Sumit Kumar Singh, VP & Head HR, Lava International
India skipped the ‘smart electronic age’ and without having the hardware and chip system ecosystem expertise in the country, it is now producing AI-driven products, says Sumit Kumar Singh, VP & Head HR, Lava International as he explains in detail the reason for the limited product development capabilities in India. He also talks about his key learnings from 2021 in terms of talent and the need for flat organisation structures and intellectual job roles.
At the outset, please tell us how the mobile manufacturing sector has evolved with the growing talent needs?
Every country passes through certain stages of evolution. It starts from farming to the AI & virtual space age. India at present is at the electrical/electronic stage. In this particular stage, the country starts producing FMCG products and electrical goods like fans, washing machines, refrigerators, automobile guards with a complete ecosystem built up inside the country.
Now due to the Covid situation and evolved connectivity across the globe, India has skipped the ‘smart electronic age’ and started making valuable contributions to AI & virtual space reformations. This is happening because of the young population of the country (median age of 27 years wrt to 37 of China and the US). The young people of the country have a very high level of digital adoption. India has the highest digital adoption rate among the top 10 GDPs of the world.
If we look at the current competency, experience & knowledge of Indians, it’s at a medium level because the infrastructural ecosystem of the country is at a medium level. Our current capability of manpower in India is at mid-level that can deliver an elementary level of design followed by mass production of goods. Our education system, industrial training, and experience are also providing a medium level of exposure.
The smart electronic age requires an advanced level of expertise that includes the semiconductor, memory, and chip manufacturing ecosystem. The smart electronic ecosystem was first started in the developed countries like the US, Japan, UK and then shifted to China. The core reason for the ecosystem shift was manpower cost, increasing intellectual level of people (avoiding transactional work), and operational cost. People were no more interested in the manufacturing side, they wanted to work on AI, machine learning, creating products like Google.
If we closely observe the things happening in China and India regarding ecosystem shift, we can easily say that if we take the right steps now, we can establish India as a global manufacturing hub. Wages in China are almost three times the Indian wages and operational cost is increasing at a rapid pace. The Indian government is trying to utilise this opportunity by setting up a few initiatives like PLI, FDI reformations, focus on exports, etc. If we put a clear focus on building up the ecosystem in India by few policy corrections and manpower development, the smart electronic ecosystem is bound to shift from China to India.
The median age for China is 37 years whereas it’s 27 years in India, therefore, developing the people will not be very difficult and time-consuming. India has a high count workforce at low cost and has overall low operational cost which will further boost up the ecosystem shift in coming years.
For level 5 products it requires competency in AI, machine learning, database management system over cloud and blockchains to create a virtual/digital reality world like Metaverse which is the next big thing. This will greatly boost the economy up to a different level. So the opportunities are tremendous now.
What has happened in India is we did not enter into level 4 but due to Covid, we have started contributing to level 5 age. So without having the hardware and the chip system ecosystem expertise in the country, we are now producing AI-driven products. It’s extremely important to have the capability developed for smart electronics to create a base for setting up virtual space. This is the core reason for the limited product development capabilities in India.
“The median age for China is 37 years whereas it’s 27 years in India, therefore, developing the people will not be very difficult and time-consuming. India has a high count workforce at low cost and has overall low operational cost which will further boost up the ecosystem shift in coming years.”
Organisations have realised that they have less capable people as per the requirement with respect to the global industry.
Had we moved in a phased manner, the industry might have had the right people over a period of time. But since it skipped a step, the hardware development part is missing and we’re talking about simulations about the software. You are talking about machine learning for machines that are not manufactured here. That’s a fundamental gap that has happened in India due to Covid which has given us a big challenge and tremendous opportunity for the future.
“Had we moved in a phased manner, the industry might have had the right people over a period of time. But since it skipped a step, the hardware development part is missing and we’re talking about simulations about the software. You are talking about machine learning for machines that are not manufactured here. That’s a fundamental gap that has happened in India due to Covid which has given us a big challenge and tremendous opportunity for the future.”
What have been your key learnings from 2021 in terms of talent?
The fundamental shift in terms of the thinking of the organisations has happened. Companies have realised, including probably the mobile sector itself, because this is the sector which is going to face significant and phenomenal changes in the coming days. The other thing that we have learned is, employees need to be cared for. People are going to bring change so they need to be taken care of.
The second part is adaptability in terms of doing the work. One has to find newer ways of doing things rather than sticking to the traditional approach. Third, we must not create job roles in the organisation that is based on transactional work, all transactional work has to be executed by the system. People have tremendous potential and it must not be wasted in doing the basic level of transactional work, we must create intellectual opportunities for human beings to unleash their potential. The intellectual job role is the future and creates a sense of achievement, increases job satisfaction, and decreases attrition. Most of the Millennials and Gen Z are not comfortable with traditional and transactional work which was the core 10-20 years back. The psychology and needs of the new generation have changed. The new generation is now thinking about adding value to their organisation by creating something new, challenging the traditional ways, and utilising the technology to get results in multiples.
Four, as we are entering a new stage of the industry ecosystem, it’s an era of the startup culture. Therefore, whether you will be working in a startup, dealing with a startup as a vendor, establishing a startup, all you need to learn is how to get things done efficiently in the startup culture. Employees should be motivated to think like a businessman or an entrepreneur. They are going to lead or create things. Big and established brands are also boosting up this particular startup culture in their different verticals.
Five, what I have observed is that this country has a lot of hierarchies in the system. These structures were efficient and worked well with established systems or processes. But now with the changing world, it’s high time to relook into the same. If you want to empower people to innovate, one needs to be practical. This is very much required for the industry, which is fast changing. You must have flat structures and intellectual job roles.
“People have tremendous potential and it must not be wasted in doing the basic level of transactional work, we must create intellectual opportunities for human beings to unleash their potential. The intellectual job role is the future and creates a sense of achievement, increases job satisfaction and decreases attrition.”
You mentioned that given the ecosystem shift, India skipped the 4th level and moved to the 5th. You also mentioned that because of that there is a shortage of talent since it didn’t go in a phased manner. So how do you bridge the talent gap?
We have to design a very detailed human resource supply chain management system for that. We have to predict key and core competencies. So the first thing is that you cannot learn all the things on your own. Second, you do not have unlimited resources and an ecosystem. RAM, memory, processors, screens aren’t manufactured here, we normally import these things. Despite that, there are people in the country who have the capability to learn. But they don’t have any experience. Therefore, the first thing is, we have to invest in learning if we want to set up a robust R&D-based infrastructure by identifying and collaborating with people/organisations who have the capability to learn and train them.
It’s very important to keep on deploying the people in on job training with a continuously evolving process. We are now building a globalised team. That’s how we are planning to bridge the gap of the base of the talent which is required for evolving this ecosystem.
So this collaboration with the globalised team that you mentioned is already going on or you are planning it?
It’s already been going on for the last five to six years. We have started creating our competencies in terms of chips, drivers, and software development. We have developed our capabilities in terms of the keypad phones where we are 100 percent capable of making the entire keypad phone in India. We have scaled up our capabilities in terms of designing entry-level smartphones in India. This has happened with the right collaboration and learning which was gained by our team members within the country and outside the country. Now we are scaling up to have much better products and compete with the international brands in the coming days.
Please give an overview of the workforce pie at Lava.
Manufacturing has the highest number of blue-collar people in our company. Next is the salesforce and then we have the R&D and the design team as the third-highest workforce.
Coming to your observations of the year, you spoke about how a person should either be in a startup or be with companies that deal with startups. So how is it at Lava? What is the work culture at lava?
The culture is basically generated from the core values of the company. The first is integrity. So whatever we do, we have to do the right thing with ethics and honesty. It may start with a very small thing like giving 100 percent of your efforts to your job responsibility honestly and ethically without any follow-up or monitoring.
The second is a passion for excellence. People working here are passionate enough to create benchmarks across the industry. That’s the only reason this company is surviving at a time when other Indian brands are not doing a very good job of setting up milestones for the future.
The third is adaptability. In this particular industry, we have to have a global mindset and must adapt quickly to a fast-changing environment. It may be linked to business, ways of working, policies, etc.
The hierarchical system you spoke about, how do you manage this hierarchy?
The answer is, you must create a platform where anybody can share their ideas with 100 percent logic. In our case, we have a platform where anybody can join, share their ideas which are reviewed. If the logic given behind that particular idea is right, it does not require many levels of approval. We have RNR awards presented to 10+ people/teams. The person can nominate himself/herself. The ideas should have a certain level of problem-solving statement. It can be an existing one or an entirely new one. Right after that, you must have the insight. You have to come up with practical solutions for that particular idea that can be implemented. We have designed a platform for that. We also conduct Hackathons every quarter where the teams normally look at the opportunities that can maybe bring in good business. It might require a certain level of budget inclusions also. We provided a certain level of DOA to the respective department heads and the vertical heads. Our vertical head is at the level of a Deputy General Manager, that’s a level 3. A person at that level is approving the plan, no further approvals are required.
Can you tell us about one idea that somebody in your team suggested and got approved and implemented?
There are many ideas. Last year, we launched the PULSE keypad phone which has the capability of measuring the temperature as well as your heartbeat and pulse rate. Our target customers who don’t have much money to spend on medical devices can use PULSE in villages. This is one idea we got which is the need of the consumer. The country also needed something like that because of the crisis. That’s an innovative thought. What we have is a first across the industry, so that is one example. The second one is, we have come up with the idea of having customisable smartphones. Generally, you either pay for the 6GB or 4GB RAM or decide as per the camera specifications of a smartphone. Now as per your need, you can customise it and purchase it from Lava.
All these ideas were shared on the platform?
Yes. Normally we have the quarterly RNR session. We review the ideas shared regularly and if qualified, we give a go-ahead and they are launched. So, we have quality metrics for that particular part and a quarterly report also for those who have good ideas. It’s open to all, even junior employees can submit their ideas. They don’t have to wait for RM’s approval.
In the coming years, how do you think the talent needs of the sector will change?
First of all, we need to know what kind of people we are going to hire – Millennials or Gen Z? These are the people who are very capable in terms of acquiring knowledge as well as transferring the knowledge with the help of social media. These people are using different platforms to get knowledge. That’s how things are evolving and in the coming days, we are going to hire them only.
We have done a certain level of character assessment of these particular groups. For example, work ethics, knowledge transfer, personal development, communication, etc. The key skills which will be required in the coming days will be business orientation or acumen, multitasking, and innovation. We are planning to have more than 90 percent of the latest Millennials, who were born after 1988 and Gen Z in our workforce.
– As told to Moumita Bhattacharjee