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Opportunity knocks in India for L&D

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India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, offers a fantastic business development opportunity for L&D companies, says Robbie Swales.

Business opportunities exist wherever there is growing demand. And, in India, there’s a growing demand for L&D.

Predicted to become the world’s third largest economy by 2050, India has a population of 1.2bn, half of whom are under the age of 25. In other words, around 500 million people are currently in need of skills development in the region. Anecdotal data show that L&D budgets in India are growing year-on-year, and the growth rate is not in single-digits.

India has so much potential that David Cameron recently took representatives from over 100 companies, as well as cultural and educational bodies, on a three-day trip to Mumbai and Delhi. It was the largest-ever trade delegation to travel overseas with a British Prime Minister.

Among the party were the CEOs of major organisations such as Balfour Beatty, BP, De La Rue, Diageo, Rolls-Royce, Serco, Standard Chartered and Standard Life. But the opportunities in India extend beyond large corporations. Around 30 SMEs were also invited, including my company, Steps Drama. I was the only representative from an L&D company on the trip, although the vice chancellors of five universities were also present.

David Cameron’s aims in inviting us were to enhance business relations with India, to open doors for British firms and to enable us to extend our trade and entrepreneurial links with the region. So, off we embarked on a hectic schedule of site visits, business-focused meetings, roundtable discussions and networking events.

"There’s a growing realisation that having workers who are willing to switch jobs at short notice is bad for business, as it makes recruitment and selection processes more expensive."

Around 400 British companies already operate in India, in a wide range of sectors. In the last ten months, UK Trade & Investment* has helped over 1,500 companies with their India strategy.

Key L&D issues in India

Diversity is a huge challenge for the region. India is a multiethnic society with no national language. Hindi is the government’s official language and English is used extensively in business. However, 20 other languages are also spoken such as Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada. Four world religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism - originated in India and the influences of Christianity and Islam have helped to shape the region’s diverse culture.

Work with clients in India has centred on gender diversity, intercultural barriers and the impact of family background on people’s behaviour in the workplace. Other development areas, more commonly found across Europe, are also prevalent such as performance management, trust, change and corporate values.

In recent years, we’ve seen considerable demand in India for soft skills training. Employers recognise that they need to develop competencies such as adaptability, team building, empathy and effective communication.

However, what’s interesting now is that employee engagement and retention are becoming big concerns for L&D in India. There’s a growing realisation that having workers who are willing to switch jobs at short notice is bad for business, as it makes recruitment and selection processes more expensive. Consequently, there has been a shift in focus towards employee retention. Training is now becoming recognised as a means of retaining staff and this is proving to be a key driver in the current demand for development. In turn, L&D is being closely linked to performance management and succession planning.

With the emergence of India as a primary growth market, western employers have also become more focused on developing local leaders from the region. Leadership development is therefore a key theme. We’re also finding that this extends right down the line to supervisors. Organisations are realising that workers are more likely to be engaged if their first-line managers are effective and if they’re conscious of the importance of issues such as gender diversity. It’s not enough for L&D companies to simply export UK trainers with a western approach. The challenge is to commit yourself to the Indian market, to develop partnerships and to train up local people for your delivery.

For those who can do this, India offers a real opportunity for developing your business and enhancing your bottom line.

Robbie Swales is a director at drama-based training specialist Steps. He can be contacted at [email protected] Click here for a short YouTube video in which Robbie explains more about the challenges of exporting to India

* If you’re interested in trading in India, UKTI’s professional advisers can offer advice and practical support. www.ukti.gov.uk

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