For IT companies, bench was a showcase of strength and capability. The companies found it ideal to maintain a bench strength in anticipation of getting business. It was a way to tell the clients, that it’s ready with the manpower required to handle the project.
For the uninitiated, ‘bench’ comprises employees who are without any project but are part of the reserve team and are on the company’s payroll. Employees also go on bench in between projects.
However, this showcase of strength has now become a liability and it’s primarily because it’s a forced one. Since lockdown, the size of bench staff has increased by 1 percentage points from 7 per cent to 8 per cent. This is as per industry estimates. It is also estimated that for smaller IT companies, the bench size has now increased to double digits – given that they have a smaller employee base.
The idea is to keep on building internal capability, so that the need to look outside the organisation does not arise whenever an opportunity comes in
What is troubling the IT companies is that this forced increase of bench size is due to cancellations, project deferments and fewer new deals being struck. In such a scenario, managing the bench has become a liability for many technology companies as business is low.
This is probably why many IT companies approached by HRKatha refrained from speaking on this issue. In fact, one of the large IT companies did respond to the email inquiry, but the spokesperson simply mentioned that the Company has not witnessed any rise in bench employees recently, and refused to comment further.
In fact, the onus has always been on companies to not keep employees on the bench for a long period of time. If this happens, the company risks losing the talent, which is crucial in a talent-intrinsic industry, such as technology.
While it’s a constant challenge to reduce the bench strength, the reverse seems to be happening now. Companies can reduce the bench strength either by gaining new businesses and projects for the employees to work on, or simply by laying off people.
This is why, a few of the technology companies are keeping their bench employees engaged through training and upskilling.
Lakshmanan MT, CHRO, L&T Technology Services, agrees with the industry estimates and acknowledges that the bench staff at L&T Tech has also increased by one percentage point.
However, what L&T Tech is doing is utilising the idle time to retrain the bench. Lakshmanan shares, “We have identified a few core areas of focus, such as AI, ML and C++ and we are re-orienting them for training in these areas.”
Another IT products company Mastek, with an employee strength of around 2200, has also experienced an increase in bench strength. The Company has a programme called FullStack, and according to Maninder Kapoor Puri, group chief people officer, Mastek, the Company has been training employees on the bench in an endeavour to ensure multi-skilled employees in its reserves.
FullStack, in tech terms, means a person who can develop both client and server software, that is, handle both front-end and back-end operations. Simply put, an individual who can manage both stacks.
While a typical FullStack training course runs for almost a year, currently, Mastek’s bench employees are undergoing a two-month training where they engage in short sessions.
Puri explains that since they are working on various skill sets as part of the programme, they will automatically become more productive and resourceful. “The idea is to keep on building internal capability, so that the need to look outside the organisation does not arise whenever an opportunity comes in,” elucidates Puri.
We have identified a few core areas of focus, such as AI, ML and C++ and we are re-orienting them for training in these areas
Earlier this year, Mastek acquired Evosys, an enterprise solutions company. Puri reveals that a smaller bench exists at Evosys as well, and employees at Mastek are being trained to work on projects at Evosys, as and when required. “Since Evosys is a growing company, we are leveraging the talent of our Mastekeers to go and work on projects at Evosys,” says Puri.
According to Puri, for the moment they are looking to hire only from the bench and utilise the bench as much as possible.
Currently, it appears that while the bench strength is increasing across IT companies, the smaller organisations are looking to optimise their bench strength by upskilling the staff and preparing them to be job ready for upcoming projects.