HCLT’s groundbreaking apprenticeship initiative: Long-term vision, near-term effects

In the battle for talent, prepare for the long war

Recruit, retain and train. Every IT services vendor over the past couple of years has been pulling every lever to find, manage and reward talent in a chaotic market in which new competitors and newly empowered professionals have spiked attrition across the board and strained HR staffs as never seen before. The pandemic brought about a new appreciation for employee well-being while proving virtual engagements and delivery could work for IT services vendors. As 2022 starts, filling talent gaps in the near term will continue to challenge every vendor. Notably, HCL Technologies (HCLT) has begun investing in the long term with a program that is perhaps unique among IT services vendors and certainly, in TBR’s view, timely, a little risky and genuinely good for society. 

On Dec. 9, TBR spoke with Ramachandran Sundararajan, HCLT’s EVP of Human Resources at HCL America, and Rohan Varghese, HCLT’s VP and global head of Analyst Relations and Customer Advisory Board, both of whom provided details on the new apprenticeship program. The following reflects that discussion and TBR’s ongoing analysis of HCLT.

Flexibility, STEM and a 5-year apprentice journey  

With the company’s new apprenticeship program, announced in November, HCLT has crafted an expansive, flexible, multiyear journey for students intent on joining the IT services and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) ecosystem. The core program begins with a year spent at HCLT as a salaried employee, including a three-month “boot camp” that introduces apprentices to various aspects of HCLT’s IT services, consulting and technology businesses. The second phase focuses on practice-based learning. Sundararajan emphasized the “practice” part, noting that apprentices would have exposure to and gain experience working across many of HCLT’s core areas, such as SaaS, cloud, security and networking services. Over the final three months of the first year, apprentices join a live project environment, supporting and providing help at an appropriate proficiency level and putting to use skills learned from working in sandbox environments.

When apprentices graduate from this last phase, they become eligible for an HCLT-funded college program and can fully appreciate the flexibility that HCLT offers. Graduated apprentices can enroll in a four-year STEM program at any university, with HCLT picking up the tuition and fees and keeping the student on the company’s payroll. Apprentices can also choose an associate degree track to move more quickly to full-time employment. Or apprentices can opt for industry-recognized certifications, moving even more rapidly into the full-time workforce. In all three journeys, HCLT pays the academic costs, allowing the apprentices to earn a degree without any student debt.

Looking beyond the usual boundaries while staying aligned to HCLT’s core

Notably, HCLT has designed the apprenticeship program to seek candidates both geographically and economically diverse from the standard STEM talent pool. HCLT wants to attract students with fewer financial advantages than the average college student and will be recruiting most heavily in cities away from the technology hubs of Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and Boston. Sundararajan said HCLT will work with community groups in Cary, N.C.; Hartford, Conn.; and Sacramento, Calif., among other cities, although HCLT would welcome apprentices from any part of the U.S. In addition to throwing the net wide in terms of who and from where, Sundararajan said the goals of the program centered on building skills for the future, recognizing that the technical skills, who has them, and where they live will have lasting effects across their communities.

KPMG is on the right path as the firm delivers connected, powered, trusted transformation

Connected, powered, delivered with trust: KPMG’s ambitions for its clients  

KPMG’s approach to digital transformation revolves around the firm’s concept of the “Connected Enterprise,” an organization fully embracing information technology, networking and data to take every advantage of existing and emerging technologies. In KPMG’s view, fully embracing IT requires an enterprise’s transformation efforts be sustainable and cross-functional; that is, not simply transformation to a new state, but an ongoing, ever-evolving change process, executed across an entire company, not simply within one functional area, geography, or line of business. As a comprehensive vision of digital transformation, KPMG’s Connected Enterprise serves as both an aspiration and a road map, particularly when coupled with the expertise, capabilities and experience KPMG believes it brings to clients. During the event, both formally and in sidebar conversations, KPMG professionals reiterated the firm’s commitment to delivery, from strategy and road mapping through advice on funding transformation, based on KPMG’s core expertise in finance, and through to implementation and managed services. Multiple client examples, some described in this report, brought forward that commitment and reinforced KPMG’s strategy-heavy emphasis.

When the firm shifted to emerging technologies, the Connected Enterprise became empowered: According to KPMG, the firm brings clients functional transformation advice, deep industry knowledge and expertise transitioning to the cloud. And underpinning the firm’s core strengths around strategy consulting and emerging capabilities around technology, KPMG touted the trust clients have developed with the firm and KPMG’s ability to reassure clients their digital transformations will be connected, powered and secure. In TBR’s view, KPMG’s framing around digital transformation does not differ sharply from its Big Four peers, with “connected, powered, and trusted” echoing both the structures and themes used by PwC and EY, in particular. In the near term, minimal differentiation may not matter to clients. As these firms all begin to more aggressively court new logos, KPMG may need to find a unique way of describing its digital transformation vision if it has yet to establish enough differentiation.

KPMG may find differentiation with its Ignition Centers, even as the field is increasingly crowded with these kinds of immersion, innovation and transformation spaces. As described in detail by KPMG’s leaders, the 25 globally dispersed Ignition Centers “make technology real” for clients and allow clients to “see what tech feels like” within a KPMG setting, but attuned to the client’s specific needs. For KPMG, these centers supply the engine for the firm’s innovation agenda, providing the culture and the space for an “ideas to outcomes” framework for clients’ people processes and technology. Further, the firm’s leadership described “sensory advantage capability” — the ability to look at markets and trends, anticipate what will be coming, and then draw conclusions, with specific context, for clients — as critical to both the Ignition Centers and how KPMG views innovation.

In KPMG’s view, the firm has developed expertise around reading “signals of change from an outside perspective” and relating those signals to client-specific content. All of this — the innovation, technology and future sensing — enables KPMG to translate clients’ needs into strategy for a Connected Enterprise, deliver a detailed and tech-supported road map, and then implement the digital transformation.

As with the firm’s overall framing around digital transformation, TBR cannot be certain the Ignition Centers differ substantially from PwC’s Experience Centers, EY’s wavespaces or the 20-plus other centers TBR has visited in the past three years. In discussions with KPMG professionals around client selection and preparation, staffing and talent management, and technology partner inclusion within the Ignition Centers — all concepts researched extensively by TBR — no substantial differences emerged, suggesting KPMG has at least kept pace with the evolutions to date, if not necessarily leading peers in developing new ways of leveraging these centers.

In mid-June, KPMG hosted more than 50 analysts for an extensive series of large sessions and breakouts intended to showcase KPMG’s capabilities, offerings and innovations. With multiple clients on hand for both the opening dinner and presentations across the following daylong session, TBR had the opportunity to hear why clients select KPMG and the different digital transformation challenges KPMG has addressed. TBR also met one-on-one with KPMG leaders and partners, hearing directly from them the firm’s overall strategy, internal metrics, and sense of where KPMG fits within the consulting market.