In today’s world of constant talent wars and talent crunch, attracting, developing, and retaining quality talent are of strategic importance

In today’s world of constant talent wars and talent crunch, attracting, developing, and retaining quality talent are of strategic importance


The recently concluded third edition of the Future Skills Conference saw a conglomeration of industry leaders who discussed redesigning skills for the jobs of tomorrow. Among them, ETHRWorld got the chance to interact with Rajiv Tandon, CEO, BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Programmes (WILP). The conversation revolved around the core strategies of attracting, retaining, and developing skilled talent for the modern-day business. Excerpts of the conversation follow.

What aspects of the Future Skills Conference excited BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Programmes (WILP) to participate this time?

Well, I would say there were two primary aspects. The first was the scale and the second was range.

It is rare to see such a large number of HR professionals and especially the senior HR leaders gather in one single forum. My sense is that the strategic importance of the future skills challenge and the hunger to learn and discuss innovative ideas to address this particular challenge have attracted various HR professionals in large numbers to this conference.

We at BITS Pilani WILP were also impressed with the range of intellectually stimulating topics on the agenda; we were also aware that some of the most critical and relevant topics related to future skills readiness would be discussed and deliberated by some of the eminent and leading specialists from the HR and corporate learning functions. We also looked forward to the representation from a range of industries and sectors, which is helpful in understanding sectoral nuances around the future skills challenge and how various industries are responding to it.

How can an institution like BITS Pilani WILP address the challenges of various industries and organizations in attracting, retaining, and developing leading talent?

In today’s world of constant talent wars and talent crunch, attracting, developing, and retaining quality talent are of strategic importance for various industries and organizations. It is common knowledge that a superior Employer Value Proposition (EVP) can not only attract quality talent, but also help in retaining it for a long period.

Especially considering the above factors, BITS Pilani WILP collaborates with organizations to primarily integrate aspirational higher education paths as part of the organization’s overall EVP. Both prospective as well as existing employees view such integration in a highly positive manner. They accord it greater value from a career perspective and prefer to join or continue to work in organizations that offer such higher education options from prestigious institutions, such as BITS Pilani. For instance, employees with UG Degrees can pursue PG qualifications, such as M.Tech, M.Sc., MBA, and PGDs, in a range of new-age engineering, sciences, and management domains. Similarly, there are other higher education options available to employees with different educational qualifications.

Offered in collaboration with the employers, such programmes over the years have helped leading companies across industries such as IT & ITeS, automotive, manufacturing, energy, metals & mining, telecom, and BFSI, to both attract and retain talent. Employees can pursue these programmes without any career break, which enables them to earn degree credentials in new age areas, such as data science, AI & ML, IoT, embedded systems, digital manufacturing, and design engineering.

With its sectoral and future focus, the education experience provided by BITS Pilani WILP also helps develop employees into star performers and prepare them for major shifts in technology and business environment, which are taking place in their respective organizations, sectors, and industries. Through the WILP division of BITS Pilani, we have operated this model for over four decades and several leading organizations vouch for its efficacy, when it comes to attracting, developing, and retaining their talent.

How can academia support working or aspiring professionals in their endeavours to find relevant career opportunities?

I think that this should primarily begin with a critical and profound realization that many of the learning requirements of working professionals are quite different from those of on-campus students. Considering this, our institutions need to constantly think through radically different models to address education requirements and career growth aspirations of working professionals in an effective manner.

Personally, I think that there are three key areas, which need our maximum focus:

1)Sector-specific curriculum and programme design: Unlike non-working students who are yet to begin their careers and join a specific sector, most working professionals have already made this choice and hence, need effective sector-specific learning. For instance, at BITS Pilani WILP, we address this by developing different portfolios of programmes for various sectors and even industries within those sectors. For instance, for the automotive industry portfolio, we provide a range of M.Tech and B.Tech Programmes in the latest automotive technologies. Similarly, for the IT Sector, there are M.Tech and B.Tech programmes in leading IT domains, such as data science, AI & ML, and full stack software engineering.

Only when the education programmes are sector-specific and aligned with the future focus of that particular sector, that an employee can derive maximum business value and career benefits from those programmes.

2)Experiential learning: Working Professionals operate in a real-world environment and can benefit the most from the “learning by doing” methodology. Theoretical learning experience alone may fail to engage them adequately and even limit their capacity to apply what they may have learnt in classrooms.

Considering this fact, the institutions must invest in creating experiential learning opportunities in their programmes designed for working professionals. At BITS Pilani WILP, We address this need by including many experiential learning components in each of our programmes, such as virtual and remote labs, projects based on problems drawn from the workplace, simulations, and work-integrated exercises and assignments. Historically, several of our learners have also reported significant improvements in their workplace performance and problem-solving abilities, thanks to their exposure to experiential learning from programmes of BITS Pilani WILP.

3)Flexible ecosystem to pursue higher education, without any career breaks: Unlike on-campus students, working professionals can potentially bear huge opportunity costs, if they need to leave their jobs to pursue their further education. Institutions must start leveraging leading distributed education methodologies to enable working professionals to pursue their further education, without taking any career breaks. This will require both the innovative use of state-of-the-art technologies that support education as well as the design of educational experiences that are not intrusive on their core work-related responsibilities.

At BITS Pilani WILP, we think one of the key reasons that many working professionals also prefer our work-integrated learning programmes is because they enable them to pursue quality higher education, without taking any career breaks.

Given the need to constantly upskill in rising waves of new technologies, businesses and professionals are constantly facing formidable challenges. Could potential solutions to addressing this “technological change” come from the technology itself?

That’s a great question! Yes, there are several models appearing and seem to be working well. While there are many edtech innovations that are being talked about, I would categorise my favourites into two categories — mature models and emerging models.

Among the mature models, I am highly impressed with how effectively “asynchronous learning” models have been adopted, especially by the working professionals. Providing flexibility to busy professionals for them to learn anytime and anywhere, and in a range of job- or task-relevant topics is a real game changer. With advances in instruction design, innovations like just-in-time and bite-size learning, gamification, and collaboration features for peer learning, such asynchronous models are now delivering highly engaging and impactful learning experiences to the workforce.

Among the emerging models, I am extremely excited by virtual and remote labs. At BITS Pilani WILP, we have invested significantly to build this capacity. With such labs, learners from different parts of the world can actually practice their skills on real equipment, hardware, and software by accessing them through the internet. Thousands of working professionals are now upskilling in new-age technology areas, such as IoT, AI & ML, big data, analytics, and automotive engineering, by accessing BITS Pilani WILP labs from the comfort of their homes or workplaces. I believe, while BITS Pilani WILP has been an early mover in this space and excels too, such virtual and remote labs will likely proliferate fast in the industry, in an effort to upskill employees in a comprehensive manner.

Finally, how was your experience moderating the panel discussion on “A focus on continuous learning to build future-ready organizations”? What were the key takeaways according to you?

To begin with, I would term the moderating experience itself as an enriching learning experience. It was a rare opportunity to question and engage five doyens of the HR world on a critical topic of future skills and its linkages with the culture of continuous learning.

The power panel, as it was called, constituted CHROs from some of the most respected corporations and employer brands. What made the panel even more impactful was that the CHROs were from different industries or sectors, such as IT, manufacturing, automotive, energy, and FMCG; I’ve had the following six key takeaways from the discussion:

1)Culture of continuous learning primarily starts with the leadership: Unless the primacy of learning is not present in conversations that leaders have with their people and unless their own behaviours demonstrate efforts to continuously learn, it is likely not possible to either inculcate or proliferate a culture of continuous learning. In short, the leadership leading it by example and setting the tone are critical to building the culture of learning in an organization.

2)Providing a safe support system to fail and learn: Learning can be highly effective when people try new things and fail, and then they learn from those failures. It is important that organizations do not stigmatize failures, especially as long as the employees are able to leverage them for learning and channel them towards building better ways of doing work. “Fail fast and learn fast” seems to be the new mantra in an environment that cultivates learning.

3)Cultivate a growth mindset: All this talk about fast changes and the need for rapid upskilling can be quite overwhelming for many employees. Some may be fearful and some may be caught in self-doubt about their abilities to cope with changes. In such an environment, specific interventions are required to promote self-belief and demonstrate the infinite elasticity of the human brain to learn new knowledge and skills. Empowering the employees with the support of mentors and coaches, well-thought-out job mobility plans, and rewards and recognition linked to learning new skills can go a long way.

4)Link learning impact with customer impact and measure it effectively: With customer needs shifting fast, we must implement effective learning initiatives that can enable employees to address those changing needs. In addition, we should leverage efficient ways of measuring the success of learning initiatives by gauging the impact that they have on customer satisfaction and experience.

5)Don’t ignore the blue-collar workers’ learning requirements: For a considerable time now, there has been a high decibel pitch about the learning needs of white-collar workers, especially in light of fast-changing technologies; however, this aspect can sometimes take away our attention from the learning needs of the blue-collar workers, especially those who work in sectors that are also prone to be disrupted by the advent of new age technologies.

Few effective learning models are also emerging from initiatives taken by some of the leading manufacturing organizations to upskill their blue-collar workers in leveraging new-age technologies. Therefore, smart factories are those that would continue to invest in developing a smarter blue-collar workforce.

6)Resistance to change can be the biggest challenge in cultivating a culture of learning: Be it vested interests or comfort zones, the resistance to change can be the biggest impediment to building a culture of continuous learning. An organization’s overall learning strategy should also address such initial barriers effectively, if the right culture of learning needs to be cultivated for results that are even more effective.