Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Young India: Developing, Engaging and Retaining Gen Y Talent

How the transition will need to be managed both, by the country and organizations, in order to be able to maximize the opportunities and benefits of this enviable demographic that we have in India

Published: Mar 4, 2013 06:28:03 AM IST
Updated: Feb 19, 2013 03:36:51 PM IST

India’s large Gen Y cohort is young and eager to learn and advance. Managing this workforce through robust talent identification and development plans will be the only way that organizations will reap the benefits of the dividend promised by Young India. Managers will learn what they and their organizations must do to help this cohort realize its potential.

With 65 percent of its population under the age of 35, India today boasts one of the largest available workforces in the world. This is a telling and powerful demographic truth. Even more powerful is the fact that a large segment of this demographic belongs to the Gen Y cohort, those either just entering the workforce or who have been working for one or two years. How this cohort makes the transition into the workforce – either from school or otherwise, and how organizations develop and engage them to move up and become business leaders are extremely important questions for Indian organizations today.

In this article I will describe how the transition will need to be managed both, by the country and organizations, in order to be able to maximize the opportunities and benefits of this enviable demographic that we have in India.

The demographic dividend

India today is no longer the world’s back-office. The TeamLease Indian Labor Report of 2009 estimated that 300 million people will enter the labor force by 2025, and that by then, 25 percent of the world’s skilled workers will be Indians. This pool of young, customer-facing/sales-generating employees is going to drive and impact the country and organizations’ strategy in years to come.

Gaps in education, skill and vocational training is one of the largest our country faces. The National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) is already grappling with the challenge of providing training and re-training for 500 million people by 2022. The goals for meeting the challenge include fundamental education reform across primary, secondary and higher education, and significant enhancement of supplementary skills development. While the government is faced with the need for faster, quicker and better solutions for education, they are finding it difficult to keep pace with the solutions that are emerging. Hence, where do organizations such as McDonald’s fit in?

The fact is that it is no longer enough for organizations to provide on-the-job training. Rather, it is important to go into those regions where people haven’t had a chance to learn and build skills, and to enable them to earn livelihoods through basic vocational skill training. A number of NGO’s/NPO’s like the Dr.Reddy’s Foundation (DRF) and the Kotak foundation are providing these opportunities.

Providing people with work skills enables them to earn livelihoods across the country. Large retail organizations like Reliance and Shoppers Stop, as well as smaller players, are supporting these initiatives by providing employment to people who otherwise would have been lost or left out. Thus, employability in the country is improved.

Understanding what makes the young tick – Engaging Gen Y

The 49-year-old, Gurgaon-based CEO of a software product company, was in for a rude shock some months ago when one of his young employees peeped into his spacious office with a beaming smile and said: “Hey, your office is goddamn big… What fun, man!”

Learning how to attract, retain and capture the full value of this new workforce will become imperative for an organization’s success. Moving from a traditional patriarchal society will probably be the toughest part of the transition for our country. From the joint families of the 1920’s, where the head of the family managed finances and also made key decisions for the extended family, India has moved to post-independence era of unprecedented political and cultural freedom.

In order to understand the changes it is important to realize that for generations Indian culture and society were shaped by large extended families living in the same geographical areas. These families worked with each other and supported each other by way of child-care and an earlier form of social networking. In a lot of cases, these families had not moved beyond their hometowns.

Nuclear and sometimes independent living in large cities, the introduction of new media, and seamless communication through technology are just a few of the forces that characterize the new, younger generation. Yet if we are to unleash the actual power of India, this younger, modern generation and the older, traditional one will have to learn how to co-exist.

Generation gaps have taken on a whole new meaning as we have baby boomers, Gen X and Gen Y in the same workplace. Communication, coordination to achieve goals, and productivity are the three main things that will be impacted by this generation gap, and which will, in turn, impact an organization’s performance. With more than 50 percent of the GDP being fed by the services industry and an under-30 age group, Gen X and the boomers will have to understand what makes the Gen Y’s click.

Organizational policies and learning interventions will have to answer two major questions:

Where is my career going? Clearly, transparency is key. More and more, legacy and tenure are being replaced by clear performance metrics. Most companies are developing processes that start the youngsters on career pathing much earlier and provide them with appropriate resources to fill multiple roles across the organization in their first 10 years. A great example of this is TAS (Tata Administrative services), which places people across group companies in various sectors. People emerging from the TAS programs are the next-generation leaders for the organization.

As revealed in a study conducted in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkatta and Chennai, “Gen Y wants to know how they could move to the C-Suite – they are not demanding that they should be there right away.”

Gen Y is willing to work hard and long, but the workplace must be fun. Work-life balance for them is not only about going home and managing family time. It is also about life balance at the work place. Having forums that allow various sections of the organization to come together regularly, not to discuss work but to get to know people outside of their job and make friends, and being able to infuse fun to foster innovation at the workplace are important. One example is a large online travel portal – one of the top 25 Great Places to work in 2012 according to a recent survey. It has in-house ‘Hackathons’ wherein a bunch of people get together and hack code all night — a 24-hour event that the co-founder and COO fondly dubs “pajama party.” A lot of innovations emerge as a result of these Hackathons, which encourage not only the launching of products for customers but live products that can be shared with user groups.

Flexibility is the buzzword, and learning agility is one of the hallmarks of the emerging workforce. Their need to feed their constant skills is almost as visceral as their need to work. For this they demand flexibility and opportunity. Organizations like McDonald’s promote the “Learn and Earn” concept. Continuous learning through various graduate and undergraduate programs is fostered through a series of special programs like the organization’s management diploma, developed in conjunction with multiple colleges like Welingkar’s and Symbiosis.

While in most cases people would have to attend college full time and quit their jobs, McDonald’s offers them the opportunity to study while supporting them on both the design of their program and the number of days needed to attend college. All 100 days across the two-year course are paid days off for the employee over and above their allotted days off under their benefit plans.

Large companies, like an American multinational bank in India, offer its young employees opportunities through workplace flexibility solutions like Blue work – an initiative to optimize the workspace experience. Employees can work at different locations, and have flexible schedules and reduced working hours.

Harnessing the latent power: Managing raw talent
Though they may have the required exposure and education, today’s young leaders lack experience. Such experience has to be provided through high-impact projects that allow them to showcase their abilities. The only way to do this is to provide an environment where young talent is identified through early-identification assessment tools, which match opportunities with their strengths and provide them with the projects that will test their skills.

Providing such an environment and these opportunities are the critical contributions that GenXers and baby boomers will have to make. Senior managers will have to change their roles from prescriptive to participative. Yes, they bring experience to the table, but the measure of their success will be how well that manager is able to transfer the benefits of that experience to a Gen Y.

Rather than waiting to see if Gen Y’s do in fact develop the right competencies, forward-thinking organizations like information technology companies and quick-service restaurant chains like McDonald’s are identifying young, potential leaders in the first five years of their working life. They are doing so by using tools like Hogan and Workplace Inventories to ensure that they are catching important attributes as the young people are developing them and harnessing their strengths.

According to A.T. Kearney, India ranks second in the world in terms of an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment. One key factor encouraging this trend is the size of the domestic markets. To staff their operations, retailers will hire millions for front- and back-office functions. Managing this workforce through robust talent identification and development plans will be the only way that organizations will reap the benefits of the dividend promised by Young India.

Based on my observations above, Young India is the destination of choice for many organizations. And once here, organizations will greatly increase their chance for success by taking the following steps:

  1. Working with the government to reach the semi-rural and rural youth and enhance their employability.
  2. Creating an engaged workforce through practices like the use of social media and informal forums at the office, and giving workers the opportunity to continue to hone their skills through “Earn and Learn” programs.
  3. Ensure that there is a clear talent-management process to harness the power of the youth.

This success can only be real if the People Strategy is a key Business Strategy and a big part of the leadership team’s agenda. This is the team that will have to drive the agenda and break across old-world, Indian silos created by hierarchy, age and education.

Today’s Indian workforce is in a perfect place: It has the right mix of all ages. Combining the experience and discipline of the GenXers with the maverick and youthful approach of the next generations will help Young India power the country to the top.

Reprint from Ivey Business Journal

Reprint from Ivey Business Journal
[© Reprinted and used by permission of the Ivey Business School]