03 Jun 2017 14:54 IST

Downsizing is an opportunity for IT workers to reskill: Randstad CEO

Randstad MD and CEO Paul Dupuis

Liberal arts sees resurgence as companies ask for well-rounded, trainable graduates: Paul Dupuis

Paul Dupuis, MD and CEO of the global staffing and placement company Randstad, believes that even if there is despair at the prospect of thousands of IT jobs being lost, it’s not all gloom and doom. “If we talk with a sense of urgency, the term reskill or perish is especially true now for IT professionals because of downsizing,” Dupuis says.

He adds that these professionals are typically agile, tend to be curious, and their careers are all about learning and development. “This provides an exciting opportunity to learn something new. If I am with someone who has just been downsized, I will look to the future and learn the skills I need to be at the leading edge,” he says.

One example where IT pros can train themselves is in e-payment. “With digitisation, there’s huge opportunity in e-payments. I don’t think we have scratched the surface of that yet,” he says.

Dupuis points to what happened when automation in manufacturing was introduced. The plunge into robotics created more jobs. “Somebody had to maintain them and redesign and innovate around that. There will be different skill sets needed.”

The Randstad CEO says there’s a sense that AI will replace jobs and reduce the need for people, but Randstad doesn’t believe that. Dupuis says that with technology pervasion, there are more jobs created to create, implement and manage the technology. It need not be just job reduction, but jobs can be created in newer areas related to technology. “We have a strategy within Randstad called Tech n Touch, where we believe that tech will co-exist with the human touch / interaction and not replace it entirely,” he adds.

India shift

A Canadian who spent over 20 years in Japan and the past four with Randstad and is now six weeks into his new assignment in India, Dupuis says that from 1990 to 2016, it was all about China — its amazing economic growth dominated headlines. “What I have seen in the past 18 months is that there is a striking shift towards India. China’s growth is flattening out a bit and it is perceived to be a bit of a risk. Labour costs have increased dramatically when compared to 1990 and manufacturing is moving out. What makes India attractive is its workforce, which is well educated and hungry,” he says.

There’s a legacy of India being dominated only by IT, but he says the sector is only one of many burgeoning ones, which will grow and see jobs being created, such as FMCG, power, clean and alternate energy and e-comm. These, he says, will continue to be strong, even though there is consolidation happening now.

Resume spikes

At Randstad, which has 60,000 people on its rolls deployed in various companies ranging from IT to marketing, there is a bit of predictability to its business. After appraisal season, the number of resumes coming in spikes, while during the weeks leading to bonus appraisals, the number of resumes sent in go down. “Of course, when companies downsize, the number of resumes coming to us also spikes. So, it comes back to the reskill or perish I talked about,” says the CEO.

Apart from its staffing business, in the last year, Randstad also placed around 9,000 people in various companies at the middle to senior levels.

Dupuis says today, there is a resurgence in the liberal arts as companies want to hire young graduates with non-specialist backgrounds. “Yes, it’s come a full circle in two generations. Companies want young people with a liberal arts background as their trainability is better. We are hearing this quite a lot from our clients: ‘Get me somebody who has solid values, is a good learner, is adaptable and agile and with a well-rounded educational background’. And that translates to liberal arts,” he explains.

The CEO has had many conversations with CXOs, CEOs, HR Heads, at roundtables in his six weeks in India, and “what they’re telling me is that they want people who are well-rounded and trainable. Give us the people and we will put them in our on-board induction programme and will develop them.”