The Indian tech industry succumbs to protectionist pressures in key foreign markets. So professionals need to re-skill urgently -- or get left behind.
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
An expert in reskilling shares hints on what are the hot subjects today.