Rya Conrad-Bradshaw, Senior Director at Grads of Life, sits down with Jeff Auker from Infosys to discuss their journey to adopting inclusive talent pathways.
Infosys is a multinational technology company that has taken a bold approach to hiring and developing the next generation of tech talent in the US. Founded in India in 1981, Infosys developed an apprenticeship system to hire huge numbers of early-career, pre-baccalaureate talent, train them internally and develop them to rise through the ranks. Increasingly they realized that to meet their growth aspirations in the U.S., they needed a new strategy that that would prioritize the upskilling of the residential population to serve clients in their own geographies.
They call this strategy localization and it encompasses multiple practices that are gaining traction among U.S. companies: rethinking degree and credential requirements for roles, adopting skills-based hiring, prioritizing new talent partnerships, developing apprenticeship and internal development programs, and preparing local managers to think differently and more inclusively about hiring.
Rya Conrad-Bradshaw, Senior Director at Grads of Life, sits down with Jeff Auker, Head of Innovation and Delivery at Infosys’s Digital Innovation Center in Hartford, to learn more about the company’s experience with this transformation.
Rya Conrad-Bradshaw: I know Infosys has long-mastered workforce development in India. How did developing new tech talent and expanding pathways into the industry in the U.S. become a priority for you all?
Jeff Auker: In India, we focused on training young people, and creating technology career pathways for them. That had been our model since the 80s, when we needed talent to progress development of code during the day in India so that managers in the U.S. could review them in the morning.
About 6 years ago, we stepped back and thought about what growth looked like for us. We recognized that our primary areas of growth were digital experiences and advanced technology. As we think about coding experiences, having people that understand the context and culture we’re designing those experiences for is important. Healthcare is a good example – nobody outside of the U.S. intuitively understands our healthcare system and to design strong apps and other experiences related to healthcare, you have to have lived it. So, we committed to hiring 25,000 people in the U.S. and we knew that to do that, we needed to maintain our focus on developing new talent.
RCB: And that commitment was realized via your Digital Innovation Center model?
JA: Yes. We knew our work was increasingly requiring collaboration, agile work environments, and proximity to clients. Those needs, paired with our broader goal to develop more IT talent in the U.S., both for ourselves and for our clients, led us to establish our Digital Innovation Center model. It has really been a localization strategy. It has meant not only bringing what we know how to do from India to the U.S., but bringing it to the city-level.
RCB: How did you decide where to establish the Digital Innovation Centers?
JA: While our first consideration was to establish the Digital Innovation Centers in proximity to key clients, they have really been a strategic ecosystem play. We set them up in cities like Hartford, Raleigh, and Phoenix. These cities aren’t your typical “tech hot spots,” but they have some critical features. First, they have robust pipelines of young people who could benefit from the training we know how to do. Second, they have strong local commitment to workforce development. We were intentional about going places where we could be not just part of workforce development, but really be a local driver of it.
RCB: Tell me about the people you’re training at these Digital Innovation Centers. Who did you start with and how are you planning to expand access over time?
JA: Fundamentally, we’re making a bet that we can successfully apply what we know about building peoples’ careers from the ground up through stratified levels of training and experience. We started with non-technical people with 4-year degrees (people with degrees in humanities, etc.), but we have started to expand to pre-baccalaureate candidates. There are very clear paths to bring someone truly entry level into the industry with the right certifications and training. That won’t solve the IT pipeline issue tomorrow, but over the longer term, the big value we’re betting on is that we’re a net new creator of the IT talent that we and our clients can’t get enough of.
We take so much pride in training and career progression. There are lots of IT jobs out there that are terminal entry-level. We want to make sure that the model we developed in India in terms of training and progression is available here, and that means creating different points of entry based on peoples’ different starting points and getting creative about what we can do with certificate programs and other skill training.
RCB: In our work, we see companies often face challenges when it comes to operationalizing a shift like this. What work has it taken internally to get folks on board with this change? How do you make the case?
JA: Making the case started with sheer numbers. There aren’t enough four-year college graduates. Secondly, there’s a retention and loyalty element. We have found that when we give people opportunities to be trained and get exciting jobs, and give them robust career paths, they stay around longer. And then like any services firm, we have a pyramid structure and young energic talent is critical for us to be successful.
Continuous storytelling and celebrating wins are huge in terms of getting people on board and keeping them there. It is important to make it clear that this isn’t a risky proposition. It’s well managed, we have partners, there is data behind it, and there have been successes. We do a lot of promotion of our younger folks and their stories – we create videos, interviews, highlight them at management meetings, etc., and that goes a long way. Finally, it’s important to incentivize people differently – the best way to mitigate against people feeling like they are taking a risk, is to make it desirable to take that “risk.”
RCB: What else did it take to get this off the ground? What resources have you put against this effort?
JA: Essentially, this entire effort has been a massive shift toward skills-based hiring and an overall strategy localization. And there is a ton that goes into that. We have put a lot of resources and personnel against this change. Of course, opening the Digital Innovation Center was a big undertaking – we spent a lot of time getting the training curriculum right, and continually updating it, and training the trainers. More broadly, every corporate function within the firm has at least one person dedicated to figuring this out. We’ve also had to make big changes to our entire organizational structure to ensure people are reporting to local managers. Updating job descriptions is another huge piece that is more complicated than it seems as it impacts career progression. We have to make very careful distinctions between roles – it is an art and a science.
RCB: I know diversity and inclusion is a big priority for Infosys. How does this effort relate to your DEI strategy?
JA: The business drivers of the localized strategy—to create a contextualized, localized, diverse experience that matches our customers and their customers—are part and parcel of our diversity strategy. We need a more diverse workforce from all walks for life to do business well—and it’s a model we’re taking everywhere. It’s a big emphasis for us.
RCB: What challenges have you had so far?
JA: One big challenge with a skills-first approach is the variability in how career-ready candidates are. Another is helping frontline managers make the shift in their daily work. As I mentioned before, they are such a critical stakeholder, and even if they are bought-in at a high-level, it can be hard to ask them to try something different, especially when that means changing how they approach a client they’ve had for years. It comes back to the storytelling and helping managers see the value in this long-term talent development play.
RCB: What advice do you have for other companies looking to make similar changes?
JA: Give yourself more time than you think you need and engage stakeholders on the ground early. Frontline managers are critical to the success of this kind of change, and they need to be informed and consulted early on. Partnerships with local sources of talent – mostly local four-year college and community colleges in our case so far – are of course critical, and the more resources you can put against engaging with them the better. Change in an academic setting is hard, especially if it’s driven by business, so communicating and collaborating early and often is key.
RCB: What kind of impact have you seen so far from these changes?
JA: It is still early and hard to say for certain, but we are entirely committed to this work and excited and pleased by the progress we’ve made so far. We have certainly learned that it can be hard to get the younger, less experienced talent client-ready, but by their second year, there is no difference in performance.
This blog post originally appeared on Grads of Life BrandVoice on Forbes here.