Sramana Mitra: In your estimate, how big is the workforce in India in these tier two and tier three cities? How many jobs do you think are being supported in this mode?
Gopinathan Padmanabhan: I don’t have a number. If you asked me to venture a guess, I would say roughly 5% to 10% of the total IT workforce because BPO does employ a huge number of people.
SM: That’s significant.
GP: It’s significant, but as I said, BPO employs a large number of people.
SM: The current IT-enabled BPO workforce, what is your current estimate of the size?
GP: I don’t have a number for that, unfortunately.
SM: Maybe four years ago, the number was four million. I presume that it has gone up.
GP: It has gone up significantly.
SM: Even if it’s a workforce of five million, a tenth of that is 500,000. That’s a pretty sizeable workforce developing in the tier two and tier three cities. That’s pretty good.
GP: That’s a little high. It’s a little closer to 5% right now.
SM: OK. Would you venture to take a guess on the rural BPO number?
GP: It’s too small. The number may be in hundreds, maybe touching 1,000 total. It’s an insignificant number.
SM: So, there is lots of room to grow.
GP: There is room, but then also, it would mean the development of infrastructure. People always tend to migrate from the rural areas to the towns and from the towns to the cities, seeking growth, job levels, compensation and so on. While there is definitely head room because they’re just scratching the surface here, it’s also got its limitations – the types of people, skills available, what level of work they can do, and so on.
SM: Are there any efforts from the government to provide incentives to do this kind of development?
GP: I don’t know of any government incentives. There’s a lot of private institutions and NGOs trying to do it. Some of the large companies, as a part of their CSR initiatives, are trying to develop this.
SM: The real trend is the tier two and tier three city development, not so much rural development.
GP: Absolutely, that is the biggest trend. Rural is just scratching the surface.
SM: I’m sure you have to deal with tremendous training issue. This represents a massive workforce training effort you have to manage. Would you talk about some of the training strategies you follow? How do you see training evolving, and where are the opportunities for entrepreneurship? Training and education are big opportunities for India from an entrepreneurship point of view.
GP: Starting from the time we hire those fresh out of college, one thing we realize is that our education system does not get them ready for the job market immediately. They still need to be polished. We need to put them through a brief finishing school. We don’t hire only computer science or IT graduates, we also hire graduates in mechanical and electrical engineering, communications, civil engineering, and so on. They need to be taught the basics of programming and IT and software and all that.
Typically, what all the companies do, including ours, is have their own campuses. We hire these people, take them to the campuses, and put them through boot camps for about three months. We teach them complete programming, C++, Java, Microsoft technologies, databases, testing, application management, and so on.
SM: How much can you learn in three months?
GP: These are graduate engineers who already have engineering degrees. Many of them are computer science graduates, and most of them have the basics of programming. They all learn at least one language, C++ or something. It’s a rigorous program, and they have to pass tests in order to qualify. Then we give them sample projects.
SM: At any given time, how many new hires go through your boot camp?
GP: In our case, the numbers are not too high. Unlike some other Indian IT companies that primarily rely on this model for thousands and thousands of people, we still believe that you cannot deliver the kind of work that you want to deliver by using only freshly trained [new hires]. A fair amount of recruitment happens in hiring experienced people, too. But [when we hire fresh graduates] will vary depending on the time of the year because we wait for their curriculum year to be over. That happens in May and June. From June until December, we’ll train about two or three batches. At any point in time, there may be anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 people. We also provide them with hostel accommodations.