IBM India Places a Premium on Training and Integrating New Hires

By Mark Jr.

Aug. 13, 2008

Each time executives at IBM India have a meeting, the discussion quickly turns to the development of its burgeoning staff.

“The third sentence is always [about] training,” says David Tai, IBM’s director of HR Learning for India/South Asia.

Tai leads the effort to integrate new hires into IBM’s rapidly expanding operations, which are headquartered in Bangalore and include five other sites around the country where the company provides technology services and conducts research.

In 2002, IBM India employed 4,900 people. It added about 20,000 employees in 2007, reaching a total of 73,000—making it the second biggest IBM location in the world, after the U.S.

“It’s something that has never happened before, this hypergrowth,” Tai says. “It’s a multifaceted challenge.”

To find job candidates, IBM looks at a wide range of Indian higher education institutions—from first tier to third tier. It casts its net widely in a country that has “400 million talents” younger than 21, Tai says.

IBM works with colleges to identify candidates before they graduate. That outreach, combined with IBM’s reputation as a place to grow, helps keep the pipeline full.

“They’re very motivated to be productive,” Tai says. “In India, learning and career are the two things they want.”

Even though new hires have passed an English exam and other aptitude tests, they’re not necessarily ready to hit the ground running from day one.

“Once they are in, we use a very rigorous methodology to develop their skills,” Tai says.

The IBM India training department has grown from a staff of three in 2004 to 60 in 2008. Globally, IBM spends $600 million annually on training.

One of the first objectives in India is to change a cultural mind-set that values hierarchy. New employees tend to wait and see what the boss does rather than take the initiative.

“Once they understand they are the center of gravity, they can come up with projects; they can drive things,” Tai says.

Empowerment also extends to career development. During the first three days of orientation, employees are introduced to IBM’s business units and how they work together on a global scale.

They become familiar with Blue Pages, an intranet listing of all employees, their skills and their projects. In their first 30 days, they also meet one of the company’s Royal Blue Ambassadors—IBM staffers who help new colleagues assimilate. In addition, they can access an internal wiki that promotes peer-to-peer learning.

For long-term guidance, employees can turn to a Blue Knight, an IBM manager who has been certified in helping others understand IBM career paths. There’s also a corporate internal Web page called Blue Dawn that lists all technical professions at IBM.

The point of these efforts is to reinforce the notion that IBM is a “globally integrated enterprise,” in the company’s words.

“The key thing is to identify where the talents are and mobilize the talents for the customer,” Tai says.

That kind of flexibility means that an employee who joins IBM as a Java programmer or as an Oracle or SAP specialist can move into IT architecture design or nanotechnology.

The fluidity increases employee engagement. “They like to stay in IBM because they get to work on several professions versus just one job,” Tai says.

Fostering that connection may help IBM stand out among other employers in India. Since the economic liberalization of 1991, workers, armed with education, have more control over their destinies and tend to look out for themselves.

“There is no loyalty to the company they’re working for,” says Mahashweta Nandi, a consultant in the Bangalore office of Ma Foi, an international placement company.

The door swings both ways. “The company doesn’t think much about the employees,” Nandi says. “Companies have more choices.”

But the churn may be subsiding. The U.S. economic downturn could result in a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in hiring by Indian IT companies, says Anil Kumar, a Ma Foi director.

“Nevertheless there will be continued demand for talent in telecom and IT infrastructure, network security [and] software architecture,” Kumar says.

IBM India doesn’t seem to have taken significant hits in the slowdown. In the most recent quarter, IBM revenue in emerging countries grew by 21 percent.

The rapid hiring pace—estimated at one new employee every 14 minutes last year—is likely to continue, keeping the demand high for training.

“We have to change from a car engine to a jet engine,” Tai says.

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