Talent acquisition is a treasure hunt – not a search

A veteran with 26 years of industry experience, Harshvendra Soin, Global Chief People Officer, and Head – Marketing, Tech Mahindra, is responsible for leading the company’s HR processes and policies. In an interaction with Dataquest, he talks about the impact of COVID-19 on hiring, the company’s talent acquisition strategy, including from Tier 2 and 3 cities, and the transformation of the workforce to meet future needs. Excerpts:

By Shubhendu Parth

DQ: Reports indicate that Tech Mahindra is planning to hire three times more freshers than the normal year. What has triggered this hiring spree despite the pandemic?

Harshvendra Soin: The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation projects for businesses, leading to an increased demand for professionals adept in digital or niche technologies. Our biggest focus for FY22 is on building skills and keeping our talent pool brimming with new-age technologies. We continue to hire in focused verticals like artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), cyber security, deep tech, and space tech, among others, and strengthen our leadership for the technology sector as well. We are also diversifying our talent pool by going global for talent acquisition as well as increasing hiring from Tier 2 Indian cities, especially at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’.

While we are keen to build a leadership in cognitive technologies like IoT, automation, blockchain and AI, we also endeavour to hire in space technology.

We have also introduced several employee-engagement initiatives to encourage associates to upskill and once they get deployed on projects requiring niche skills, they benefit financially as well.

DQ: While the company is focusing on hiring in new technology areas like AI, IoT, and space technology, what are the other key areas for which you may hire from the T-Schools?

Harshvendra Soin: In order to enable end-to-end digital transformation for global customers, Tech Mahindra is focused on leveraging next-generation technologies including 5G, deep-tech, blockchain, cyber security, AI, and more. While we are keen to build leadership in cognitive technologies such as IoT, automation, blockchain, and AI, we are also endeavoring to hire people in the domain of space technology. By charting the full spectrum of technologies and diversifying our fresher talent pools by recruiting science graduates, diploma holders, and certified skilled undergrads in various emerging technologies, we are leaving no stone unturned to help the world experience the magical aura of technology.

DQ: The company also seems to be focusing on hiring from Tier 2 and 3 cities. How employable are talents from these cities in terms of meeting the new-age technology requirements?

Harshvendra Soin: Post-COVID generations will see themselves as a set of skills and their career as an experience, rather than a direct path to a title and salary. With organisations accepting hybrid working as the new work paradigm, the people now have the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere as per their convenience. This is making Tier 2 and 3 cities emerge as future talent hubs because of good skill availability. In tandem with this trend and to strengthen our talent pipeline, we are also hiring expeditiously from Tier 2 cities. I firmly believe that talented human resources can make any city an attractive destination for investment in the IT sector.

As far as hiring criteria are concerned, we obviously look for educational qualification, skills, both technical and cognitive, as well as their ability to learn and motivational fit. We believe that the ‘right attitude’, motivation, and the ability to adapt and adapt, are all that is needed today to make any person ‘employable’.

I believe talent acquisition is a treasure hunt – not a search, as there is the abundant treasure of talent available in our nation today; one only has to proactively look beyond the set boundaries to locate talent which fits in with future business requirements.

DQ: How will you describe the talent acquisition strategy of Tech Mahindra in India and elsewhere? What is the average annual mix of fresh T-School graduates and talent with experience?

Harshvendra Soin: As a technology firm, we greatly rely on the right talent for servicing customer needs, business sustainability, and future growth. We, therefore, have a robust system for talent acquisition and retention. The pandemic has gushed into our lives and has changed everything, including the skills that we will be hiring for in the future, including technical, behavioral as well as softer skills.

At Tech Mahindra, we are looking at diversifying our talent in delivery centers across Eastern Europe and Latin America over the next few years to provide a buffer against the war for talent currently going on in India. We want to widen the talent pool, improve agility to deliver some solutions, and be closer to clients. We also have in place various up-skilling and re-skilling initiatives for our associates, enabling them to upgrade career opportunities for them and allowing us to retain the density of our talent pool while also building the workforce of the future that is at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies.

In Q1FY22, we added 5,200 employees and plan to increase the fresher intake by 3x this year. The hiring will be in emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, deep tech, and space tech, among others.

DQ: Recent research indicates that companies in India may see higher salary costs in the coming quarters as they bridge the demand-supply gap through salary hikes and incentives, as also stock options. What is your expectation based on the experience so far in 2021?

Harshvendra Soin: The COVID era has radically improved everyone’s hold over technology. Due to the high demand for technical superiority, employees have labored to sharpen their technical skills that have been proving to be very essential during the pandemic. However, the demand-supply gap between fresh talent and the skill demands of the IT services industry is only going to increase in the coming days, and talent, which is limited, will inevitably be expensive. Clearly, hiring based on specific talents will come at a higher cost as demand for digital talents is humongous. Today, clients are willing to pay the premium for world-class experiences they expect while endeavoring to speed up their digital transformation. I expect to see a revolution of re-skilling sweeping across the IT industry in efforts to bridge the demand-supply gap and give a greater number of associates the chance to rise.

With organisations accepting hybrid working as the new work paradigm, people now have freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere as per their convenience.

From Tech Mahindra’s perspective, I feel our re-skilling and up-skilling initiatives, the trust of customers, 5G, and digital offerings have worked in favor of the organisation. We are witnessing demand revival across multiple segments, as customers have accelerated their pace of digital transformation. As a ripple effect of this, our growth has been commendable. This has been possible because of the undying efforts of our talented associates and salary hikes, or incentives are a gesture of our appreciation for their quality contribution. Maintaining the current growth trajectory for the rest of the year, or improving it further, will churn out enough to bear higher salary costs and re-skill associates to help them remain relevant.

While the salaries are going up due to the demand-supply dynamics, so are the bill rates. In addition, we have multiplied our efforts on up-skilling the existing workforce as well as increased hiring at the bottom of the pyramid. We are also exploring newer avenues to hire from Tier 2 cities and untapped global destinations, and experimenting with innovative employee engagement programs to keep the morale high.

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

Harshvendra Soin: Tech Mahindra is imagining a future that we can deliver on. Hence, finding skilled employees and up-skilling/re-skilling the existing associates, who can help us in envisioning the future, is imperative. There is a pressing need for organisations to transform the workforce both at speed and scale. This is accelerating re-skilling and up-skilling initiatives at companies to keep up with the pace of technological developments and build a ‘future-ready talent pool.

In Q1FY22, we added 5,200 employees and plan to increase the fresher intake by 3x this year. Hiring will be in emerging technologies such as AI, IoT and space tech.

Under Future Skilling Initiative, we have identified over 17 competencies where a bulk of IT solutions and services is expected to be developed in the future. With an aim to equip our global workforce with these new-age skills, we have launched an AI-based platform, NAD Learn (formerly called ‘UaaS’ – Up-skilling as a Service), powered by a ‘New Age Delivery’ engine to provide interactive, on-demand, contextual and hyper-personalised up-skilling to our associates in self-service mode. Developed in-house, the learning platform accelerates skill development to meet the people supply chain needs of organisations coping with the recent business challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also plan to make this platform available to not just our associates, but also to academia so that students are industry-ready when they graduate.

Other skilling initiatives include WFH101, an eLearning module, EMBARK, F2F (Fast Forward to Future), LEAP, ELEVATE, Project Skilling, and RIDE Future Skilling. These programs – in addition to the existing ELITE engineering graduate hiring, management trainee program for hiring fresh talent from B-schools, and Global Leadership Cadre program for fast-tracking the growth of young leaders – will help us in ‘reversing the pyramid’ and provide fresh graduates the opportunity to become ‘fit for the future. Going forward, we will be focusing on undertaking domain-skilling as well as special-skilling programs for open positions and high-demand areas of architecture and cloud. We will look to scale and enhance the ELEVATE Internship program to improve the quality of interns. Additionally, partnerships with leading learning institutions would be on the anvil for us to provide more learning avenues to our associates.

DQ: How has the social distancing norm impacted campus hiring? How is the company handling it? Does remote hiring not compromise the quality evaluation?

Harshvendra Soin: The campus hiring under the social distancing norm has taken an intense virtual route for us. We adopted proctoring through various updated assessment formats to ensure the integrity and prevent any unfairness. The company is using technology on a large scale to make the recruitment and engagement programs faster and more efficient. In pre-pandemic times, the in-person campus drives used to be sometimes restricted to nearby campuses. However, the pandemic situation has given us the silver line advantage to reach out to the campuses across the globe and thereby multiplied our pool of talent.

Harshvendra Soin

Global Chief People Officer & Head – Marketing, Tech Mahindra

shubhendup@cybermedia.co.in

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