September 2006 | Cynthia Rodrigues
Grooming global managers
Tata Consultancy Services' Learning and Development centre prepares new recruits to take on the formidable challenges that lie ahead. A look at the fascinating programme, and how it helps shape young graduates into professionals
A casual observer, strolling in the sprawling 58,000-sq ft campus in Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, would easily mistake it for a modern university complex. Bright young engineers attend seminars and workshops, work on computers in their classrooms, exchange notes with their colleagues in the audio-visual rooms, or listen intently to their lecturers.
The observer ould not be far off the mark, for the state-of-the-art training centre of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), set in an idyllic environment — where students can at times hear the roar of the waves, or even the chirping of the birds — is as good as the best university campus anywhere in the world.
The Learning and Development (L&D) centre was established in 1998 by TCS, a company which invests about four per cent of its annual revenues in training its workforce. It has 18 classrooms, a library, an auditorium, a conference hall, discussion rooms, and about 300 personal computers connected to servers.
The centre has the capacity to train nearly 650 people, and has been a training ground to a very large number of TCS campus recruits since 1998. Whenever there is a larger influx of trainees due to an increased demand, the training is replicated at other locations.
Initial learning programme
Says Dilip Kumar Mohapatra, global head, L&D, "TCS L&D activities are totally competency-based. Since the business is driven by competency, learning, which involves acquiring competency and bridging competency gaps, becomes a prime mover for the company's revenue. Our recruits come from higher learning institutions and we enable them to blossom into potential consultants during this programme."
In the past, ILP was conducted at the company's branches at different locations. While this served the training needs of the new entrants, there was no consistency in the way in which training was imparted. Dr F C Kohli, then deputy chairman, TCS, decided to conduct the training in one place.
K Lalitha Prasad, delivery head, Corporate Learning Centre, says, "Thiruvananthapuram was chosen because of the serenity of the surroundings at Technopark, which ensured there would be few distractions. The learning ambience too was good."
Dr Seenivasagam Neethi, program director of Global ILP, emphasises the importance of this induction training, "Because there is a gap between what academia produces and what is expected from recruits from the professional point of view. We have to create a process orientation, a discipline where they create software from an industry perspective. Also, while each project may require different skills, they need a common minimum programme that will equip them for any kind of project. They also have to know about TCS processes and the TCS work culture."
The ILP has been designed as a programme that can serve primarily engineering recruits, no matter which project they are allocated to in the future. There are plans now to offer further training in about five pre-identified streams with the desired focus on specific competencies.
Different strokes for different folks
New recruits move to Thiruvananthapuram for a period of six weeks, during which they are groomed to shed their 'campus frivolousness' and assume their new roles as professionals and corporate citizens. For the freshers, this is a heady period during which they learn a new language, acquire professional skills and are taught to conduct themselves in different cultural settings.
For instance, the Life Skills segment of the curriculum enables participants to appreciate other cultures and handle survival situations. It includes tips on personal grooming, global business etiquette, table etiquette, oral and written communication and technical writing and presentation skills. Recruits are taught to cultivate interpersonal and team-playing skills in a multicultural environment.
The ILP is quite different from a traditional teaching programme. Lectures, though important, don't dominate the sessions. Role-plays and other mechanisms are used to make them interactive and lively. Communication includes a lot of listening drills and getting used to accents, besides experiences and anecdotes. In addition, the students study German, French or Japanese.
The challenge here lies not only in teaching Indian associates about the culture of other countries, but also in teaching non-Indian associates about the culture of India and other nations. The programme naturally needs to be customised for the audience.
For example, in the US there are differences in the way the curriculum is offered, depending on the location, either on the East or West coast. The programme takes into account the university that the associates have come from and the curriculum they have undergone. Interestingly, the medium of instruction is always English, even in non-English speaking countries. This is because of the trans-national nature of the English language in which the world does its business.
Engineers working on different projects are also invited as visiting faculty. "The idea," says Lalitha Prasad, "is that the best people to teach TCS processes are those who have gone through the training themselves. Between projects, these people are brought to Thiruvananthapuram. They take up courses depending on their strengths and the kind of projects they have worked on. They share their experiences and talk about the technical side of the business."
The permanent faculty take up Life Skills, and also function as mentors to a batch. They deal with all kinds of issues that participants might need help with, including personal ones.
The L&D group in TCS, however, does not consist of ILP alone. It also includes the Continuous Learning Programme (CLP), the Foreign Languages Initiative (FLi), Leadership Development Programmes (LDP) and the Academic Interface Programme. CLP caters to the entire workforce base of TCS. It has mainly two streams, technical and processes related, and domain-specific and functional. The LDP has several modules that are intended for leadership development across three levels and across several verticals.
"As part of their appraisals, associates are supposed to fill up a personal development plan," elaborates Prasad. The information is then consolidated and forms the basis for deciding what sort of courses are to be organised.
Even though the programme has been designed in a standard structure for participants from IT and non-IT backgrounds, the ILP team reviews it periodically. "Our programme managers handle need analysis and propose courses to fill any gaps based on the feedback received," explains Dr Neethi. "Customised programmes for individuals are not possible as the scale of training is a minimum of 10,000 recruits a year." The course content also evolves as the nature of the business changes.
Changes in the offing
The Thiruvananthapuram centre cannot cater to the needs of all the new recruits. The team has, therefore, worked out alternative arrangements in cities like Bhubaneshwar, Coimbatore and Hyderabad.
The ILP group is currently awaiting the completion of Peepul Park, a huge complex of 3.5 lakh square feet adjoining the present centre, which, once ready, will cater to more than 2,000 recruits. The needs of ILP, however, cannot wait.
Since campuses alone cannot fulfil its needs, TCS also sources its people directly from the market. While nearly 10,000 raw recruits are trained by November, the last quarter of the year is reserved for training such direct recruits. Apart from this, experienced professionals are hired to fulfil specific needs. These lateral hires get some TCS orientation but they quickly move into project-specific acclimatisation, sometimes at the project location.
Clarifies Mohapatra, "We are now trying to get into a mode of co-creation of capability, which involves a rigorous process of consultation with the business units and the customers. L&D people actually sit with the business people to discuss the learning needs and jointly evolve content, design, delivery mechanism, etc."
Meanwhile, the ILP team has introduced Professional Value Add (PVA), a novel initiative to assist recruits in their desire to become good professionals. The team encourages recruits to add value to their batch by behaving professionally or engaging in an activity that helps others. Participants are given certain guidelines on how to behave.
Individual victories become group victories. And if an individual defaults, the group's synergy suffers. At the end of the training, the best batch is rewarded. The success of PVA has prompted the ILP team to consider introducing Learning Value Add, through which participants will be encouraged to share learning.
It is said that the man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after. New entrants in TCS' growing family are learning the truth of these words, thanks to the efforts of the ILP.