Tata Steel has put a freeze on lateral hiring for the coming months, while it continues to honour prior commitments made to students on campuses. Campus recruits offered positions towards the end of last year have already joined the organisation. The first batch of fresh recruits were onboarded virtually, including around 76 management trainees and close to 150 on the technical side. A second batch of recruits are due to arrive in August.
Due to the uncertainty in the job market, there has been a greater tendency to look towards further studies rather than pursue a job. Suresh Tripathi, VP-HRM, Tata Steel, says, “Not many people are looking for a job change right now. Earlier, we had people joining us for a year or two, but now they are opting for higher studies.”
He adds that they have put a hold on lateral hiring for the moment. However, campus recruits will continue to be onboarded virtually.
The steel major has now come back to working at 75 per cent capacity at the plants. During the initial period of nationwide lockdown, workforce capacity at the plants was at 25 per cent. The number of employees distributed across the plants and mines comes to around 26,000 in total. They work on a rotational basis with shifts changing every week.
“The concern in an industry like ours is that one cannot stop work. If a plant goes through an inactive or chill period, the costs of getting production to resume are huge.”
Out of the total workforce capacity of 32,000, corporate office employees number close to 7000, and currently, all of them are working from home. The organisation has mandated that employees need not commute to the office, unless absolutely necessary. Tripathi says that the organisation plans to continue operations from home until normalisation returns.
The Company has taken measures beyond the usual SOPs followed by every organisation, to ensure employee health and safety, in addition to production continuity.
On the shop floor, to ensure minimum transmission of infection, the workforce has been divided into individual groups called pods. Each pod consists of a maximum of 10 self-sufficient workers across operations, maintenance and contractors. They do not need to depend on anyone outside the group for any assigned job, thereby restricting the need for inter-pod communication or contact. This initiative is active across plants in Jamshedpur, Kalinganagar and Angul, where workers have been divided into hundreds of pods.
To reduce the risk of contamination, a 30-minute air gap is maintained between two shifts. Each group leaves 15 minutes early, post which the area and tools are sanitised. The next group arrives 15 minutes later and re-sanitises the area and tools.
In addition, the organisation has introduced a real-time workforce-tracking measure through ‘Suraksha Cards’. These devices are capable of sensing a large group of people gathered at one place and detect violation of social distancing norms on the shop floor or anywhere else inside the plant premises.
For the employees working from home, learning initiatives have been introduced, in the form of online course content. Employees have been given the opportunity to learn at their own pace and choice. There is a lot of activity taking place through online webinars, which are conducted by various subject-matter experts. The top management interacts regularly with the employees and their families, and discussions occur where employees voice their concerns. Tripathi adds that he interacts with employee groups and their families every other day, to find out about their health and wellbeing.
However, he also mentions that there have been less concerns regarding job security among the employees. “Close to 30 per cent of our employees are now the fifth generation that has been working in the organisation. On the job security side, employees have remained fairly assured that there will be no retrenchment.”
Speaking on the challenges ahead, Tripathi mentions that the biggest challenge for the steel industry right now is the market. There is anticipation of demand hike and huge uncertainty regarding when it will happen. Even if the demand decreases, production will have to continue. At Tata Steel, during the initial days of lockdown, when the workforce capacity at the plants fell down below 30 per cent, production went on, although at a reduced pace. While production of finished goods was put on hold, the semi-finished material continued to be produced. Finished goods were rolled out later, when the markets opened up. “The concern in an industry like ours is that one cannot stop work. If a plant goes through an inactive or chill period as we call it, the costs of getting production to resume are huge,” explains Tripathi.
Despite the issues, Tripathi points out that there has been a huge learning for the industry. Earlier, it was unthinkable for a steel plant to run from home, but companies have gone ahead and done it. “As a result, we have realised that there are a lot of jobs which can become location agnostic. This gives people the opportunity to work from anywhere and provides us with a larger talent pool to tap into,” he concludes.