Saturday, November 26, 2016

What comes first - Jobs or Trained Youth!

There are many issues pervading the youth and organizations in this century that make the skilling and employment process difficult and confusing.

Trained Youth
When I speak with students, they are filled with anxiety on what they will be able to do after college.  How much will the college education really help.  Will it help them figure out what they want to do?

They have very little clue of what it means to work.  Questions are ranging from what does one do in an office the whole day ... to will I be able to refer to the books I studied for solving problems at work ... to what if I dont like what the work is.

There are quite a few who are on a different tangent.  They are more sure of what they want to do like "I want to be a hacker", or "I want to help suffering people".  But they struggle with responses when one asks how are they planning to go about it, what is the real difference they are looking art creating, why will someone want to hire them.

Employers Dilemma
Then on the employment side, most of the employers including the bulk employers in IT/ITES, find it hard to articulate what they are looking for other than confident, communicative, and willing to work hard.  However, they do seem to know who to hire and who not to hire since they do scan resumes, give them psychometric tests and hire post interviewing the shortlisted people.  And when in spite of this the people dont stick long enough or be productive enough, it leaves us unsure of what is going wrong.

Unfortunately, this process is not a clear input for students or the training organizations on what skills should the students really come with.

Sector Skills Councils - Intermediaries?
Then there are these sector skill councils that are supposed to be an extension of the Industry on certifying readiness for defined job-roles. The Sector skills councils are not really accepted by the organizations as any definitive authority for hiring eligible candidates. What I mean here is that the organizations continue to run their own internal procedure for hiring and not rely on this certification based on the defined "Qualification Pack" for role definition with supposedly trustable third-party assessment.  The question "what's the point of these Sector Skills Councils" is clearly avoided by all and sundry.

Overall Disconnect
Since the gap itself is not very clear, very few training organizations are able to train the students to be truly ready for an entry level job.  This leads to the continued frustration for training organizations on the Industry not giving any extra benefit to trained candidates.  The students themselves are not valuing the training since people get those jobs anyway. And of course the employers are moving on skeptically with all training providers and trained youth.  And on top of it government with its increasing cynicism only imposes more and stricter quality monitoring methods for the monies spent on training the youth.

What could resolve the situation
There is no clear or tested solution as the problem is complex and spread out intricately interwoven in society.

Some things I have tried in my own way and with my colleagues in the past organization and the present one:

1. We identified the lack of motivation to take up the jobs offered to poor education quality leading to lack of Self-esteem and lack of hope amongst the youth.  Visible in lack of motivation and efforts in getting skilled and also making efforts at the job.
With this understanding, we have worked re-energizing by connecting the youth with their dreams and at the same time share with them the stories of people who rose from poor/difficult circumstances into living their dreams.  With a consistent view day after day, we started breaking through the walls and have seen a remarkable change in the youth on their taking full responsibility for their life and growth.

2. The other big gap that seems to be the main show stopper from the employer perspective is confidence and communication skill demonstrated by the youth.
We realized, as have many other dedicated trainers, that this can be overcome with regular opportunity to practice, appreciation of the the effort, and their ability to see them succeed in increasingly difficult tasks.

3. Another big deal has been inability to stick to a job.  More importantly for the students, it is the not being able to connect what they learned or were told in training with what they actually have to do.  It is no longer glamorous, they are not the center-piece of attention at the work place and on top of it they have to do things which they considered below their 'dignity' or 'low skilled work'.
We have worked at bridging this gap by turning the projects and problems they solve while in training to be similar to work place situations.  They end up doing a lot of those things that they would do in a real workplace like coordinating with people, documenting work data, and even cleaning up their workplace regularly.

All of this to be scalable and sustainable requires us to:
1. Train trainers to be able to drive this with passion - a slow and very involved process and notjust a TOT!
2. Method of watching and guiding each group or class as each one brings some unique element of the challenge to it.  Building appreciation, persistence and deep engagement at all times.
3. Staying connected with real workplaces to get the live projects and context to the training.  Am not sure if the virtual reality experiences will every be ready and real enough.

The most important thing that we need to constantly remind ourselves and fight within us is the cyncism towards the rustic and seemingly arrogant youth.  As Dr Daisaku Ikeda says in his book, Soka Education, "I believe we must wake up to the fact that cynicism and indifference erode society at its roots and are potentially more dangerous than any individual act of evil ... because these attitudes reveal a decisive lack of passionate engagement with life, an isolation and withdrawal from reality."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Eliminating Corruption?

We all believe and strongly agree that corruption is a negative function that we would like to eliminate from the World.  The passion and intent of people was strongly visible with the Anna Hazare event a few years back - millions expressed solidarity physically as well as virtually.

Here, I am referring to corruption as deliberate fraud or stealing by the people who are part of an enterprise or a system as compared to thieves and bandits from outside the system who take by force.  And also, only financial corruption as compared to other forms of corruption - moral et al.

Unfortunately, corruption has been in existence since the humans came into being - cant be wished away and is part of the basic human nature.  Governance and laws cannot be a full or permanent deterrence really.  Harping on laws and legal bodies as the sole method of tackling the corruption is a waste of time.

We are aware that corruption can hurt more than any theft in any organization (Lockheed, Enron, Satyam as some of the many real world examples).

A few years back I had attended a session by Nigel Iyer (Septia Group), a UK-based CA and passionate consultant and expert who has over 20 years to understanding corruption as well as advising corporations on how to address fraud and corruption.

He made a few critical points:
1. Corruption can be separated out into three tiers - bottom tier (fudging travel claims), middle tier (typical sales orgn - bribery) and top tier (special relationships, kickbacks, modifying operating approach - like top bosses continuing to get bonuses in spite of poor business performance).
2. Corruption should be looked at from the perspective of opportunity (who holds the power/control) and motivation (who wants to).  Focusing on the top and middle tier is more impactful and less time consuming.  The focus on the lowest tier creates more and more work with mostly a feeling of control.
3. Addressing corruption is not a one time activity and can never be taken out of any group or company.  It can only be controlled and requires appropriate systems and constant efforts.

In my experience, operating with trust is critical, but not without systems and methods to address the potential for any one with the opportunity to take more than their due.  Over the years, I have also realized that trusting people can be taken by staff as laziness in process/financial diligence - and hence open to being taken for a ride. The challenge is in balancing trust with appropriate systems based deterrence to being taken for a ride.

I believe in automating the lowest level expense and claims systems and at the same time have an independent (read non-influenced) personae approving the highest level expense/spending.  For example:
1. Student fee collection through mobile money transfers
2. Geo-tagged mobile app for expense logging and reporting
3. Senior level expenses audited

Good Education, Leading by Example and self-correcting Systems are more relevant and long-lasting in the fight against corruption than deterrence by law and punishment.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Successfully managing large and multi-location teams

In the last thirty years I have had the good fortune to work with inter-related teams across continents and multiple cities.  Teams that are seemingly independent but depend on each other to deliver on large projects or just complex projects.  In fact their individual success is determined by their ability to work together.

Specifically, the kind of projects that I got exposed to are:
1. Consulting, Sales, and Setup of Mini Core-sector projects
2. Custom Training Development and Delivery - Product OEM and Bespoke eLearning
3. Product and Services development and distribution across own and franchise network
4. Field Services Operations with hubs and independent professionals relying purely on telecom and internet

Most of these teams had multiple skill types and roles - for example, auditing, surveying, field research, development, design, market research, training needs analysis, business development and sales, project management and consulting. 

In addition to dependent teams like links in a chain, the teams had a flavor of fully independent teams - who were more like partners (franchise, sub-contractors), ones that were independent Business Units but interacting with the other groups and needed support on prioritizing and quality management.

As all people who have worked with spread out teams would know that there are immense challenges, without any exceptions, in working, managing, and getting the such teams to deliver timely quality outcomes.

I cannot claim that I was successful all the times - mostly it was make do and get things moving. However, when I look back at the whole range of experiences the following are top three areas critical to success:

1. Rhythm of review and communication - each team has to have a daily connect - for multiple time zones better to have at least 2 times connect in a day.  Elements of understanding change dynamically and anything more than a day will lead to possibly that much minimum delay in case not addressed.  In one of my large projects, this was insisted upon by the customer project manager, and at that time, it seemed like a pain and much time in going in communicating two times a day.  But as the project progressed and became complex with multiple issues - we realized that this was the key for each of us to move forward.  It brought out both good and bad news upfront and helped resolve issues amicably.

2. Appreciation versus criticism - we have to believe that everyone is working.  Cannot make assumptions that the others are not working.  I have found distrust a slow and sure death of projects.  Yes, they are not thinking like us and sometimes one team's understanding and efficiency will be better than others in the similar work - we should not use that to beat up the under-performing team rather - keenly watch how they are struggling and appreciate every effort.  Jim Collins in his "Good to Great" says get the unaligned/in appropriately skilled people off the bus.  My view is that this aspect should be exercised very carefully and not freely - else we are always in the mode of getting people off and on-board and not really getting anywhere.  Appreciation works much better given that point 1 is executed well.

3.  Clear Common Goals: With only outcomes or expectations for each team in the chain, I found a lot of "throwing over the wall" work.  It is near impossible and more importantly unproductive to keep defining and refining the intermediate outcome requirements as a means of judging the work of a team.  Each of the teams have to figure out among themselves how each of them best contribute to the final product.  Best for all of them to be aligned to the final goal.  This takes communication effort and time to evolve but is definitive and long-lasting.

Of course there are many more aspects that need to be worked upon and agreed, however, I feel they are specific to the different compositions and are usually addressed matter of course anyway - like technical specs, timelines, individual roles and responsibilities, political and administrative hierarchy etc.

With the way the organizations are evolving, the distributed way of working is the only way of working and one needs to accept that fact rather quickly for success.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Digital India ... India in the next 5-10 years

A couple of weeks back I attended the Digital India Summit organized by Times Now along with MAIT and Nasscom Foundation.

The highpoint of the conference, in my view, was the first panel that discussed the Digital focus and direction for India in the coming decade.

IT and Telecom Minister Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad eagerly participated amongst the IT and Telecom Industry leaders.

The minister's vision of a digitally enabled India was simple yet far reaching and very profound indeed.  He said that for him a digitally enabled India would have arrived when a "Dalit woman in a remote village is able to earn a livelihood providing services from a digital device - possibly a mobile."

If you reflect on the statement and its true intent one will see the magnitude of change that we as a country need to work on to get even close.  There are many aspects to get to that state and all of it not just digital change.  Access (bandwidth/spectrum) and reach (mobile handset) is probably the smallest albeit necessary element of making such a vision happen.

Before I share my perspective on what I believe are critical aspects to bring such a vision to fruition - let me also share some key observations by the panelists (always debatable points but nevertheless points to consider):

1. Software automation is making BPO jobs redundant and in the next 3-5 years the BPO jobs will drop instead software development jobs, coding for mobile apps and similar kind of jobs will increase.
2. There are now ways to train novices rapidly on being coding for mobile apps - these should be picked up by training organizations
3. Make in India while boosting economy overall is not about creating jobs as most manufacturing will have NC machines and increasing automation.  Instead the jobs are with e-Commerce companies. A flipkart today already has 10,000 jobs created for the supply and delivery chain.
4. Spectrum is not becoming available fast enough or cheap enough and hence it is imperative to look at developing solutions that can deliver even with low bandwidths - like compression technologies etc.
5. Fibre laying and reaching the interiors of the country is going to take time and lots of monies - it might be better to focus on Satellite internet connectivity that can reach locations at rapid pace and much lower costs.

The observations may be valid though most likely not fit in the time frame in which they are being predicted.  However, one can see that these observations are hardly helping or aligned towards making the Dalit woman having a livelihood with digital devices.

In my view three critical areas need to be worked upon:

1. What are the services that the lady in the village can be offering?  What is it that she brings to the table for the local people as a service?  What would be the services needed in rural India at the household level?
2. Linked with the services above, the training delivery that is combined with an intuitive device and easy learning of a person who is most likely illiterate.  Intuitive here means very different from the current set of interfaces that work only for the young generation and rarely for the oldies.  If one says that we address literacy first then the order of magnitude of the challenge only goes up manifold.
3. I think the Minister chose a Dalit woman as part of his vision because he believes that the cast barriers need to go.  This I feel is a critical element of change that can only be brought about by collective will of the populace and the political leaders of the country.  You might want to consider a news item as follows to see the gravity of the situation here.