Shweta Mohanty1

Employability today is equal to Learnability

According to Shweta Mohanty, Head, Human Resources, SAP Labs India, with the rise of immersive technologies such as the Metaverse, enterprises are also looking for professionals skilled in areas like Extended Reality (XR), Virtual Reality (VR), as well as 3D Modelling and Design, etc.

With a rapidly changing tech scenario and a continuous upgradation of skills, how is the industry able to cope with the issue of employability of new engineering graduates?

According to All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), out of the eight-lakh graduate engineers from technical institutions in the country, more than 60 per cent remain unemployed.

There is huge skill gap between the skill level expectation and the skill sets that the students come equipped with. There is a need to keep pace with the engineering curriculum to reflect the evolving technological needs of the industry.

Conventional rules and regulations hardly allowed students to think beyond classroom learning. Lack of industry exposure and limited opportunities to participate in live projects and exchange programmes further create employment blocks for fresh engineers.

At SAP, our industry academia programs like iXP looks at academic partnership that focuses on giving students and their teams a meaningful and memorable experience. iXp is built on a 70:20:10 model – 70% on-the-job, project-based learning, 20% formal learning and development, 10% social learning. Our mission is simple – to build the next generation of SAP.

Another flagship program, Code Unnati, focuses on enabling youth with coding skills through an innovative and collaborative platform to foster digital literacy amongst adolescents and citizens and develop IT skills and competencies amongst youth to prepare them for meaningful employment opportunities, thus contributing to social and economic development in India and to share “Digital India” and “Skill India” vision of Government of India.

While industries are focusing on hiring in new technology areas like AI, IoT, and space technology, what are the other key areas for hiring?

Cloud Computing has emerged as one of the most in-demand skills in the technology industry, induced by the accelerated cloud migration journey of companies. There is also a huge demand for experts in building and managing complex cloud environments. Increased adoption of cloud also calls for security professionals who can successfully manage the security concerns associated with the cloud, as well as DevOps professionals who can successfully manage multi-cloud environments. With the rise of immersive technologies such as the Metaverse, enterprises are also looking for professionals skilled in areas like Extended Reality (XR), Virtual Reality (VR), as well as 3D Modelling and Design, etc. Similarly, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Virtual Agents, Computer Vision, Data Visualization skills are also deemed as future-ready skills.

How employable is talent from tier 2 and tier 3 cities in terms of meeting the new-age technology requirements?

Several years back, the trend to hire from Tier 2 and 3 cities was observed from the BPO/Outsourcing organizations, but over a period many Technology organisations have started expanding their footprint to smaller cities. Organisations do believe that they can access a large talent pool by tapping into these cities. We must remember that “Employability today is equal to Learnability”. And these cities offer a lot of entry-level talent who are eager to learn and put their best foot forward.

Also, post-pandemic, we saw tech talent returning to tier 2 or tier 3 cities and continuing to work from there resulting in the talent base getting richer. While we might argue that the tech maturity in these cities may be low at this stage, it is a matter of time that these cities become a magnet to talent due to their low infrastructure and better work-life proposition. Hence, I don’t think we can significantly differentiate the employability of talent available in tier 2 and 3 cities as compared to tier 1. In the beginning we might to have to focus on entry level hires. Organisations would need to hire young talent in these cities and rapidly train them in the new age technologies.

At SAP, we have expanded our college hiring list to Tier 2 and 3 cities, and recently relooked at the compensation offered at these colleges for entry level jobs. We also have expanded the education criteria for lateral hiring to look for more active talent pools beyond the regular scope.

How will you describe your talent acquisition strategy in India and elsewhere?

Our TA strategy is centered around creating amazing candidate experience. All stakeholders in the hiring process are held accountable for their impact on this amazing candidate experience. In order to attract and retain the best people at SAP, we enable them to bring everything they are and become everything they want in an inclusive environment. We also use innovative tools and practices to take the best, intelligence-based hiring decisions:

• Skill Matcher is a tool that intelligently matches jobs with the skills and recommends the ones that can best utilize the skill set.

• Job analyzers remove gender specific adjectives with the Job Analyzer.

• SHL – ATS integrated Integrated assessments for prescreening

• Intelligent Screening via Ideal to screen and prioritize instantly so recruiters know who to prioritize first, masking gender to avoid bias

• Inclusive Interview Framework ensures that all interview panels should be gender balanced and include different generations, identities, and backgrounds to reduce unconscious bias and highlight our inclusive culture to candidates.

At SAP, our EVP states “We build breakthroughs together” which covers the element on work as well the collaborative aspect of working together. Our EVP is what makes SAP unique as an employer. The key message is that we are shaping “Together”. SAP is a purpose-driven, future-focused company with a highly collaborative team ethic and strong focus on learning and development. It is designed to help us attract the right people to SAP in the knowledge that right people will give their best results.

Many organizations rely on initiatives like Employee Referrals to bring talent. This is a practical route to ensure that employees get talent who they know would fit the performance and culture of the organization. It also helps to reduce recruiting expenses and increase productivity in the long run. Hiring through employee referrals is a wonderful way to proactively protect employee morale.

The digital normal is leading to a massive disruption and emergence of newer technologies, making skill upgrade and cross platform training very important. What is the company doing to keep pace with the need for new skill sets?

The speed of technology change will always be a threat to employability and relevance for both engineering graduates and also for those working on legacy technologies within a firm. How we address these two issues is going to be different. The response of organisations can be looked at as per two dimensions: (1) Employability in Technology (2) Employability by Technology. Both these are related. At SAP in India, we bring learning curriculums and certifications on newer technologies by leveraging capabilities internally and as well as with the best available externally. Recently we launched AI for Managers certification, AI for Developers certification with IIITB, and Product Management certification with Kellogg School of Business. This way we are addressing Employability in Technology. At the same time, we are leveraging Technological platforms like Pluralsight, success map learning, Udacity, and LinkedIn learning for scaling the access to the latest in these areas.

What are the key learnings in the post-Covid-19 landscape of talent demand and supply for India so far?

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation initiatives. Companies across sectors are investing in new technologies such as AI, cloud, and IoT, therefore amplifying the demand for digital skills. The in-demand digital skills include Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, and the Internet of Things, among others. Keeping this in mind, large organizations are undertaking extensive upskilling/reskilling programmes for their new hires as well as existing employees.

At SAP Labs India, skill-centric learning initiatives are central to our L&D agenda. There has been a heightened focus on learning and development (L&D), particularly in the post-pandemic era and for employees to invest time in learning and development during hectic schedules is perhaps challenging. As part of our learning and development strategy to prepare a workforce for the future, we have some interesting programs in place – from job swapping, and experience exchange programs to fellowships, stretch assignments, and working on cross-functional projects. We also have our very own Tech Know School run by our experts with an intense curriculum including hands-on training on the latest technologies like ML, AI, and Cloud Application Development.

We continue to have our learning and development offerings along with key events like DKOM, Sapphire, Innvent, and many more being held in a hybrid format touching every employee. We also provide many industry-first and best policies to support our employees. For example, our Entrepreneurial Sabbatical policy helps employees take a break from work to focus on setting up their startups. If it is successful, they will leave SAP. If not, they are always welcome to join us back. Such policies ensure that employees stay connected and have a sense of belongingness with organizations.

SAP has long embraced a location-independent work style, resulting in a global workforce and mobile technology that allows employees to work from anywhere, at any time. In fact, according to internal polling on preferred work styles in the post-Covid era, 94% of staff wanted to take advantage of greater working flexibility and the freedom to work from anywhere. In response to this survey, we launched our ‘Pledge to Flex initiative’ that gives our employees the tools they need to be productive, creative, and inspired while also running the business responsibly and meeting business requirements.

We are also relooking at our workspaces to deliver an employee-centered experience with a focus on sustainability. This includes leveraging AI capabilities for mask detection on campus in a constantly evolving pandemic to redesigning our spaces that foster collaboration and boost productivity for our in-person and remote teams.

What are the skill gaps that exist in the employable population across India?

The digital skills gap is most prevalent in the employable population across India. According to a NASSCOM-Zinnov 2022 report, the demand-supply gap of skilled employees continues to widen in the technology industry and India can face a shortage of 14-19 lakh tech professionals by 2026. The report further suggests that currently, India has a tech talent gap of 21.1% (as a percentage of supply).

In terms of digital skills, in particular, the gap widens further. India currently has 13 lakh digitally skilled professionals, creating a shortage of 5 lakh such professionals. This gap is projected to increase and touch 14-18 lakh by 2026.

Is academia able to keep up with all the changing trends or are most of the syllabus still outdated?

With the increasing adoption of cloud and other digital technologies, the technology industry is changing at a rapid pace. As a result, customer expectations have evolved to accelerate demand for tech-led, innovative solutions. While India produces lakhs of engineering graduates every year, most of them lack future-ready skills and practical knowledge. We believe academia can play a key role in changing this narrative to ensure these students become industry-ready. Restructuring the current curriculum is imperative to ensure an outcome-oriented learning culture wherein students can receive hands-on skills training. In addition to core technical skills, it is also critical to train the young engineers in skills such as critical reasoning, creative thinking, interpersonal skills, etc.

Industry-academia partnerships are key to addressing these challenges and bridging the gap between colleges and corporates. We’ve been partnering with education institutions like IIM Bangalore and The Delhi Skill and Entrepreneurship University to upskill India’s youth with future skills and help them find suitable employment opportunities.

What about the skills that even senior industry leaders themselves have to adopt throughout their careers?

With the rapid technology disruption, the need of having good Techno-managers is increasing by the day. Techno-managers need to display their understanding of technology along with people and processes. They are expected not only to be problem solvers but solution-centric, and provide a bigger picture and direction. Most importantly they need to display learning agility.

How is women’s participation today, a sign for structural economic changes?

The technology industry can benefit immensely from the collective intelligence and diversity of perspectives women bring on board to create an inclusive innovation environment that further accelerates business growth. While traditionally technology has been deemed as a field more suitable for male professionals, we are seeing a positive shift in this trend. As of today, women make up 34% (~1.6 million) of the total Indian tech workforce. With organizations taking conscious efforts toward creating a diverse talent pool, women have more opportunities than ever to be problem solvers and contribute to building a more inclusive and intelligent world for everybody. Young women in tech can be the torchbearers of this change.

SAP has targeted intervention amongst women youth towards building employable and future IT Skills and workforce readiness. Our vision while building the enabling ecosystem for young women is to equip them with advanced career training in topics viz., data science, cloud computing, AI, Machine Learning, and programming languages. We aim to provide them with mentorship on how to build a career in the IT industry and prepare them for future skills ready. For example, our flagship initiative Code Unnati and Project Nanhi Kali focus on imparting digital literacy among adolescents, citizens, and children and employable IT skills among youth.

We invest in building, strengthening, and supporting every important milestone in career development and growth for women, to ensure that they become a part of mainstream career opportunities.

Attrition is still a problem. How are you tackling it?

SAP Labs India is fast-growing, but it remains a people-centric organization. Fortunately, we have one of the lowest attrition levels in the industry, and therefore we are a mix of multi-generational, cross-functional, and diverse talent. However, the talent war in India is fierce and we have adopted an intended approach toward talent retention to ensure our employees are inspired to work on innovative projects. We understand that our talent should have access to the right tools and resources to become true business process experts. At SAP Labs India, we have in place people-first policies that prioritize the well-being and aspirations of our employees to ensure we are seen as an organization that every engineer – regardless of their age, gender, or career goals – aspires to be a part of. Some of the examples include ‘No Meeting Fridays’, pay transparency, and a two-year entrepreneurial sabbatical program to encourage employees to pursue their own startup ideas, among others.

Shweta Mohanty

Head, Human Resources, SAP Labs India

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