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How Airtel leverages young talent to stay ahead in business
Lipi Agrawal | HRKatha | New Delhi | Monday, 17 April 2017

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Through its ‘Young Leaders’ programme, Airtel engages with young talent very early on, allowing them to experience the best of the corporate world.

Telecom player, Airtel, recently welcomed 58 interns from premier b-schools for their two-month projects across functions and locations in India. Srikanth Balachandran, global chief human resource officer reveals how these sharp minds congregate to work on several challenging business problems and come up with innovative solutions.

Through its ‘Young Leaders’ programme, Airtel engages with young talent very early on allowing them to experience the best of the corporate world, learn from various challenges, and in turn build on a leadership pipeline for the future. Balachandran says, “The internship opportunity allows young talent to test the waters and experience Airtel’s culture first hand. Over the last two years, we have recalibrated the programme to ensure depth and breadth of experience via live projects, leadership and mentorship sessions, as well as stronger programme governance. Close to 40 per cent interns last year were given PPOs (pre-placement offers) to the full time YL (Young Leaders) programme.”

The company engages with students across a spectrum of business schools. From the top 12 B-schools, including IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and XLRI Jamshedpur and premier engineering colleges, Airtel hires interns for two-month stints in sales, marketing, customer experience, finance, HR & SCM networks.

Under the initiative, each intern works on a challenging handpicked assignment that helps them understand the telecom industry and contribute in a fast-paced environment. “Today, even after 20 years, Airtel embodies the spirit of a startup, and there is tremendous opportunity for young talent to bring in fresh thinking and innovate,” Balachandran shares talking of its unique culture.

Srikanth Balachandran

The YL programme aims to create the next pool of business leaders. Once enrolled in the YL programme, these young leaders will gain cross-functional exposure as part of a carefully designed 12 month programme, including an international project, before being assigned handpicked challenging roles.

In addition, these young graduates are constantly supported and mentored by senior leaders at Airtel. Interestingly, sometimes, the tables turn with reverse mentoring, where young talent bring insights and almost act as guides for senior leaders by breaking conventional barriers and ways of doing business.

According to Balachandran, “At Airtel, there is effort and resolve to Win with People. Our culture is empowering and our people are eager to break away from conventional jobs to do ‘jobs never done before’.”

“Today, even after 20 years, Airtel embodies the spirit of a startup, and there is tremendous opportunity for young talent to bring in fresh thinking and innovate.” 

Srikanth Balachandran

Having taken big risks on the business and technology aspects, the company is now taking equally big risks with young talent. That said, even a General Management Young Leader at Airtel may thus see accelerated growth, not just in terms of the volume and revenue handled, but also the span of control. This way, the young talent at Airtel not only boosts its business performance but also strengthens its credibility as an employer offering great opportunities to deserving candidates.

With massive network rollouts and the launch of new technologies, such as 4G, Airtel has also ramped up the hiring of engineering graduates from premier technical colleges. These recruits join the Young Technical Leader programme across four functional areas—networks, engineering (IT), supply chain and customer experience. Young Technical Leaders gain exposure across verticals before they are ready to work on multiple technologies.

“We continue to seek out more ways to build a culture and capabilities that support high performance,” says Balachandran. The company is now also tapping into 2nd and 3rd tier MBA schools as part of the Big Break programme with an intent to hire for frontline sales or retail roles.

While it helps Airtel skim the best talent early on, on campuses, the company enjoys increased visibility owing to an innovative year-round engagement model. The national-level case study challenge, iCreate, at b-schools, garnered tremendous pull on campuses, with teams coming together to find unconventional solutions to business problems in telecom.

iCreate 2016 saw interest from 4000+ students. In addition to PPOs, Airtel also prefers to hire through the iCreate route (winners and runners up teams get the opportunity to interview with Airtel). The intent is to maximise Airtel’s avenues to hire a ‘workforce of tomorrow’.

© 2016 HR Katha
Last modified on Monday, 17 April 2017

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