The COVID-19 induced digital adoption has helped many sectors redefine their way of working. Manufacturing and Engineering – being a conventional sector, and a high volume one – had twin challenges. First, to adapt to the digital way of working; and the second, to prepare all workforce levels for this titanic shift, that too within a few months.
We spoke to R Nanda, Chief of HR & CSR, TATA Chemicals to understand how his company and workforce braved the pandemic and digital blues. We also inquired about how the Manufacturing and Engineering sector was adopting new-age technologies. Here’s the complete interaction:
How has been your experience managing a multi-generational workforce in a conventional sector amid the pandemic?
R Nanda: At Tata Chemicals, while we operate across India, Europe, North America, and Africa. A significant part of our workforce (of 12,000+) – both direct and indirect) – are located at the manufacturing locations, where many have townships established.
Being manufacturing intensive, the scope for remote work was limited to the office and research centres. However, it was necessary to deploy workforce at the plants to meet customers’ requirements as well as safe plant operations. This required us to think about the future of work and make our processes more insulated against sudden disruptions. The larger challenge was to manage the sudden change in work style and rapidly adjust to the digital environment in a short period of time.
What challenges did you face, given the new work realities today?
R Nanda: The ability of managers to connect with their teams – especially those working remotely for a long period of time – had to be managed. We put several initiatives in place to improve managers’ capabilities in the changing work world.
Processes that were conducive in a physical setup required a reset. They needed to be simplified, transparent, accessible, and inclusive to meet the new workplace demands. While we had a robust HR ecosystem in place, we wanted to make it more convenient, relevant, and dynamic and offer a cutting-edge user experience to our employees. However amid the pandemic, it was necessary to ensure a robust ‘Change Management’ process prior to launching the new system. Therefore a lot of planning went into the branding, communication campaigns and creatives, training the trainer, end-user training, setting up helpdesk to provide a holistic experience.
How relevant are upskilling and such new-age learning concepts in the Manufacturing & Engineering sector?
R Nanda: Manufacturing processes are undergoing a complete transformation and stand to gain as emerging technologies like AI/ML, IoT, and more become more accessible and affordable. Employees need to have multiple avenues to adapt, upskill, and stay updated with new-age tech, therefore supporting training and development within the workforce is critical. We have invested in several digital platforms for e-learning under our “enrich” program that democratises learning and empowers employees to take charge of their careers. At Tata Chemicals, we have always worked towards science-led innovation and R&D based on new-age technology.
How do you foresee creating a digital ecosystem for your employees as a significant step towards simplifying talent retention?
R Nanda: Given the current scenario, employee priorities are shifting, talent management and employee engagement are more important than ever before and a healthy workplace environment is a major requirement. Keeping this in mind, we have implemented the Oracle Fusion Cloud HCM; an integrated platform to meet all employees’ needs from hire to retire and equip them with self-service capabilities and supplemented with a mobile App for ease of access.
All key processes, such as recruitment, onboarding, hiring, training and development, talent and succession management, goals and performance, compensation, and benefits on a core HRIS basis are implemented on Oracle. Recently, we implemented an AI-based chatbot. This has now become our new world and we have suitably branded this as “myWOW” (My World of Work). It has benefitted both our employees and management by integrating our HR processes and providing them with an intelligent system easy-to-use platform with mobility options.
What is the hiring strategy at Tata Chemicals? Has there been some change in the hiring strategy after the COVID-19 outbreak?
R Nanda: Our hiring strategy has always been aligned with the evolving needs of the business. As the first wave unfolded, with the prevailing uncertainties, we took a conservative view of hiring; however very soon we resumed hiring for critical positions and continued with our annual intake at entry levels in the technical streams to meet future talent needs.