Sachin Bansal, co-founder of Flipkart, is an entrepreneur who usually prefers to remain in the shadows and let his business do the talk. But on Friday, he reacted with aggression to a comment by Rohit Bansal, the co-founder of e-commerce rival Snapdeal, so much that their Twitter slugfest is the toast of the media at present. The battle was not on their business, as one would have expected. It was on hiring engineers, with Sachin talking a dig at Rohit Bansal who had earlier tweeted that there weren't enough "quality" engineers in the country. Sachin's contention was that one should not blame the country for its lack of engineers, but blame themselves for not hiring enough talent who "join for culture and change".
Beneath the seemingly innocuous fight, there are larger questions about India's education system and the talent it generates and nurtures, that keep coming up again and again. Rohit Bansal's argument was that India did not have a tradition of building software product companies, making several engineers migrate to the US. There is some credence to this. Every year, India produces some one point five million engineers from its 3,345 colleges, 30 per cent of whom run the risk of not getting a job. There is a general preference for IT and financial jobs, compared to manufacturing, so even computer engineers land up in jobs in backroom IT services firms in marketing roles, or in banking, insurance and broking jobs. Due to the rising preference for "office" jobs and those that involve a lot of foreign travel, there are fewer takers for jobs on the shop floor, an issue that industry captains such as Larsen & Toubro's AM Naik had cried hoarse over for long. In short, many graduates end up in jobs that have nothing to do with what they have been trained in, or what their preferences would have ideally been.
|Flipkart owners Binny and Sachin Bansal (Right).|
In that sense, Rohit Bansal is right. India is yet to have a software giant like Microsoft or IBM or a Dell, that produces proprietary software products that can make the world sit up and take notice, and can throw up challenging opportunities to our talented workforce. To be sure, our home-bred IT services firms have made a mark, but not enough to attract software engineers who would want to be part of an innovative culture that would be on offer at a company like Apple or HP, or hundreds of other Silicon Valley start-ups. Indeed, the country should be proud of its new crop of e-commerce companies that have made a disruptive entry into the retail space, weaning a lot of customers away from brick-and-mortar companies such as a Pantaloon or a Trent. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Jabong and their ilk have been able to achieve what they have, through a smart business approach made possible through technology innovation, that ultimately makes it easier for customers to choose from and buy goods on their sites. They are also to be credited for the talent they attract. Recent reports have said that top e-commerce firms are poised to absorb some 500 engineers, paying over one crore rupees at the start. Not bad at all. However, the concern Rohit Bansal raised still remains, in that we still have fewer avenues on the product development side.
It can be argued that it is not easy to create an Apple or an IBM on Indian soil, nor is it necessary to do so. Great, innovative companies spring from an overall culture on innovation and entrepreneurship. India may have missed out on the innovation bus in the past two or three decades, but it is uniquely poised to ring in some new changes on the innovation landscape. E-commerce is just one, where our companies are given even multinationals like Amazon stiff competition. With the huge number of skilled workforce coming out of its colleges every year, India should also take advantage of new developments in high-value manufacturing, some of which may shift from China to other developing countries as the former's wage cost advantages wean down. Some top Indian companies are already making a mark on the innovation front. The Tata Group, for instance, recently said that 60 in-house innovations in 2014-15 helped it garner seven thousand crore annually. A coordinated effort from companies, the academic institutions and the government as a facilitator can help generate enough and more opportunities that can be equally challenging and rewarding for our job-seekers. That, to a large extent, should help address the issue that the Snapdeal co-founder was trying to highlight. In short, India can attract and retain talent only by encouraging local ideas, entrepreneurship and nurturing a spirit of innovation in its companies.