How IBM Plans To Tap Into Talent Beyond The Metro Cities?

"Instead of hiring talent from smaller cities and placing them in offices in key metros, we are now taking our offices closer to the talent pools."


Amidst freezing hirings,Thirukkumaran Nagarajan, Vice-President and Head of Human Resources, IBM India/South Asia has strong plans to tap talent beyond metro cities. Let's deep dive into how has he planned to tap for talent into the untapped market.

What is IBM’s hiring strategy for this year in India?

At IBM, we have embarked on an aggressive talent expansion strategy this year targeting double-digit levels of hiring across all our key businesses. We are extending opportunities to skilled professionals across key cities beyond the metros in India for the benefit of our customers.

We have also scaled our university hiring this year and are investing significantly in early professional hires. These hirings is planned across a wide variety of areas, including hybrid multi-cloud platforms, open-source technologies, product design, Java Full Stack, OpenShift, SAP solutions, AI, neural networks, natural language processing, automation, data sciences, cybersecurity, microservices, DevOps and business process services across all levels.

How is IBM planning to tap into the talent in non-metro cities?

We are looking to increase our headcount across business units of the company in double-digits, and talent from non-metros will form a significant portion of the future workforce in the company. Instead of hiring talent from smaller cities and placing them in offices in key metros, we are now taking our offices closer to the talent pools. With expansion of our various business units in Kerala (Kochi), Gujarat (Ahmedabad), Karnataka (Mysuru) and Telangana (Hyderabad), we have also been hiring from leading local academic institutions. We are looking to our new hires to further help accelerate IBM’s hybrid cloud & AI strategy.

How is IBM enabling the professionals who have taken a career break, get back into the workforce?

IBM offers a unique program for talented professionals including women, who took a break from the workforce and are looking to restart their careers. Called Tech Re-Entry Program, it is a paid returnship that offers a unique opportunity to re-build their skills through an array of well-curated learning programs, on-the-job projects, and access to the latest technologies and multi-disciplinary teams. While this program is for professionals who took a career break of at least two years, we have seen professionals who took as long as a 20-year break regain confidence through the program, excel in their new roles, and create real impact. This initiative is also providing opportunities to people whose careers were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the current policy of working from the office, and how many days are the employees called to the office currently?

At IBM, we are intentionally flexible when it comes to work - our teams and their managers decide when it makes sense to come into the office to collaborate and co-create. Our teams have always focused on outcomes, not activities, and this drives how work gets done at IBM.

We do not prescribe that our employees be in the office a certain number of days, and at home a certain number of days. Managers are designing what works best for their teams and client requirements. We trust IBMers and managers to take the right call with respect to how they manage their work from office and home. Our work, however, depends on client requirements as well. For example, IBMers supporting clients for mission critical systems & essential services across industries may have to work from offices.

Now, we see majority of IBMers spending at least two days in the office. When they come to work in the office, they don’t spend the entire day behind their desks but in impactful collaboration and meetings with their colleagues. There is no longer a scenario that anyone must come to the office just to do their routine work.

New age skilling is the need of an hour. What initiatives has been taken by IBM to skill train employees as well as people across the country?

Skills don’t have the same shelf-life they once did. It's important for companies to set a tone for continuous learning to retain top talent. At IBM, continuous learning is a top priority and we are guided by the skills that our clients require across multiple industries, with primary focus on hybrid cloud & AI. We offer an enhanced skilling experience which prioritizes technical content and customized, role-based learning plans. For our employees, IBM is like a university which caters to infinite curiosity for learning & development.

To put it in better perspective, let me give a glimpse into some skilling data for IBM India from last year. Total number of learning hours by IBMers in India was 5.1M (close to 12% increase YoY) thanks to an improved experience that prioritizes technical content and customized, role-based learning plans. Additionally, more than 338K total badges were earned by IBMers in India with 66% under strategic skills.

We also see a significant gap between the demand of technology talent in industry and its supply/availability in the market. In order to grow our business, we want skills, performance development, and careers to be interconnected. As an industry leader, we believe that it is not right to just be a consumer of skills in the country but we feel responsible to create the next generation of highly skilled talent and build on it for the nation. We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in programs across the world, including in India, that help people gain skills for a new era of technology and create an entire workforce of ‘new collar’ employees. Globally, IBM has committed to skill 30 million people by 2030. This includes people of all ages and backgrounds- whether we teach a new skill or we upskill our plan is to work with 170 new academic and industry partners. In India, IBM has partnerships with MSDE, MeitY, CBSE , Skill Development Councils of several Indian states, NPTEL- IIT-Madras and many others through our implementing partners to upskill youth from across the country. Our initiatives in India such as STEM for Girls program, online learning platform SkillsBuild are helping close the skill gaps in emerging technologies.

What is IBM’s view on skills vs degree debate?

We focus on ‘Skills First’ hiring where we prioritize the right mix of in-demand skills over specific degrees when looking for talent to work in technology's fastest-growing areas. We believe that degree does not define success in the IT industry in the long run. It all comes down to the skills that one has, the ability and the propensity for them to learn and the ability to handle transition. For some roles, it is not about their training background, as long as they have the necessary skills to do the job. This is what we call ‘new collar’ employees. In summary, leading with skills will be a key success factor for organizations in the future.

Please give an overview of IBM’s focus on diversity & inclusivity space.

For more than 110 years, IBM has been a catalyst that makes the world work better and we remain dedicated to driving actionable change and outcomes for a more diverse,

equitable, and inclusive society. Through our diversity, equity, and inclusion journey at IBM, our goal is to provide a culture of inclusion and belonging for all IBMers. The purpose is to establish trust among IBMers by creating a more diverse workforce, cultivating a flexible work environment, enabling an inclusive culture, and advocating for equity, both inside and outside IBM. We foster a culture of conscious inclusion and active allyship where every IBMer can make a positive impact on society while bringing their authentic selves to work.

IBM is committed to recruiting and developing employees from all backgrounds and fosters greater inclusion with our Business Resource Groups (BRGs), focused on specific IBMer communities. Apart from country-specific groups, we have three global communities: women; people with diverse abilities (PwDA), including our neurodiverse community; and LGBTQ+. IBM has constantly been ranked among the most inclusive employers in India as well as the world by organizations. We were one of the first companies to include sexual orientation as part of our equal opportunity and non-discrimination in 1984 and subsequently included gender identity and expression. In India, we are proud of our efforts that are enabling us to march towards being equal.

With increasing automation in the workplace, how can HR technology be leveraged to provide better employee experiences?

Technologies like AI, analytics and automation on the cloud have become pervasive across organizations, including the HR function. We are seeing it being leveraged on multiple fronts related to talent such as skilling, matching employees and external candidates with career opportunities, supporting managers with better salary investment guidance, eliminating manual tasks in benefits administration, payroll through robotic process automation, and many others including performance management. It is all about translating multiple structured and unstructured data points regarding the employee and business outcomes into talent insights that enables managers to make better performance decisions. At IBM, we have been experiencing the positive impact of these new-age technologies firsthand as IBM is client zero for its own HR technology & talent transformation solutions. We have been able to leverage technology effectively to enhance our employee experience.

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