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BW Businessworld

Managing The Talent Merry-Go-Around

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Pam Berklich, Senior Vice President, Centers of Excellence for Kelly Services, Inc and global board member of the International Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (CIETT) was in town recently to attend the first conference of the Indian Staffing Federation. The ISF was formed a couple of years ago under the guidance of the CIETT. Excerpts from an interview with BW |Businessworld's Chitra Narayanan.
 
What are the broad trends in talent management?
If you look at any of the CEO surveys that are conducted globally, it shows that there continue to be talent shortages all around the world. The challenge is about talent — having the right talent, at the right place at the right time, at the right cost, even when we have a large labour market, for example in India.

Between the number of people here in India and those who are considered employable in the high tech sector, healthcare and pharmaceuticals sector, with technical skills, there's a gap. Even with a highly educated workforce: if I use one number I saw recently, each year India is graduating 450,000 engineers but only 25 per cent of those are employable.

A lot of MNCs are investing huge sums of money in India, but find that the talent here is difficult to locate. Many of the same trends are occurring elsewhere too. There are certain commonalities in emerging markets such as China and Brazil.

To address this shortage, organisations increasingly want to partner with experts who know where to find the talent, who can bring them the best talent. That's the Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) industry.

Wouldn't that be more for junior level employees?

No. The trend is that it is now moving into the higher skills. In the past, big BPOs in India had a large volume of recruitment projects around customer service people. Now that the trend is changing towards partnering with RPO companies for highly skilled talent, they would transfer responsibility for attracting, selecting and assessment of talent. That leads me to another trend: the need for improvement in retention.

But given the skill shortage you mentioned, is it the same talent going around the marketplace? Is anything being done to bring fresh talent?
There is a lot of mobility. It's not really always poaching from one place to fit another but bringing high skill talent in the country from other countries. As a trend, there is a lot of cross border recruitment happening. So if we find there are very highly skilled English speaking engineers in central Europe, we would like to check their cultural fit for Indian companies.

Are we seeing this happen on ground?
It is more a global trend, but it will hit India as the talent crunch continues.

Meanwhile, developing the under skilled population is a major issue for India. We spent time talking about this at the CIETT and ISF conference to government officials, the labour minister and trade organisations. We want to develop the workforce that's here and put them in higher paying jobs, but there are some core issues related to language and the education system here. The system focuses on imparting technical skill but not the important soft skills such as language and thinking analytically. There is a disconnect between business in India and education in India. Meanwhile, companies need the talent. So there is recycling.

If we think about why there is such a high turnover at the mid and senior level, then it is because at the front end of the recruitment process you don't have a right selection method in place to see if the individual has the requisite skills to align with the company culture. This is when you have senior people who stay only two years at an average. And at the junior level, it is even worse.

So what's the size of the RPO industry in India?
For India, it is $63 million (Rs 3.5 billion). That is expected to double to Rs 6 billion ($107 million) by 2016. Both globally and in India, it is a fast growing trend.

Why would a company want to partner an RPO? Because of the scale and flexibility we offer: the ability to quickly ramp up and expand or be able to pare down costs in a sustainable manner.

How do you flex up and down? One can understand scaling up but scaling down sounds scary… how do you let go of people?
It could be through temporary staff or thorough flexible staff. But there's another way of scaling down. If I am an RPO provider, and I provide to many companies and see that company A is scaling up and B is scaling down, I can leverage my recruits across companies.

All this sounds very tricky?
It can be. First of all, in an RPO, the client owns the database. We sign up to protect so there is never sharing of talent between programmes. However, through right skilling these resources can be deployed across multi industries and that allows portability of resources.

What parts of the hiring process are outsourced to the RPO industry?
There are two models. One, an enterprise wide outsourcing where all parts of the hiring cycle from the talent acquisition function to helping with induction we take care of. Of course, the hiring manager makes the hiring decision. Then we take over and do the induction training. That is enterprise wide.

For some clients, who want to keep their talent acquisition function in house, we offer additional support in interviews, or coordinating, or managing resources.

Do you see gender disparity in salaries?
I think there is a problem with pay disparity. Even in the US and Australia, a lot of attention is being paid to equal pay, equal work because it's simply not there.

The other issue is that there are significant number of women who are opting out of the workforce. Some of the reasons can be cultural. A lot of women are educated in Asia, 50 per cent of the employable age women are educated but they are still not part of the workforce.
So there is definitely a gender issue that has to be addressed.

Recently Yahoo's Marissa Meyer changed the remote work policy at the company? Do you think it could have repercussions?
This is not a woman's issue. But a cross gender issue: working remotely versus battling traffic. It's also an issue of trust. Whether it is women, or men with aged parents who need to be able to work from home to offer care, flexi time is needed.

It's disappointing to have what we think are innovative and progressive companies putting a stop to this — or questioning this activity.But my prediction is that this will be a short lived experiment. Or that it will end up creating a talent problem.