India's top three IT services firms are entering a new phase of development, hiring heavily and bringing in more non-Indians to better serve their American and European clients.
Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys and Wipro are planning to hire more than 119,000 employees combined this year, and not just computer programmers and software engineers. The companies are recruiting in areas such as mobility, data analytics, cloud computing, product management and business analysis.
Those most in demand, and the hardest to find, are people with deep technical knowledge in six industries: financial services, retail, health care and pharmaceuticals, energy and utilities, media and telecommunications, and manufacturing and high tech.
The Indian firms, which have become major IT players by taking on basic computer work from overseas clients, are adding staff even as their customers in Europe and the U.S. are forgoing domestic hiring. The majority of the big three's new hires will still be Indian-born, but the number of Westerners at on-site locations is growing. It's part of an effort to keep happy non-Indian clients, which generate the majority of revenue.
"As an organization, you have to be global, and we have to have local leadership," said Saurabh Govil, senior vice president of human resources at Bangalore-based Wipro. "Hence we want to hire locals -- we feel it's a competitive advantage."
It's also essential for future growth. "We believe the top Indian firms need to increasingly expand their presence on onshore locations (e.g., US, UK, continental Europe) by hiring onshore staff," wrote Rod Bourgeois, a senior research analyst Sanford C. Bernstein Co., LLC, in an e-mail. The firms also need to expand their skill sets beyond basic computer programming into "industry-specific thought leadership, account management, and project management," Bourgeois said.
At its 14 U.S. offices, which include cities like Columbus, Ohio, and Mountain View, Calif., Wipro wants half its staff to be locals. So far about 36% are, with most of the rest coming from India on skilled worker visas. Globally, about 40% of its staff working outside of India are locals, up from 35% two years ago, Govil said.
As of the end of March 2011, Wipro had over 120,000 employees, with about 21,000 working outside India. The company wouldn't say how many it will hire this year, but plans to add more than last year when it hired 13,684 employees. About 65% of its new hires will be recent graduates, with the rest having varying levels of industry experience, Govil said
Industry leader Tata is hiring the most out of big three. Its goal is to hire 60,000 in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012, split between new college graduates and experienced hires. About 88% of its hires typically are made in India, said Ajoy Mukherjee, vice president of global human resources with the company.
While the company may have no problem recruiting recent graduates from the top engineering schools in India, it's more challenging in the U.S. Elite American students at Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- where Tata has research partnerships with faculty members -- tend to gravitate toward the hottest U.S. companies like Google, or to a start-up, the companies said.
"It's a difficult proposition to attract the right numbers from these colleges and to find people who are interested in IT," Mukherjee said. "We're able to attract talent here, but attracting people to the brand is nowhere near what it is in India."
The company focuses its campus recruiting efforts on top tier state schools and technical colleges, including the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, Purdue University, Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Cincinnati and the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign.
As the Indian IT firms boost local hiring, they will need to compete with foreign tech companies which have increased salaries and perks in response to the competitive hiring market.
"The top Indian IT services firms have strong records of attracting IT-oriented talent in India," said Bourgeois, the research analyst, "but they'll see some challenges in attracting and retaining top talent as they extend their hiring activities further into onshore regions."
Skills and Training
As part of its effort to acculturate Westerners to its way of thinking, Wipro plans to move hundreds of new U.S. and European hires to India for six months' training before sending them back home to work in the company's satellite offices. The program is intended to instill in foreign workers Wipro's cultural values and methods of doing business.
"They understand the company better and the projects we work on here, and they get acculturated to Indian conditions," said Govil.
In most years, including this year, up to 70% of Infosys's new hires are recent college graduates, with the majority coming from India, Singapore and China as well as from the U.S. and Europe, said Srikantan Moorthy, senior vice president of education and research. For 23 weeks, as many as 13,500 new hires live at the company's training facility outside of Bangalore. The campus is 1.4 million square feet, and includes amenities such as a bowling alley, a movie theater, a gym, a volleyball court and cricket field.
Those extracurricular activities are needed after intensive training classes in computer science and software engineering. Besides learning soft skills like business communication and the corporate values of the company, trainees also take classes in specific areas such as cloud computing or Microsoft and Oracle applications. Such intensive training is necessary, the company says, because of the rapidly evolving skill sets needed to satisfy client needs.
"If you look at our industry, things change and they change fast, which means we'll never have the people trained in the academies that are ready to start here, no matter where they studied or where they come from," Moorthy said.
Beyond having core competencies in specific technologies or industry expertise, Tata looks for candidates who embody its corporate principles of leading change and excellence, among others. It wants candidates who want to pursue a career at the company, rather than "someone who's in for a short hop and then moves on to something else," Mukherjee said.
For Infosys candidates, being able to adapt your problem solving skills to each new situation is a big plus, said Moorthy.
"Things will change, but if people can learn they are good to go," he said.
Write to Joseph Walker at Joseph.Walker@dowjones.com