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India’s third-largest software services exporter is making its most aggressive push to get its over 120,000 engineers to learn newer technologies. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
India’s third-largest software services exporter is making its most aggressive push to get its over 120,000 engineers to learn newer technologies. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

Wipro’s memo to engineers: To earn more, learn more

Wipro believes the new strategy will eventually help put it back on the growth pedestal

Bengaluru: Wipro Ltd’s chief executive Abidali Neemuchwala has a simple message for its engineers looking to earn more: Learn newer programming languages for a better appraisal.

India’s third-largest software services exporter is making its most aggressive push to get its over 120,000 engineers to learn newer technologies, which the management believes will eventually help in putting Wipro back on the growth pedestal.

In what can be billed as the-first-of-its kind initiative by any large firm in India’s $150 billion outsourcing sector, Wipro is putting together a model under which engineers who know newer programming languages such as Swift and Python will be paid better than those who know only traditional, yet still relevant, programming language like Java.

Wipro’s effort comes at a time when Indian outsourcing firms including its larger rivals Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Infosys Ltd are increasingly looking to get their talent pool to work on projects that have elements of digital technologies such as data analytics and mobility platforms.

Automation platforms and cloud computing are eroding the labour arbitrage enjoyed by these firms, prompting them to explore new technologies.

Also, unlike in the past when a lot of software engineers could do with only writing applications using programming languages such as Java, J2EE and C++, a wider embrace of cloud computing by their clients means engineers need to learn languages like Go that will help them execute the work to move applications to cloud computing platforms.

Through an online module and classroom sessions, TCS has already trained close to 100,000 people in newer technologies. Wipro claims to have helped over 10,000 engineers learn more programming languages.

Infosys has trained more than half of its workforce on the user-centric approach of Design Thinking and partnered with online education firms such as Udacity, edX and Coursera to help employees gain an understanding of artificial intelligence-powered technologies.

“Learning more programming languages will be one more important metric, and not just the only, on which appraisals will be carried out," said an executive familiar with the development at Wipro. “So say, if there are two employees who have done well, one of the factors that will now be a determining factor, will be an employee’s proficiency in more languages."

To start with, Wipro has done an internal skill-mapping exercise, based on the order pipeline of outsourcing contracts, and starting next financial year, engineers who know more than a few programming languages will be “disproportionately rewarded better", said two executives (including the one above) on condition of anonymity.

“Clearly, the prediction by many is that 50% of existing skills will become obsolete in the coming years. So a company won’t be in good shape, if people don’t re-skill and learn new skill sets," said Saurabh Govil, president, and chief human resources officer at Wipro.

Wipro’s push to incentivise employees to learn newer technologies will help it in three ways: firstly, the decision will push more people to learn newer skill sets, and thereby save the management from resorting to measures like lay-offs; secondly, more employees adept in newer programming languages will help Wipro improve its utilisation rates as it can deploy its workforce on ongoing projects with more digital elements; finally, it will help Wipro cut its dependence on technical sub-contractors, and save on costs incurred in hiring engineers at a higher pay from outside the firm.

“We’ve already ring-fenced the skills which are hot for now. We’ve started this skill-set mapping exercise to bridge the gap. Now, it is not to say that you don’t need understanding of Java. What essentially we are trying to do is to get people add these top-up skill sets," said one of the executives mentioned above.

Industry analysts gave their thumbs-up to the move. “If you think of how the outsourcing industry grew up, it was built around execution of well defined, repeatable processes and methodologies," said Bill Huber, managing director at US-based outsourcing advisory firm Alsbridge. “Firms are aggressively trying to change the culture."

Still, many believe it will be challenging for home-grown tech vendors to re-skill existing staff as many of the engineers are believed to be straitjacketed about learning newer technologies. Earlier this year, Gurgaon-based employability assessment firm Aspiring Minds found that over 80% of engineering graduates in India continue to be unemployable.

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