HR academics believe that the difference between HR and IR (industrial relations) boils down to supply and demand. When there’s less supply of talent than demand, companies will use HR approaches. But when there’s more talent than industry can use, then companies turn to IR tactics. Some believe that with the slowing growth of hiring among IT companies, more of them will turn to IR. The slowing growth of hiring shows that IT firms need fewer staffers of a certain type. There are other indicators, too, that IR could be the preferred people approach IT firms will use. One is the recent reports that middle level managers at IT firms are being squeezed out. There are also reports of IT staffer gathering to create a union to protect their jobs. To put this theory to test, we spoke to Remadevi Thottathil, Global Head Business HR, ITC Infotech. Here are her views. With the slowdown in the number of hires among IT/ITeS companies, has retention challenges become easier? Before I start, I’d like to say that these are my personal opinions. To address the question about a slowdown in hiring, I think it’s part of a cycle. When there’s a deadline for the business to meet, you’ll see a ramp up take place in certain skillsets. And, consequently, when a project is done, you’ll see a slowdown. The flux is created by the business and the market. And this up-and-down cycle will continue. Does this help with retention? I think the retention of key players, people who can take things from x to y, has now become a focus–not mass retention. Talking about retention, we recently witnessed IT professionals gathering to create a union, as a means to create more job security. Do you think that this trend is a natural evolution for the IT industry? I think unions have more relevance in the manufacturing sector, or in sectors where there is greater predictability. In the IT industry, predictability–whether we’re taking about wages, skills, the number of people required, or how long that skill will be wanted–just isn’t there. A hot skill today, isn’t tomorrow. This is due to the dynamism of the industry. I don’t like creating a union is a relevant solution for an IT environment. Coming together to address common workforce issues, in a forum like NASSCOM, is better. A unionized environment will create liabilities—and not help with questions like job security or wage security. But don’t you think that IT firms have a responsibility to educate their staffers, to help ensure that their skills are not outdated? First, gone are the days when employees join an organization and retire from it. Second, in a knowledge industry, the requirement of being employable; the onus of that is on the employee. Organizations facilitate with training programs, and skill development initiatives–that are pertinent to the business. But employees must have a clear career plan, and they need to be the owner of that plan. They cannot rely on other people to get them training that will take them from here to there on their career plan. Believe me, the trend HR practitioners are seeing is that the new generation workforce is clear about what they want to do. We’ve also been hearing reports around mid-level managers at large IT firms, who now handle teams and people–rather than code–becoming more unemployable. Is this a trend? We’ve observed that happening; they become completely hands-off with technology. My thought process is that they need to continue maintain their “coding edge”. They need to current with new technologies. There’s less demand for non-technical managers. We need the middle layer to maintain their coding edge.