What the United States can learn from Indian R&D (Part 2)



Resumes may not reflect the true aptitude and potential of job seekers. To provide an element of comparison, training and university degrees do not constitute sufficient proof of know-how and competence. So leading Indian companies are now hiring for ability and skill rather than specialist technical knowledge. They provide the training needed to fill skills gaps. Instead of recruiting only from the most reputable engineering colleges/universities, tech companies recruit from second and third tier universities and also hire arts and science graduates. Many companies have negotiated deals with universities to hire in bulk;


Companies in India assume that new recruits will need to be trained virtually from scratch. Thus, they invest a lot of time, money and effort in training. Nor is training relegated to less experienced staff. Even the most senior leaders participate in the training of new employees. Most large companies have built dedicated learning centers, and some employ hundreds of people for staff training. They usually offer one to four months of training around a wide variety of topics. 


The largest companies recommend that employees receive between one and three weeks of training per year in areas where they are weak. Some courses are scheduled in the evenings and on weekends, but most are scheduled during working hours. Many companies adjust salary increases and promotions based on attendance at these trainings. In the engineering services department of Satyam Computer Services, training requirements have increased from 100 to 150 hours per year.

Employees also receive extensive coaching and guidance from senior company executives. The Indian division of Cadence Design Systems has a program called “Leaders as Teachers,” which requires technical leaders to spend one to two weeks per year in training sessions. Every senior manager must participate.


Shortages of talented leaders have necessitated building internal pools of potential managers. Most companies offer extensive management training, both internally and externally through MBA-type programs. Companies like Adobe, Genpact and Satyam have internal policies tending to develop leaders internally. Satyam gives priority to internal candidates for all new openings on management positions.


Most companies have sophisticated systems that frequently track employee feedback and allow them to attribute feedback to their managers. At HCL Technologies, employees can even judge their managers and these evaluations are available online through the intranet. Anyone can see employee reviews of their bosses – including their performance, strategic vision, communication skills, problem-solving skills, and responsiveness.

In all the companies we studied, we found that senior business leaders paid particular attention to the implementation of development initiatives for all of the company’s personnel. This has improved productivity and performance.

Workforce development helps explain, for example, how software companies have been able to increase billing rates and productivity levels and maintain high levels of growth and profitability despite shortages of qualified talent, rising wages, falling exchange rates and many other challenges. Employee development similarly explains how companies in India are able to hire large but largely inexperienced talent while successfully engaging in R&D and other innovation.

The achievements of companies in India show that employee investment, training and empowerment are the primary and crucial means to building and sustaining long-term competitiveness and innovation capabilities in a global knowledge economy. The United States can learn and incorporate these lessons from India to rethink how it trains and develops its workforce to maintain its global competitive advantage. American companies have long played the role of guru. Perhaps the time has come for the guru to learn from a disciple.

Wadhwa is a Fellow at Harvard Law School and Residence Director at Duke University. He is also an entrepreneur and has founded two technology companies.

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