Chennai: Sampath Kumar, 24, had to find a job after finishing school because his family was too poor to send him to college. The lack of a degree didn’t stop Kumar from becoming a computer programmer in the same IT company he joined in August 2005 as an office help doing errands for other employees.
Laser Soft Infosystems Ltd (LSI) managing director Suresh B. Kamath, who studied computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, says he found Kumar to be a quick learner who could do any job he was given. He gave Kumar six months to learn programming after work hours, and promoted him as a trainee software programmer after he had learnt the basics and passed some tests.
“His energy levels just amaze me,” Kamath says about Kumar, whose pay has more than doubled to Rs5,000 and who will take home more as his programming skills improve.
Innovative hiring: Suresh B. Kamath, managing director, Laser Soft Infosystems Ltd. The company has 25 ‘non-graduate’ software engineers, about 5% of its headcount of 530 people.
To beat a shortage of skilled software programmers, Indian IT companies such as LSI are looking beyond the traditional available talent pool of engineers. Industry leaders such as Tata Consultancy Services and Wipro Ltd, the country’s biggest and third-biggest software firms, respectively, have hired science graduates whom they trained as programmers.
But LSI, which develops software for the banking and financial services industry, says it has gone a step ahead and trained people, whose education had stopped at the 10th or 12th standards in school, to become programmers. One of the beneficiaries was Kamath’s driver.
“There are several people who are unable to complete their studies due to economic or other reasons,” Kamath says. “This is an opportunity for them as programming is all about logical thinking and aptitude.”
The IT industry, which logged revenues estimated at $64 billion (Rs2.68 trillion) in the fiscal year ended 31 March, employs about 1.5 million people but faces a shortage of tens of thousands of skilled professionals in its attempt to sustain growth. Employees switching jobs for pay hikes is common in the industry.
“Deskilling of jobs has been happening worldwide, especially in India,” says E. Balaji, chief executive officer of human resources services provider Ma Foi Management Consultants Ltd. “Deskilling is where the nature of a job is mapped with the skills required and it also helps reduce costs. This model can be sustainable and it all boils to the kind of training that is provided.”
LSI now has 25 “non-graduate” software engineers, about 5% of its headcount of 530 people. Kamath and the rest of the top management continuously scan the company for people who would have the ability to transition to a programmer’s job.
The company identifies the potential of such candidates and puts them through rigorous training, which is customized to suit individual aptitude. Kamath says LSI has always tried out different and new approaches to identifying, attracting and retaining talent.
“Twenty per cent of our workforce is also physically challenged,” Kamath says. “In an industry where average attrition is around 25-30% , it is a mere 9-10% among the differently abled people as well as non-degree holders for us, and is a win-win for everybody involved.”
Pradeep Bahirwani, vice- president of talent acquisition at Wipro Technologies, acknowledges that LSI’s approach to hiring is “an innovation.” “The long-term trend will be that the profile of programmers will scale down,” Bahirwani says. “This would be like the trend where the qualifications of software programmers came down from students of tier I to tier II colleges to science graduates.”
Kumar, the office boy-turned-software programmer, says his father, a security guard at a bank’s automated teller machine installation, is very happy about his transition to a white-collar job. “I am happy that an opportunity has been provided to me and others like me,” he says.