We need to focus on capacity retention than capacity building: CEO of Kerala IT parks

Anand Prince

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The covid pandemic has had its impact on all human activites. It sector has been viewed as one of the few areas which has faced the challenges of the pandemic sucessfully. The revenue from the software exports of government run Technopark, Infopark and Cyberpark in Kerala stood at Rs 15,000 crore in the year 2021. Mathrubhumi English caught up with John M Thomas, CEO of these three IT parks, for an exclusive interview to know more about the opportunities and challenges in the segment.

Do we have any relook on physical infrastructure plans as work-from-home or remote-working has become the norm and normal amid this pandemic?

At this moment we cannot exactly say how the workplace set up will change. Work-from-home is here to stay and in the future it will be a hybrid model of operation with a blend of in-office and remote-work. There again the blend depends on the business, work culture and client requirements of the company. So at present infrastructure plans are not curtailed. Actually amid the pandemic period the IT sector witnessed robust growth and for the next five years we expect the same. It is noteworthy that IT exports of Kerala were high despite the workspace constraints. For instance, we were not able to meet the demand in Thiruvananthapuram. Many mid-size companies situated in other areas are looking for office spaces in cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi. Not just companies, but also managed office space providers and co-working space providers from other places too have been approaching us. So we are planning to launch more office spaces in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi.

When we look at the Malayali IT workforce it's huge, but most of them are not working in Kerala. They prefer other states and countries. So do we have any plans to attract them back to the homeland?

For sure. It is a focus area where we are continuing our interventions. If we look at the Malayali workforce it will be around 7 lakh or so, but those who work in Kerala are approximately 1.25 lakh. The first step towards bringing Malayalis back here is to have more high quality jobs and better opportunities. Similarly, we have to attract more people to start start-ups and companies here by using their acumen from exposure. We should realize that the IT sector here is a supply constrained industry and not a demand constrained industry as we have availability of projects. Not just Malayalis, we need to attract non-Keralites too. So as to attract them we should be accommodative and welcoming. We should not shut doors to cultures and should avoid dogmas that are irrelevant now. We should have a global exposure. The role of people at managerial roles will be crucial as they are responsible for openness and the tolerance in the organizations.

Some employees in the sector flag location of IT parks, transportation, poor salary packages and cost of living in the state. What is your take on such issues?

We are in regular talks with the State Public Works Department to improve the accessibility to IT parks. In Thiruvananthapuram we have somewhat addressed the transportation issue. We are proactively looking to resolve the issue at Kochi and other locations. Now coming to salary packages, if we compare the salary offered in IT parks in Bengaluru it may be less. However, the cost of living in my view is low here. To have better salary packages we need to have premium companies. Or we need to attract clients with technologies we have to offer. Skilset upgradation is also important so that the value of the employees increase. The employees should reskill themselves and professionalism is a must. Certification in new technologies is always a value addition.

Should we focus on capacity building?

More than capacity building, we need to focus on capacity retention. We are having capacity loss in multiple ways. One is related to brain drain, that is generational loss of talents. Those getting out of premier educational institutions go abroad.The latest trend is that after plus two and UG many are going abroad for higher studies. It seems students now look at ranking,course curriculum, exposure and opportunities. In Kerala's case we have good quality educational institutions in the medical field, both in the private and public sector. But that is not the case in the IT and the allied engineering field. Public sector has a better track record than the private sector in such fields. So that need to be fixed.

Many Malaylis are starting start-ups and companies in other states including Bengaluru. Why are they switching from here? Some initially start here and later shift their headquarters or base to other states. Why?

The clients of start-ups and companies may have some sudden demand for human resources with specific skill sets. To address those sudden needs start-ups and companies look for competitive job markets where a skilled resource pool is readily available. In the case of Bengaluru, there is availability of connections, business deals, industrial representatives, professional networks and venture capitalists or funders. Our Startup Mission is taking actions to create such an environment here.

Whether start-ups or companies in government run IT parks are given opportunities in state's E-governance projects?

Government is engaging various startups or companies in its various projects. We have an ongoing program called the government as a marketplace. Through that window we have already engaged around 200 such entities in small projects. Engaging them is our priority.

What are our projections or estimations about the sector?

It would be an understatement, but for sure we will have at least 200% growth in the next 10 years if we are on the right track. It is not a difficult task to increase the capacity of the IT force from the present 1.5 lakh to 5 lakh. We have given the government a set of suggestions for policy tweaks that will further boost the sector. Meanwhile,we are focusing on offering a better work ecosystem for the IT force with better amenities. Residential areas, schools, hospitals, shopping malls, gyms, jogging tracks, theaters and parks should be near IT parks. Our Thiruvananthapuram Technocity plan has imbibed such considerations. In Kochi and Thrissur (Koratty) IT parks we have space constraints for expansion. But we are looking for alternative models there. The idea is to have facelift procedures to give the ambiance of modern IT campuses. It will attract more players and the same will be reflected in the growth.

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