Network services company Tata Communications coped well with the switch to remote working, but how is it future-proofing skills in a tight labour market where employees need to become comfortable with change?
It’s easy to assume that digital companies had it the easiest when it came to the sudden switch to remote work at the start of the pandemic.
But Ina Bajwa, global head of learning and development at Tata Communications, which provides carrier and network services for around 30% of the world’s internet routes, still found it took her team by surprise.
“As a digital transformation company we drive this sort of thing for our employees, mirroring the work we do for customers,” she says.
“So maybe we were a bit more prepared than organisations in other industries, but there were still a lot of challenges.” The company moved 95% of employees to remote working in the course of 15 days.
As the L&D team in an organisation that recruits around 3,500 people a year, one of the initial focuses was how it would onboard new hires and still give them “an experience of who we are and how our culture works”, she adds.
“Navigating through that was a huge shift. But our feedback from new joiners has been as high as other years because they understand how challenging this is in the current times.”
Easy access learning
The pandemic also hit just months after Tata Communications had launched a new learning strategy.
It had centralised learning resources onto a single platform, meaning employees and new starters could access learning content easily despite the sudden shift to working from home.
“Context is everything in L&D in terms of aligning with business goals,” says Bajwa. “Three quarters of our development and training is in tech skills, but we were able to provide company context around this, and saw a 35% increase in learning days compared with the year before.”
Faced with a global tech skills shortage and operating in a market where skills needs change all the time, it’s a challenge to balance long-term career learning for employees with the immediate needs of the business.
“Our L&D ecosystem caters to the democratisation of learning, so employees have avenues available to learn anything they want, whether for their role to develop their career long term,” she adds. “But we also want to meet the talent shortage and retain our competitive edge.”
“Constantly adding new grad engineers at the bottom of the pyramid has helped us, but even though we have those people, there’s a shelf life for those skills of two-to-three years.”
Attracting people from different backgrounds and building their skills rather than expecting recruits to have everything is where the strength of a solid L&D platform comes in, she adds.
This includes opening up learning opportunities to a more fluid workforce that includes contract workers and freelance workers.
Tata Communications operates a skills platform known as Project Marketplace, which “crowdsources” workers based on their skills. Bajwa hopes use of the platform will scale up with more managers posting details of project requirements and niche skills needs.
The expansion of the ‘employee’ definition will definitely change, so we’re looking at what this means for L&D and talent management.”
“This is another lever we can use to overcome the skills shortage,” she adds, “educating managers on how they can use it to support their needs.
“The expansion of the ‘employee’ definition will definitely change, so we’re looking at what this means for L&D and talent management.
“We will definitely see a tighter connection between our temporary and contractor workforce and our learning. There has to be a more inclusive lens to consider different parts of our workforce.”
The focus for the coming months will be on building resilience and helping employees – and particularly managers – feel comfortable with change and to support their teams through uncertain times.
A digital course called Leading from the Inside Out, for example, supports managers to help their staff deal with ambiguity, helping them to offer a psychologically safe environment.
“They have been so consumed with navigating Covid, what has been the impact on their team members? We want to help them through this,” she concludes.