Home / Industry / Labour pangs continue to bother recruiters

A recent discussion offering strategies on hiring in the new economy spoke volumes about the state of the labour market before the panellists even began.

There was standing room only. While workers rejoice over double-digit percentage increase in salary from one opportunity to the next, recruiters are fretting over just where they are going to find talent—from entry-level hires up to the corner cabin executives.

Economic growth in India has produced dramatic changes in the workplace: the power shift from recruiter to applicant, faster promotions of younger workers, and generational conflicts between the old, new and middle-aged.

And so as the Executive Recruiters Association’s Delhi chapter staged its first event recently, human resources managers and search firms turned out in throngs looking for solutions to the short ­labour supply and high attrition rates.

There is no cure, it turns out, but there are some ways to compensate.

The panellists suggested redefining the skill sets needed for certain roles. Sometimes, they say, second-best will do just fine after intensive training. “The best of the talent is probably going outside the country," said Atul Sharma, vice-president for human resources at Citibank’s Indian consumer banking division. “After 20 years of service, my salary is what guys from IIM, Ahmedabad and Calcutta, are being offered."

So, Citibank has begun recruiting from second-tier business campuses for students more likely to stay within India, said Sharma. New hires, he says, undergo a rigid orientation. “We spend time with them so they understand the values of the organization," he added.

Thus, recruiters have emerged as catalysts in a growing economy, said Dony Kuriakose, the association’s Delhi chapter head. He recalled only 500 recruiters in a Rs70-crore industry in 2001. Six years later, India now boasts of 5,000 players in a recruitment and executive search sector generating at least Rs5,800 crore in revenues, said Kuriakose.

The paradox of India—an overpopulated, mostly poor country in the midst of a labour crunch—is not lost on anyone. “We have tons of people out there, but very few we can hire," said Suvamoy Roy Chaudhury, head of human resources at Reckitt Benckiser. Even among the educated and trained hires, Chaudhury said he’s seeing shortfalls.

“We overhire people because of pressure to hire and we set them up for failure," he said. “Everybody wants career progression much faster than is reasonable."

Recruiters repeatedly lament managing the high expectations of younger workers.

But A.V.K. Mohan, head of human resources at Bharti Airtel’s enterprise solutions division, said some of the expectations are warranted. “The workforce is more aware of what they want from themselves," he said. “The reality is they can demand. They know more. They know more than what I knew 18 years ago," said Mohan.

Salary hikes, most agree, are not an automatic answer—but they can help.

“There has been a rationalization of packages," said Shailja Dutt, managing director of Stellar Search and Selection, an executive recruitment firm. “There’s definitely a thought that we need to relook at entry-level salaries."

The panel consisted of mostly middle-age men besides the sari-clad Dutt as moderator, and many chastised the choices of a new generation.

Citibank’s Sharma said his father, a government worker, would be home by 5:30 or 6pm. “I can’t think of a day I’ve gone home before 10," he said. “Now this generation would go home by 4pm if they could." People in the room laughed, but the jabs at young workers continued.

“Young people, they have yet to understand what a career means," said D.P. Singh, the head of human resources at IBM Daksh, the large business process outsourcing outfit. BPOs suffer among the worst rates of attrition, as high as 70% in some companies, according to a study by the National Association of Software and Services Companies, or Nasscom.

In fact, Nasscom head Kiran Karnik jumped to the 20-somethings’ defence. “Young people are willing to work harder. They’re willing to stay on late," said Karnik. “Yes, they want to party. Their loyalty is not to the company, but they do have loyalty to the profession."

Karnik, the main speaker of the evening, did concede this much to the talent-hungry crowd: “It used to be after seven or eight years, people would ask when are you moving on," he said. “Today, it’s after seven-eight months."

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