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Emerging from the pandemic-induced slump, India’s white-collar job market is buzzing with opportunities as industries find newer applications for technology. But, hiring new people has become a showstopper as the gap between required skillsets and available manpower widens

By: Vidya S.
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If you’re looking to change jobs, now may be a good time because the Indian white-collar job market has well and truly shed its Covid-19 blues to turn red hot. In April 2022, job portal Naukri.com’s JobSpeak Index grew 38 per cent year-on-year to 2,863, hovering around a lifetime high. A revival to the pre-pandemic levels also seems well within reach. In the same month, competitor Monster.com recorded the highest level of engagement and job activity on its portal seen during the two pandemic years with its Employment Index hitting 295. It was 296 in March 2020.

The frenetic pace of digital transformation across organisations after the first wave of Covid-19 and the ensuing rush for IT talent in the country drove most of this hiring demand. The IT/tech sector saw 74 per cent hiring growth on Naukri.com during September 2021-February 2022 compared to the year-ago period. “Digital skills are the hottest and demand far outstrips supply. This is one area where there is a gap, despite efforts to upskill and reskill,” says Richard Lobo, Executive Vice President and Head of HR at Infosys.

It also brought to the fore a macro trend that IT/tech has gone from being a separate vertical to horizontal across industries. For instance, HDFC Bank found customers willing to accept a digital meeting versus a physical one to discuss financial products. “That puts demand back on the organisation for tech talent, cloud engineering, business applications developers and people who can manage hardware, software and the whole nine yards around it,” says CHRO Vinay Razdan.

Project management, product managers, digital marketing, data analysts, data scientists, blockchain specialists, UX designers, cybersecurity engineers, cloud developers, DevOp engineers are going to be in demand.

Manish Sabharwal
Co-founder & Vice Chairman
The TeamLease Services

Meanwhile, as the pandemic waned, retail, travel & hospitality and education & teaching rebounded impressively to become the next three sectors to have registered the highest hiring growth on Naukri.com during the six-month period, with BFSI rounding off the list at the fifth spot (see chart ‘The Race to Hire’).

Looking ahead, digital recruitment platform Taggd’s ‘Decoding Jobs Sectoral Report’ pegs internet businesses, IT/tech, automotive, BFSI and pharma & healthcare as sectors showing the highest hiring intent in 2022. “Compared to last year, there is certainly a hiring boom in April-June. We are seeing increased hiring everywhere, with IT/tech at the top with 70-80 per cent rise. But there is going to be a normalisation,” says Taggd President and Founding Member Devashish Sharma. He expects it to slow down to a 50-60 per cent increase in Q2, and a further 20-25 per cent dip in October-March 2023 because a lot of players across industries will be deploying the people they have already hired.

Sanjay Shetty, Director of Professional Search & Selection and Strategic Accounts at recruitment firm Randstad India, picks automobiles as a sector to watch out for. “[Automotive] companies are revamping their entire production chains and you need people with that kind of background and experience such as GIS mapping skills,” he says. Tata Motors President & CHRO Ravindra Kumar G.P. adds that the sector is also scouting for designers. “From the vehicle itself to the interiors to the interface of touchscreens which are coming into cars, it’s a great opportunity for designers to get into the automobile world today.”

In terms of the roles and skills in demand, TeamLease Services Co-founder & Vice Chairman Manish Sabharwal sees IT, manufacturing, sales roles (telecom, financial, FMCG, FMCD), customer services and logistics as areas for growth over the next year. Agreeing on the demand for sales roles, Shetty adds supply chain management, warehouse management and automation-led need for techno-commercial skills to the list. “Project management, product managers, digital marketing, data analysts, data scientists, blockchain specialists, UX designers, cybersecurity engineers, cloud developers, DevOp engineers are going to be in demand.”

Ramped up hiring across sectors means professional services like consulting and accounting are in great demand, says Shetty. “Fund accounting and investment management firms are outsourcing work and setting up their captives here because India is proving to be a safe destination politically and economically.”

There is good news on the salary front, too. India Inc.’s average hike bounced back from 6.1 per cent in 2020 to the pre-pandemic level of 9.3 per cent in 2021, as per rewards firm Aon India’s latest Annual Salary Increase Survey. Employers are expected to hand out an average hike of 9.9 per cent in 2022. But the exorbitant joining hikes seen last year amid the raging talent war is a bubble waiting to burst. “In the last two months, some sanity has come into the tech talent market. Six months back, it was absolutely crazy—unreasonable demands, potential candidates’ opportunistic behaviour... accepting offers and then dropping out,” says HDFC Bank’s Razdan. 

Taggd’s Sharma concurs that compensation is all over the place. “As demand-supply normalises and investments into freshers materialise, we will see people get paid as much as they deserve and not more.” Sabharwal, too, sees inflation confusing companies’ salary calculations. Hot as the job market may be, he says, high salaries are a result of inefficiencies in urbanisation, formalisation, financialisation and industrialisation. “We still have 240 million Indians working on the farms. The number should have been 50-75 million at this stage of our development.”

To be fair, the bounce-back is being witnessed in white-collar jobs, while a majority of the 12 million people entering the workforce every year go into the informal sector. The larger economy, too, is in the midst of an unemployment crisis, with CMIE data showing the unemployment rate fluctuating between 7-8 per cent over the past few months.

However, for white-collar workers who have the requisite skills that specific sectors demand, there won’t be a dearth of jobs. Which are these sectors and what are the jobs and skills expected to be in demand over the next year?

That puts demand back on the organisation for tech talent, cloud engineering, business applications developers and people who can manage hardware, software and the whole nine yards around it.

Vinay Razdan
CHRO
HDFC Bank


INTERNET BUSINESSES 

It would be an understatement to say that Indian start-ups had a blockbuster 2021. Sitting on mounds of cash and eyeing aggressive growth targets, they went on a hiring spree. The war for tech talent playing out simultaneously further fuelled the demand and salaries of those in the internet businesses. Naturally, the sector was poised for one of the biggest jumps in hiring intent in 2022.

But the euphoria of 2021 has since subsided. The lacklustre IPO listing of some start-ups and a ‘funding winter’ led to massive layoffs in the past few months. On one hand, start-ups are letting people go. On the other, a lot of people are setting up new companies and start-ups, and expanding projects, says Randstad’s Shetty, calling it a “net hiring” situation. Set up in 2021, quick grocery start-up Zepto  plans to add 500-700 people to its 1,200-member team this year. “The roles which remain to be closed in the coming months are technology—product, engineering and data; city operations and corporate functions such as finance and HR,” says its CHRO Roma Bindroo. Taggd’s Sharma insists a majority of start-ups are doing well and are keen on hiring more in Q2. They have subdued hiring for support roles like sales and customer care, while they continue to retain and hire tech talent, he adds.


IT/TECH

It is now common to hear how the pandemic played the chief technology officer to companies across the board, accelerating their digitalisation pace by several years. And the biggest beneficiary in India was the IT/ITeS industry, which boasts a 4.5-million-strong workforce and accounts for $133.7 billion in exports. But caught off guard, especially coming out of the first wave of the pandemic with a leaner workforce, the tech companies began facing an unprecedented demand-supply crisis in talent. It also exposed a glaring skill gap in a large majority of the workforce, sparking off a war for skilled talent and steadily driving up attrition over the past year to a record high of 20 per cent-plus at the end of March 2022.

The tech majors, in competition with almost every firm hiring for its in-house tech needs, were forced to re-evaluate their hiring and retention methods. India’s top four IT firms—TCS, Wipro, Infosys and HCL—hired 220,000 freshers in 2021-22 and plan to hire at least 160,000 more in FY23. Understandably, the sector is expected to be one of the biggest hiring drivers even as some of the demand cools off as the freshers hired are deployed in projects.

Infosys’s Lobo says Java and combinations, cloud skills and analytics are in high demand along with user experience and the interface between current and future technologies. Felix Weitzman, Cognizant’s Senior Vice President and Chief HR Operations Officer, adds that the most job opportunities are in roles with Java, data management, .NET, functional testing, and web development. The firm has hired more than 40,000 people in the past year, with a bulk of them in India and North America. The skill gaps are also in similar areas of Java, .NET, CRM and ERP, which are sought after across all geographies. “Cloud skills such as Azure and AWS have similar demand, and candidates with solid cloud experience are sought after,” he says.

Infosys, Lobo says, sees a greater need for technical experts and people knowledgeable in behavioural sciences and design with deep tech getting integrated into everyday applications. “As AI, nanotechnology, quantum computing, and synthetic biology develop further, we can expect a convergence in these skills as people get together diverse teams to innovate on complex problems like climate change technologies, genetic engineering, autonomous transportation, and so on.” Towards this, the Bengaluru-based firm has started hiring people with diverse backgrounds—liberal arts, experience design and cognitive sciences, among others.


AUTOMOTIVE

The push for electric mobility and connected vehicles along with emerging use cases of technology, electrics & electronics as well as design is transforming the country’s automotive industry into one rife with opportunities.

“A full-fledged self-driving car may take a few years to come to India. So, we have adapted the global concept of ACES (autonomous, connected, electric and shared vehicles) to our market. We call it CESS (connected, electric, shared and safe vehicles),” says Kumar of Tata Motors, which is focussing on both connected vehicles within ICE, as well as EVs. To strengthen the safety performance of commercial vehicles, ADAS (advanced driver-assistance systems) becomes crucial, he adds. It is a set of safety-enhancing technologies for automatic braking, lane change warnings, collision prevention and adaptive cruise control which are powered by AI and ML.

To be fair, the bounce-back is being witnessed in white-collar jobs, while a majority of the 12 million people entering the workforce every year go into the informal sector. The larger economy, too, is in the midst of an unemployment crisis, with CMIE data showing the unemployment rate fluctuating between 7-8 per cent over the past few months.

“A majority of the hiring for technical functions would be in the areas of AI, ML, telematics and EVs. So, it will primarily be vehicle engineering functions, telematics engineers, supply chain and logistics analysts and experts,” says Yeshwinder Patial, Director of HR at MG Motor India. The carmaker has planned 600-700 additions across white- and blue-collar roles to its 2,000-strong workforce by the end of this year.


Yeshwinder Patial,
Director,
HR, MG Motor India

“Additional reinforcements are also required for sales managers as we sell more and also in the after-sales team of service engineers,” he says, adding that there is definite shortage of these skills. Kumar adds to the list auto electric and electronics, ADAS, battery & battery management systems, automation in manufacturing especially because of EVs, and embedded software as skills in high demand which are not readily available. Some amount of hiring can be done from adjacent industries, especially for telematics and connectivity, but the Tata group company is investing in its existing workforce. “Skill reorientation of the workforce from mechanical into electrical—that’s where our efforts are underway.”

From the vehicle itself to the interiors to the interface of touchscreens which are coming into cars, it’s a great opportunity for designers to get into the automobile world today.

Ravindra Kumar G.P
CHRO and President
Tata Motors

BFSI

As the Indian economy continues to grow rapidly, banking operations are not just on the rise but also undergoing rapid changes brought on by the digitalisation revolution. The space is also more multi-faceted than ever with retail banks, investment banks, fintech, insurance tech platforms, microfinance institutions and others, with fintech emerging as the brightest spot for hiring, according to experts.

Razorpay, for example, plans to add 700 people to its 2,200-strong workforce by March 2023. Chitbhanu Nagri, its Senior Vice President for People Operations, says high on their hiring radar are four functions—engineering, product management, sales and marketing. Specific roles include front-end and back-end engineers with data sciences and data engineering, DevOps, brand marketing, performance marketing, communications and content experts. “We have 8-10 million merchants on our platform. We’re building for scale and how intuitive our product is for users is important,” he says about hiring for product and design skills. But niche roles are evolving around core domains such as people who understand banking and regulators like the RBI and NPCI, and those with underwriting capabilities. “Tighter governance around merchant onboarding means risk management professionals become important.”

A good grasp of financials is crucial for HDFC Bank employees, too, even in roles like that of a relationship manager, which forms the basic block of a relationship-oriented industry like banking. “They should be able to appraise the books and do some basic credit evaluation of the businesses... That’s not easily available in bigger or smaller towns,” says CHRO Razdan, adding that the MSME segment is a key growth area as the bank expands its branch footprint into the hinterlands. As a result, the bank, which opened 1,000 new branches last year, is seeing the need for back-end expansion. “We need more people in operations, credit side, finance and HR. I have had to ramp up my own team over the last 12 months because of the hiring demand.” Along with MSME relationships, proficiencies in cybersecurity, credit and risk assessment and treasury dealers are highly specialised areas where it is hard to replace talent and that’s where the skill gaps are, he adds.

On the other hand, Nagri says Razorpay has declined more candidates owing to cultural fitment challenges than skillset challenges. Given the rigour that goes into technical assessment, there aren’t many skill gaps, “A lot of softer skills, interpersonal skills, collaboration, empathy towards each other are things we need to reinforce.”


PHARMA & HEALTHCARE

The pandemic put the spotlight on this sector in India, which is known as the pharmacy of the world. With the virus lingering on in the form of milder waves, the pharma and healthcare sector plans to hire 20 per cent more in 2022 than it did in the previous year, according to Taggd’s Decoding Jobs Sectoral Report 2022.

Bharat Serums and Vaccines, a home-grown vaccine maker focussed on women’s health, says a bulk of its hiring usually happens in the sales function. “We need solid science orientation when it comes to the sales force. That is where we invest a lot in our training and development to build product and selling skills in addition to communication skills. We also struggle to find biotech talent, especially on the innovation side,” says CHRO Nilesh Kulkarni. Margin pressure on US pharma firms is having a cascading effect on the Indian pharma sector. “They [US firms] want one person to do two jobs… and eventually a lot lesser hiring is happening in Q1 [in India], than it could have been,” Taggd’s Sharma says, adding that a couple of big firms have given Taggd large Q2 hiring mandates.

The pandemic has also expanded opportunities for hospitals into digital consultations and home healthcare and rehabilitation centres that require specialised manpower, beyond doctors and nurses. “In cities with a sizeable younger population and IT crowd, they don’t want to go to hospitals. So, hospitals must have good digital consultation mechanisms right from booking appointments to making payments and connecting to the doctor. We need the best systems to carry on digital consultations. Otherwise, one will be left behind,” says Fortis Healthcare’s CHRO Ranjan Pandey. He is also confident of the hiring demand sustaining because people are more health conscious these days.


LOOKING AHEAD

What’s in store beyond a year for white-collar jobs? Hard to tell, say experts, especially because of the threat of the US going into a recession, the continuing war between Russia and Ukraine, and a venture funding winter in India. Nevertheless, they see the wage premium in every sector moving towards soft skills. “We look for diverse candidates who demonstrate a growth mindset, work ethic and inclusiveness, strong communication and problem-solving skills, as well as high learning agility,” says Cognizant’s Weitzman. As career spans increase and technology plays a starring role, continuous learning and digital literacy are becoming crucial, say experts. TeamLease’s Sabharwal puts it best. “Machines will never be able to compete with humans at being human… So, learning how to learn is more important than knowledge.” That’s a lesson one must learn.

Credits
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Story: Vidya S.
Producers: Arnav Das Sharma
Creative Producers: Raj Verma, Nilanjan Das
Videos: Mohsin Shaikh
UI Developers: Pankaj Negi