There is hope for fresh graduates during and after COVID-19 period: Lohit Bhatia

Interview, Lohit Bhatia, president, Indian Staffing Federation

lohit Lohit Bhatia | Screengrab

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken lives to the core. Amid the all pervading uncertainty induced by the pandemic, young graduates are finding it hard to keep themselves motivated.

In an interview to THE WEEK, Lohit Bhatia, president of the Indian Staffing Federation—the apex body of temporary workers industry in India—takes stock of the employment situation in the country and looks at the way ahead.

What is in store for fresh graduates? How has the pandemic affected the hiring scenario? Are young graduates likely to get the salary they deserve?

The largest hiring in India happens in the IT industry. Anywhere between 20,000-40,000 offers are given to young graduates from the large Tier-1 IT majors.

That said, many companies are doing away with their offsite learning sessions for new joinees. These sessions to nurture fresh graduates are being digitalized. You can probably attend them in the comfort of your homes for the next few weeks or months. Companies are trying to save on travel and hotel expenses by conducting virtual training sessions.

What concerns me is that there are thousands of talented young people out there who have not got campus placements. They were expecting corporates coming for interviews in the month of March, April and May. Now there can’t be in-person interviews. Those who weren’t placed before COVID-19 may remain unplaced for sometime.

Our professional lives start from 21-23 and go right up to 60. One may have an average working life cycle of 40 years. Having to start your career later in life could be the new normal. That shouldn’t stop you from achieving your dreams. Your senior might have got a better offer last year. That shouldn’t put you off. Companies still need talented employees and they retain them. The question is about merit. You can catch up over time with hard work.

Campus interviews have stopped now. There are still opportunities to work with good corporates. If a corporate says you can join in November, tell them ‘I’m happy to join in September. It is okay if you don’t pay me. I’ll use this time to start learning about the organisation.’ It will give a signal to the company that this person is working not just for money. It creates the impression this person is willing to put his time, effort and energy for two months for the company and is worth the offer that is being made.

Flexibility and adaptability seem to be the key job skills to succeed in a post pandemic world. How can one acclimatize himself to the new situation?

In the post COVID-19 period, you may have to take on new responsibilities. Sometimes you may feel ‘This wasn’t what I was trained to do.’ What someone was originally hired for and what they eventually get to do in the post COVID period could be very different. I think young graduates need to prepare themselves for this. They should understand the priorities of companies in the post COVID era will have undergone a sea change. So flexibility is really important.

Is remote work a feasible option in the long run?

When people are working from home, they should be able to strike a work life balance. You can’t call employees very late at night or very early in the morning. There has to be a decorum or discipline. Most of us attend video based meetings on Zoom or Teams. People are in their home environment. What are the protocols when you use video based applications? Can you insist the video be on at all times? Are people comfortable having their video on when they are working from home? Such concerns should be addressed.

The beauty of WFH will virtually enable anyone and everyone to apply for most jobs, as the restriction of location and distance is taken away. Similarly, family setup can be managed while WFH i.e. looking after children or elderly parents. This opens opportunities to many who weren’t looking aggressively for assignments earlier owing to these challenges.

Are there jobs left for new university graduates?

Job market being bad is a misnomer. Even as we speak, IT industry is hiring. FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods), e-commerce companies are also adding new jobs.

In February, the telecom industry was going down. There were speculations that people in telecom industry were going to lose their jobs. But during COVID-19, it became the most well protected industry. They had systems which were fully digitised and employees could work from anywhere. People realized for working from home, you need better broadband connectivity. Today both parents are working from home and kids are on zoom calls. So the extent of load on home broadband has increased. People started choosing better broadband plans which in turn has saved the industry.

I think we have to look at it sector by sector. To be honest, the hardest hit is the tourism related sector. Aviation, hospitality, hotel and restaurants will be hit for longer.

You can’t create social distancing easily in a few industries—cinema, restaurant or food court. While it becomes imperative to give safe environment to patrons, leaders in the industry will evolve and attract clientele based on their SOPs and safe environment. Big hotels no longer have different restaurants for different cuisines. They merge it into three or four restaurants, where multi-cuisines are available.

Things are going to be different for different industries. Hiring will happen in the food and FMCG industries. In the post COVID era, there will be initiatives to bring people back and make up for lost time.

If you look at manufacturing, transportation and construction, they will suffer for one quarter because of social distancing norms. But non-luxury brands could come back quicker.

I feel that for fresh graduates there’s still room for hope. It is not compete gloom and doom scenario everywhere.