We are our own worst enemies. We created a business process outsourcing (BPO) industry that has been setting global standards in Gurugram over the past 20 years. The recent decision by Haryana’s government to reserve 75% of private-sector jobs that pay up to ₹50,000 per month for only those with state domicile certificates is a regressive call that hits at the core of this world-class industry.
Gurugram in Haryana and Noida in Uttar Pradesh have emerged as global BPO powerhouses. Many of Gurugram’s large buildings house migrant white-collar workers who work and stay there, get married and have children there. These families visit its malls and help the city’s local economy along. When I started working in Gurugram almost 20 years ago, all of its fancy malls and buildings were just green fields. Now, even its urban villages have transformed. We have world-class offices, residences and shopping arcades.
A few years ago, the Haryana government had honoured me for setting up the BPO industry there. In my acceptance speech, I had said that it is really sad that we do not train local people for true BPO jobs. We have not created the local educational capabilities to teach our youth. Unfortunately, locals only get blue-collar jobs such as of drivers and security guards, which require minimal education. In the BPO or information technology-enabled services (ITeS) industry, workers get an average salary of less than ₹50,000 or so. They graduate to higher salaries, but the entry point is below that figure. I had advocated that the government look at creating educational institutions to generate the manpower needed for better-paying jobs. There exists talent, but we need educational and skilling institutions to polish these uncut diamonds, so that the youth is able to realize its potential and Gurugram cements its status as a world-class service provider. That would also lay the foundation for expanding to other cities in Haryana. The ITeS industry cannot cut and polish all the diamonds at its own cost. Companies need to recruit staff based on capabilities and not their state of origin. If we in India cannot meet the global needs of talent, the industry will shift to other countries.
Haryana’s new rule has made it exceedingly difficult for companies to operate. Many have started looking at options outside Gurugram. A real estate broker recently told me that the ITeS industry is in the process of shifting to Noida. We have attracted businesses to India but not provided adequate access to the vast pool of Indian talent. Our objective should be to create such a good workforce that the local person can get a global job on merit.
One does not dispute the need of jobs for local residents. We are with the government and the people on this. But it cannot just be done without thinking about the steps required. Rome was not built in a day. Neither will jobs spring up overnight in Haryana. The state has to create learning institutions and support the kids who go there. This could be through scholarships or free/subsidized education, or by attracting talent to these institutions. Companies must also educate their employees. I have often said that I run a “mini university” within my companies. At one, we used to have around 40 training rooms for 25-50 people each, running three shifts a day to train people to raise their skills to global standards. Government policies can encourage a private-public partnership model, or private industries could be given incentives to create the right learning environment.
The greatness of our country is that we have excellent raw talent. India’s workforce will be world-class if we give people the same training as their international counterparts. But imposing a regulation and assuming it will create a mechanism to meet the desired goal would only hurt the industry and deter other companies from investing in the state. We must look at the overall development of the state’s human resources.
The state’s sector skill council on security, which helps create a trained pool of security guards, is the only one that has succeeded. These, however, are low-paying jobs. What about creating programmers, BPO workers, and talent for fields like data analytics, artificial intelligence, and blockchain? These are the capabilities needed for tomorrow. We need to have a 3-to-5-year plan to nudge school leavers into such training. The IT and ITeS industry is willing to work with the government. Unilateral decisions to create ‘local jobs’ only hurt the industry and have the opposite impact of the policy’s intent.
This impact is already in evidence. Based on my interaction with industry leaders, I can say that many companies’ plans for expansion in Gurugram have been put on back-burners. A lot of office space was given up because of the pandemic, but talks were on for businesses to take up more of it. For Gurugram, talks have largely been shelved. For Noida, they have accelerated.
The government and industry need to work together. With an ‘us and them’ approach, we only stand to lose as a nation (and as a state). As Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” Let’s not talk of regulatory efficiency in Haryana. Rather, let’s re-examine what is needed to create an effective global workforce.
Raman Roy is chairman and managing director of Quatrro, co-founder of IAN and former chairman of Nasscom