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'In slowdown, invest in professional development'
Shobha Warrier

Photo: Sreeram Selvaraj
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December 11, 2008

At the recently concluded 12th National Conference of the National HRD Network (NHRDN) in Chennai, more than 500 HR professionals from across the country attended.

One of the speakers on the first day was Ganesh [Images] Chella, co-founder of Totus Consulting Services Pvt Ltd. In this interview with Shobha Warrier, he talks about what young professionals should do to tide over the tough economic times ahead.

Recruitment during tough times
The hat I wear is that of a strategic HR person who advises high-growth organisations on staffing strategy. We also do a lot of research on young employees.

It is true that the Information Technology business has created a huge supply chain in India but that source has remained virtually stagnant for two years now. A large percentage of the 2008 batch hired in 2007 has not been taken. The 2009 batch hired in 2008 is having their own doubts. Under the current circumstances, those who will pass out in 2010 who ideally had to be hired in 2009 are also having doubts. So, there is a huge surplus in the labour pool as far as technology is concerned.

Continuing to recruit
Many big smart companies have a pyramid, and the pyramid remains a pyramid because every year some people go up from the bottom part of the pyramid. The bottom has to be replaced. If during the bad times, you don't fill the bottom, you will not have a pyramid but a pot. So, your cost for a project will go up.

So, smart companies try to keep the pyramid intact and keep on hiring but will be harder on performers.

I would say the times are harder for those who are employed than the fresh graduates.

Attitude changing
One happy trend I have noticed is, beginning this year and a little bit last year, many young employees are beginning to realise that maybe there is life outside information technology, and they are choosing manufacturing jobs. This year, unfortunately, manufacturing also is in a slump, they are not able to sustain the momentum of hiring.

The third thing is that even the BPO units which had created a huge pool of job opportunities is going to see a setback. There is no new hiring and attrition is falling. Interestingly, 70 per cent of the attrition is in the BPO industry. And that attrition is not going to happen in large numbers because job mobility will come down.

Therefore, for the young workforce who had seen a great run in the last 5-6 years, we have a serious problem.

Market sentiment
More than facts, the market sentiment is very poor right now, and sentiment doesn't translate to facts. The hard things that are happening are, cost management is becoming a serious issue. It is touching the lives of employees. Most of the hiring done in the last few years was done with growth in mind. If growth doesn't happen, obviously the company will hire less.

New job opportunities, career progression opportunities and employee-related expenses will be affected.

The good news is that compared to the baby boomers generation, the current employees are fairly well informed.

Prepare yourself for the worst scenario
Ask yourself, what percentage of your income do you spend on entertainment? What percentage do you spend on professional and personal development? Most likely, nothing on professional development.

Set aside at least 10 per cent of your income on your professional development. It is not your company's responsibility to develop you professionally. If the company does it, it is an icing on the cake. But you have to invest in your professional development. It is beginning to happen. In times like this, employees should take pro-active steps.

What should the fresh graduates do?
I feel if a fresher wants to enter the labour market, s/he should take any job which gives them some valuable skill.

Or, they should go for higher education provided they are clear on what they want to do.

The new trend: higher studies
The trend that will happen now is, many may postpone their entry into the labour market when the market is down. Many may go for higher studies. Enrolment into MBA and MTech programmes will increase. It may or may not add value to their resume but people will want to postpone their entry into the labour market.

Those who are already in the labour market will feel that they should remain highly skilled when the market is down. But I do not know how many realise that the onus is on them to add value to their resume. There is a huge challenge there.

Employees do not have a vision for themselves. When the tide is not high, you must decide where you want to go. So, they need counselling. They must find someone in life who can hold the mirror up for them. It could be your brother, uncle, parents or friend. S/he must go out and seek help in her/his career.

S/he should understand that preserving the job is one's own responsibility. Having the right skills, right professional qualifications, etc are important.

Switch tracks
Those whose careers are tightly linked to global economic trends, how can they switch careers? The next future skill is modifying your vision quickly.

Help in the times of crisis
Who are these kids going to in the times of crisis? Are they going to their bosses? Not at all. Are they going to HR? No. They don't even know who their HR point persons are.

So, they are going to their parents. In some very strange ways, parents of today's generation have become career managers. In most homes, one parent at least has some corporate experience. They have a lot of insight into the current economic situation. A lot of dinner conversations are around what happened at work.

Role of HR
That means HR personnel of companies do not play their roles well. They have developed a very exploitative relationship with the employees. Many HR people harbour a lot of anger towards young employees that they are mercenary, greedy, not committed etc. My question is, what is the ecosystem that created the values in them? They are the ones who created the greed.

There is no relationship between the HR and employees. They should have a genuine interest in people. In many large companies, HR people do not even pick up the phone when an employee calls.

During times like this, they should speak the truth. The single biggest challenge is the building a relationship with the employees.

Three to four quarters from now, I feel things will improve and there will be a re-entry in the labour market.

We tell the world that our greatest advantage is our large young demographic profile but that is like a wild fire if you don't put to productive use.

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