Rahul Mehandiratta is General Manager- HRM, Sanden Vikas India. He spoke to us about how the pandemic has impacted HR practises in the automobile industry, how the industry can adapt to the changes in the market of the new normal and what the outlook in the coming year.
How has pandemic impacted HR practices in the Automobile industry?
The market has always been volatile in this VUCA world. Volatility & uncertainty calls for keeping pace with change with action and speed wherein role of Human Resources function has gained increasing importance as everything revolves around people who can bring impactful results to meet ever-increasing challenging business scenario.
For Human Resources, challenges in the Auto sector already started increasing in 2019. With volumes going down, increments hampered, increasing people discontent made it difficult for HR to attract and retain the best talent. Company Budget expenses were reduced and CAPEX was postponed. Spends were tightened.
From the HR perspective we were already involved in headcount and cost optimization, enhancing the roles and responsibilities of employees, cut down on all different kinds of MUDAs (waste). Until mid-March, the 2020 situation was still manageable.
In the 3rd week of March 2020, the entry of COVID 19 in India came as a big surprise to think the unthinkable. As an HR function, we had to immediately come in action thinking from different perspectives. The Automobile industry was seriously affected as all business came to stand still as volumes zero down.
The pandemic had drastically impacted our practices and policies. As all our engagement and rejuvenation activities were stopped, people development through classroom training, business meetings, outside visitors and people movement were restricted.
This was for the first time that the automobile sector witnessed everything one at a time such as salary cuts, layoffs, plants closures, consolidations with no government interventions.
The pandemic brought about a major disruption in human life in each spectrum of his existence and challenged the status quo. It rather was a flashback of the past struggles and learning to save more money to survive and considering future challenges which were fast forward to the present times to make our existence possible looking at ideas of new businesses, new methods and opportunity.
Employees were only allowed in the plant to work provided they ensure all safety precautions. Any symptomatic evidence of COVID 19 made us either stop employee at the gate or while he was inside. Those were the testing times. Especially the real test started when the 1st COVID 19 case was detected and there lies the role of HR to establish a connection with the employee his family, support to be provided and ensure that he gets all help. This was HR priority No. 1 and ensure the safe running of plant and people in and out each day was the daily affair.
But it was that inner strength and passion to strive and achieve even during a bad time that kept us all going. That call for strong perseverance. As rightly said, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.
This new normal taught us how to work under physical, mental and economical crises. I used to motivate people saying “HUM HONGE KAMYAB –HAR DIN”.
How can the Automobile industry adapt to the changes in the market through HR policies?
The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for all functions and HR in particular.
We started working remotely on Webex, WhatsApp chats and meetings. Now, this was a daily affair as all employees were not coming to the office. People’s safety and business survival were the main agenda to drive the show each day. It was the time to take hard decisions, looking beyond the obvious and considering survival of Business and people tough decisions were taken by management.
HR policies went through a drastic change. Some to mention are as below;
a) To Develop SOPs for employee’s safety and creating awareness across all plants.
b) Formulate special task force from HR, Admin, Mainiatince & Utility, production and liaison with govt. for movements to plants on critical times.
c) Implementing WFH policy to ensure people safety and Business continuity.
d) Ensure timely disbursement of salaries coordinating from Home
e) Establish continuous connect with employees & operators virtually for daily updates
f) Keeping employees engaged during tough times.
g) Framing 14 days paid leave policy for those affected with COVID
h) Policies were framed to reduce wage bill through salary cut, consolidations, plant closures as it was the matter of survival.
What is the outlook for jobs in the Automobile industry for the coming year?
The Indian government took charge of this crisis on all fronts whether it was the change in the Indo-China geopolitical status, Atmanirbhar Bharat and finally COVID-19 crises came under control. Now that already our scientists have come up with COVID-19 vaccine, the future for India is bright. People sentiments started changing since November 2020 as the festive season started.
Moreover, post BSVI we are already witnessing coming of electric commercial vehicles. India with such a big population, skillset, culture of adaptability to change, surviving in adversity and good governance put together has become the next global market for manufacturing automobiles.
We are already witnessing the big gap in human resources to meet increasing customer demands. Volumes are going up like never before. Global companies are shifting their base to India as India is the only solutions for the recovery of the global economy. Hence, it is pertinent that the future for jobs in the Automobile industry in the next 3 to 5 years is great and it will persist for the next 10 years.
How is the automobile industry leveraging in their HR practices for the future?
Now that market has drastically improved in no time all HR practices and policies are not only back in place but they are being looked at from more future perspective with future readiness to meet increasing market demands.
Now is the time to be much more agile, adaptive and speed up to ensure that customer demands are met on time. HR practices and policies are not directed to ensure that customer feel happy. The focus is more on achieving high volumes, with good quality and speed. This requires continuous people capability enhancement to meet future-readiness and beyond. The future of automobile and people working there is extremely bright for the next decade I can say.