deep crisis. They don't have a proper HR policy. And the private sector is also getting impacted because 15 years back, if the private sector saw a boom they went and poached from the public sector. But bright young people are no longer available there, even though poaching is still happening in smaller numbers.
Which means administration will deteriorate...
Yes, and this is a matter of great concern.
What is the remedy?
The government should re-examine what it should and should not do, and walk away from what it shouldn't do, outsource those functions to the private sector and monitor them. It should realise it is not an employment agency because taxpayers' money is precious and should be used for society's benefit and not to generate employment. Wherever necessary employ the best and the brightest and pay them good salaries. These are the challenges.
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