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How Infosys plans to fight the war for talent
Praveen Bose in Bangalore
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June 22, 2006

T V Mohandas Pai's position is not an enviable one. The head of HR at Infosys [Get Quote] has one of the toughest challenges among all honchos at the Bangalore-based IT leader: finding the talent needed to support the company's ambitious growth plans.

The IT sector is on a hiring spree, targeting an intake of 3 lakh this year. Of this, Infosys alone will absorb one-twelfth, and the pace is unlikely to slow down.

"The leading IT players will do their hiring this year but the bigger challenge will come next year. The market is getting tighter," says Pai.

Even fulfilling the current year's targets will be an achievement, since Infosys has set out to hire 25,000 people in 2005-06, upping its head count, IT and BPO taken together, by virtually 50 per cent in a single year-- and this at a time when other firms are also on a recruitment spree.

This is how Infosys plans to achieve the numbers: It offered jobs to 6,500 youngsters last year to join this year. Progeon, the BPO arm, is on course to hire 6,000 during the year.

"That leaves us another 12,500 to recruit in the rest of the year, which we will manage," adds Pai. The first quarter target of 8,000 is being achieved. Hiring will take place all over the country. And Infosys is doing something new-- hiring 750 BSc mainstream science graduates for the parent firm.

But in order to avoid losing its cost advantages, it is not going overboard on the package it is offering to freshers. It is paying no more than last year's rates, plus inflation. This year fresh recruits are being offered Rs 2.7 lakh (Rs 270,000) per year, compared to Rs 2.4 lakh (Rs 240,000) last year.

Pai is not losing sleep over the possibility of the Indian IT leaders pricing themselves out. He is confident that their productivity gains will enable them to keep ahead of rising costs. But he certainly worries about the overall skills scenario confronting the organised sector.

The supply-demand situation is just about balanced this year. The country will produce 3 million graduates, of whom around half are good enough for the organised sector. It will thus end up recruiting the 1.5 million it needs, which is exactly what is recruitable. This explains why Pai uses words like "tight" and "challenging".

"The best of IT can pay more without getting affected. We can manage but what happens to the rest of the organised sector?" asks Pai. He is worried because there are both vacancies and new positions to be filled for the economy as a whole.

Over the next 10 years 30 per cent of the present work force will retire. In the services sector the situation is particularly bad. A quarter of the million people who work for the financial services sector, for example, will retire over the next five years.

And if the economy doubles in size over the next 10 years, as it will if it keeps growing at 7 per cent per annum, the organised sector workforce too will have to double over the next decade, and replacements found for those who retire.

There is only one solution, argues Pai: "We need to sharply accelerate our higher education capacity so that we can double our output of graduates in the next five years."

Infosys has announced that it will recruit the top 20 per cent of students from engineering departments of colleges and rely on a selection process involving a series of tests and interviews. With 'catch 'em young' being the firm's slogan, it has taken initiatives to expand the available talent pool by working with education regulators and academia in India and abroad.

The company's 'Campus Connect' initiative aims to improve the industry-readiness of students while they pursue a regular education. In the last fiscal, Infosys partnered 250 colleges in India and four universities in China and helped 188 faculty members with specialised courseware.

If you catch 'em young you must train them right'. To ensure availability of skills in line with needs, Infosys has set up an extensive training infrastructure. Competencies required are identified and developed along multiple dimensions: technology, domain, leadership, management.

New employees undergo training for 14.5 weeks before being deployed on engagements. The firm has established a 'global education centre' (GEC) in Mysore to train 4,500 employees simultaneously.

To manage with a young workforce Infosys has a programme to upgrade the skills of its staff across the board.

Last fiscal, the firm launched a 'competency certification programme' aimed at certifying its employees in various industry domains, technologies and project management processes. The certifications are mandatory for the future growth of employees.

The attention to skill development has enabled Infosys to become 'a role-based' organisation, cutting the number of levels from 15 to seven.

Infosys' HR practices have been assessed at Level 5 of the 'people capability maturity model' (PCMM), thus putting it at the forefront of the battle for skill development.

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