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Continental Automotive India says talent identification critical for long-term engagement

The Country HR Head for Continental Automotive India, Ajay Kumar, shares his views on the hiring trend, ensuring work-life balance, and what the company looks for when onboarding fresh talent.

Ajay Kumar HR Head Continental India
Ajay Kumar: "While aptitude and problem-solving skills are important, the ability to learn trumps even domain expertise and technical capabilities."

The Country HR Head for Continental Automotive India, Ajay Kumar, shares his views on the hiring trend, ensuring work-life balance, and what the company looks for when onboarding fresh talent.

What are the key skills that you look for while hiring freshers?

The automotive industry is very dynamic and candidates with a passion for learning are a great fit for us. Our priority is to find candidates with a keen ability to learn. While aptitude and problem-solving skills are important, the ability to learn trumps even domain expertise and technical capabilities. As an organisation, we are eager to invest in our talent to ensure their skills remain relevant through regular upskilling opportunities.

What qualities do you look for in employees on the shop floor?

The automotive industry is going through a revolution in terms of technologies, digitalisation, and the smart factory concept as offered by Industry 4.0. When we hire new employees, especially for Industrial Engineering or Operations, we look for talent with a solutions-based mindset and a willingness to learn and adapt, given the pace of the changes we are witnessing. In addition, we prefer those who are strongly quality-driven, analytical and able to connect with the big picture of our role in the industry.

When hiring new talent, which are the streams of education/qualification that potential candidates can apply from?

Continental is a technology company. While qualifications are a hygiene factor, candidate quality is what we strive for. We look for candidates with the ability to connect to our larger purpose – i.e. having an appreciation for trends in our industry and technologies, and we also look for customer-centricity which is paramount. Ultimately, we look for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with our talents.

What are the challenges you face when hiring new talent?

Finding the right talent for the right opportunity at the right time can be tedious. The sheer number of engineers that graduate every year in India is massive. Yet, for many, the ability to contribute is questionable as they are not yet industry ready. Our approach is not to test and absorb but to teach freshers the skills that are needed in the automotive space once they join us. We have eliminated the practice of having a probation period for new employees. We believe that good talent identification practices are critical for long-standing and successful engagement.

Do you think there is a gap between academia and industry? How can this be bridged?

There has been significant improvement in the upgradation of the curriculum in colleges to keep up with the changes in the industry. Furthermore, the interest level of students to take up challenging industry projects and internships is reducing the gap between academia and industry. Many industry experts have also migrated into academia reducing the gap even further.

That said, a lot more work must be done to lead today’s students into an industry-ready state. At Continental, we aim to bridge this gap by building strong and long-lasting relationships with universities. Organisations can start collaborating with academia on research, providing mentorship and career guidance to students on industry-relevant topics.

What are you doing to attract, train and retain young professionals?

We aim to provide the right employee value proposition to attract our specific target audience. For the growth and training aspects of our talent, identification of individual’s aspirations and capabilities at regular intervals is essential. This enables a growth path in which the aspirations and capabilities at any given point in time can be matched appropriately with the right roles in the organisation. Additionally, providing intensive yet flexible training opportunities to enrich capabilities and skills will enable our talent to contribute to the best of their skills and abilities.

For employees to stay in the organisation long-term, they must connect strongly with our sense of purpose and values. Understanding the role, one plays as an individual towards our collective vision and mission and the impact we are making every day on hundreds of lives in the mobility space is key.

What is your hiring target for FY2023?

Continental is looking at further expansion in India. Post pandemic. there is a reversal of the situation in the automotive industry, and we are now seeing a positive trend despite the challenges such as inflation and geopolitical issues. The growth in this sector is largely driven by research and development (R&D) in addition to product-based businesses such as tyres. At Continental, we have ambitious growth plans for the future.

Are there any additional training programs that you have incorporated to upskill workforce?

Learning has been one of the strongest building blocks for Continental. We have a deep focus on a collaborative learning culture thereby upskilling our people continually. On the leadership front, we have a robust global Leadership Architecture with Development Programs that offer great value in collaboration with some of the world’s leading educational institutions.

On the technical front, our global software academy, situated in India, offers tools for skill gap evaluations and also, designs, develops, and deploys learnings in scalable online formats for classical software and agile roles.

For shop floor employees, our big focus is making our operators multi-skilled especially in learning new technologies and we are achieving this through planned job rotation of our operators from one business area to another.

Additionally, we have a robust internal job rotation platform for all our employees to move across roles globally.

How do you ensure to retain your hardworking employees?

We believe that a strong sense of purpose and a direct understanding of impact is primarily what keeps employees motivated. At the same time, challenging work content, market competitive compensation, benefits and policies along with adequate recognition, and good learning and growth opportunities are also significant factors for motivation and ultimately, retention.

What are the policies laid down to ensure work-life balance for your employees?

Continental has always been a proponent of flexible work models much before the Covid era. Consequently, our organisation switched seamlessly into a work-from-home model during the pandemic . Having further fortified our flexibility practices in recent years, we have now moved on to a hybrid work model globally.

We offer an array of flexible options based on personal circumstances to balance both professional aspirations and personal responsibilities. This includes inclusive hybrid work practices, flexible work hours, part-time work and sabbaticals. In addition, we place a large emphasis on the holistic wellness of our employees whether physical, mental, financial, or otherwise.

Finally, our work culture is based on a strong foundation of core values – trust, freedom to act and passion to win – all of which enable us to adapt to changing work environments with the same zeal and conscientiousness.

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