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A safe call that is BSNL

The bloated behemoth has shrinking revenues and ritzy private rivals. Yet, it's the first choice for telecom jobs.

twitter-logo Manu Kaushik        Print Edition: February 7, 2010

You receive 3 lakh applications for some 2,500 junior officer positions you've advertised. What do you do? Run for cover or pat yourself on the back that thousands of candidates want to break down your door? If you are in charge of human resources at state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., or BSNL, you do neither, choosing to stay quiescent.

"People want to work with BSNL because we give them a stable job," says Gopal Das, Director (HR), who runs the people function for BSNL's 3 lakh employees. "We also offer compensation that is comparable to private and public sector salaries (at the entry level)." For junior officers, to cite an instance, salaries on a cost-to-company basis are around Rs 4 lakh a year though annual hikes are tiny compared to private firms such as Bharti Airtel, which manages with about one-sixth the staff of BSNL.

There is then the growth opportunity in a business that has been exploding in the last four years. Mrinal Kanti Mandal, a 28-year-old electronics engineer, who joined BSNL in April 2009 from Hero Corporate Service, a financial services, ITES and consulting firm, was quickly spotted by his seniors and given additional responsibility of business planning apart from the existing IT-implementation role.

Mandal today is scoping new businesses for BSNL in its Karnataka circle. Pointing to his experience of working in different domains, he says: "For learning purposes and enriching skills, BSNL is the best place for me." The company has 20 training centres across India, each the size of an engineering college. "For every (pay) scale upgradation, an employee has to undergo mandatory training of two weeks. This is separate from the annual training of 2.5 days per employee," says Das.

There are BSNL-only avenues for employee progression. While filling up vacant executive ranks, for example, the company reserves half the positions for its own non-executive employees. "Several among such employees, who account for 81 per cent of BSNL's workforce, are talented and ambitious," says Neeraj Verma, Deputy Director General (Training).

Still, the company knows it will have to bring in external talent to reverse its shrinking revenues. For some 210 mid-level managers it is likely to hire in near future, BSNL will for the first time, on this scale, make lateral hires from consumer care, durables, retail and IT companies, says Das. It may then have to deal with another deluge of applications.

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