Fire at home, to hire abroad!

02nd June 2017
Fire at home, to hire abroad!

 The Indian tech industry  succumbs to protectionist pressures in key foreign markets. So professionals need to re-skill  urgently -- or get left behind.  
IndiaTechOnline special
Bangalore, June 2 2017:  In 1939, in  an earlier, less complicated, more idealistic age, Bill Hewlett and David Packard founded HP in a garage in Palo Alto, California  and  created a  humane and paternalistic management style that became the legendary "HP Way".  Staff were personally selected by the co-founders -- then treated with  professional respect, so  that everyone felt  they were part of a family, not a hardnosed corporation.  Bill retired in 1987;  David in 1993, having built HP into a $ 20 billion company with close to 1 lakh employees.    The HP Way  withered away by the turn of the century -- albeit leaving a profitable giant.
I like to think, we had the Indian  equivalent of HP in Infosys. Another  technology entity built upon ideals that extended beyond making money. NR Narayana Murthy and his five co-founders  had similar humble roots in 1981  -- and the same zeal that drove  Hewlett and Packard  to built a company driven by innovation and  a humane corporate style.  The Infosys Way, if I might call it that, prevailed till 2014, by which time all  the co-founders had relinquished active control of the company. The Infosys transition to  successful but increasingly hard-nosed and market-driven entity has been even more swift than at HP.  The  cultural  trade-offs this has entailed  has  pained the founders, particularly Narayana Murthy, who has  articulated his unease at the obscenely high pay packets of some of the top management, even as the average pay rise  in the company was quite modest. 
Last week NRN  felt impelled to voice his unhappiness one more, this time at the  way Infosys was  cutting costs by  large-scale firings among its staff in India, including at middle management levels, where competence and value to the company had  been proved.  It must have been particularly galling for the principal founder that  such   mass  dismissals at the India end of its operations were    effected even as  the   company, now led by a US-based,   US citizen, albeit of Indian origin,   proudly announced he would be hiring 10,000 new staff in  that country.... a  gesture that was  cannily aimed at  currying favour with the blatantly  protectionist,  crudely  xenophobic new government in the US.  This aim it has already achieved -- the Trump administration praised its move -- but  what a cost it has paid!
Infosys has said it would need to hire numbers of fresh American  graduates  and train them for the skills that the company needed  to run its US-based operations.  Can you see the pathetic irony here?  In India, Infosys and for that matter all its competitors  are able to  recruit pretty much all the  talents they require, such is the large pool of technical talent available here.  One ad in an online job site seeking engineers with the most esoteric skills -- Python programming,  Ruby on Rails, Embedded microcontroller programming  -- and you have a 100 aspirants  taking the online job test.  That is why India is the world's favourite destination for technology companies to set up their Global Development Centres or GDC.  They are not  fools or philanthropists. They come here  because a wide spectrum of tech talent is available here -- cheap.
And now Infosys and  some of its Indian competitors are about to  surrender this competitive advantage   and hire untrained, raw American talent, pay them three times what a desi engineer  costs   just so they hang on to their US contracts.  And when this cost is too much to bear, why, what better way than to let go even your existing workers here!  Their US business has rubbed off on our so called IT bellwethers  -- and they have adopted the same  cynicalspeak that Americans invented. They don't  fire. They let go, they  restructure,  down-size, right-size. They 'realign the workforce'. They 'voluntarily separate'.  And yes ofcourse, none of the staff who are emailed termination notices in the hundreds  are 'let go' because  the company wants to replace them with local talent in America, Australia, UK, Singapore  and other geographies where  protectionism is in full play. No,  they all failed their annual performance appraisals to a man ( and woman). Never mind that  these appraisals rated them 'good' to 'outstanding' for the last 6 quarters. Suddenly since March this year thousands of staff suffered a  mass attack of  debility that rendered them unfit for further employment.|
The highhandedness and cynical calculation with which most tech companies are currently  'streamlining' their operations, to retain their global business is unprecedented in the 20 year old history of the Indian IT story.  But who cares
Not government. IT Minister Ravishankar Prasad keeps asking: Job losses, what job losses?  And he  touts all the jobs that will be created under Digital India in the future.
Not NASSCOM.  Naive members of the media, turn to NASSCOM for  a quote whenever massive job losses in India hit the headlines, not yet realising, that organisation  has become a cosy club of owners,  more bothered about the bottom lines of big IT company-members rather than  the fate of millions of young Indians who helped  turn these companies profitable.
Not state governments.  With the possible exception of Tamil Nadu, the states have    virtually outlawed collective action by IT sector employees, succumbing to the lobbying of   largest  corporate tax payers.
Then who?  Sorry guys, you have to look after yourselves.  There is no Godfather, no lobby to press your case for fairness,   no legal  framework to protect you against unfair dismissal. The contracts you signed are loaded against you.   There is only survival route  to avoid becoming   just statistic  among lakhs who  are getting the chop today: Reskill.   Upskill. Kill the alibi that you are somehow underequipped to handle your responsibility. Learn new tech trades that will make you indispensible.  It is Darwin all over again: Survival of the fittest, the most skilled.  Good luck!Anand Parthasarathy


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