Over the past few years, the Indian government has made various attempts at divesting its stake in enterprises that have been a drain on the exchequer. Every time that this issue is brought up, the socialist India awakens, hoots loudly about how the poor and the labor would be adversely affected by the sale of the public enterprise. A recent article in the Economist on a global trend of poorly performing state owned companies is quite telling in its assessment. While the article only touches upon the performance of the banks in India in comparison with other enterprises across the world, there are any number of examples of Government owned companies struggling to remain relevant in an increasingly fast paced and competitive landscape.
The social demographics in India dictated that those who were educated to be a Doctor or Engineer in the 60s, 70s and the 80s would invariably look for opportunities only in the Government sector. It is this trend that got my father into one of the few better performing industries run by the Government back in the 1970s. Cut to the 90s and the 2000s and the trend has reduced to an extent where a large majority of my peers and colleagues did not even consider the option of applying with a state owned enterprises (SOE). Understandably, the example is only of my experience in a South Indian city but increasingly, I see the trend replicating in cities across India. Children of parents employed in a Government organization are looking for careers in the private industry or outside of India.
There was a time when getting a job at a Government organization would be considered an achievement and a guarantee of a job for the rest of one’s life. Many SOEs, if not all, offered free housing, good, free medical services, access to good schools and the promise of a pension for life, post retirement. Firing an employee for poor performance in such an organization was and remains difficult, if not impossible due to strict labor laws designed to protect the employee under all circumstances. Apart from the guarantee, perks in the form of all-expenses paid trips for the family every 2 years, free travel in either state owned air-planes or the Indian Railways abound. Of course, not all employee would be eligible for all the perks, but since a promotion is decided by the number of years in an organization, the possibility of one becoming eligible for such perks remains high.
With time and liberalization of the economy in 1991, attitudes and behaviors of this generation have changed. Now there are opportunities elsewhere and thankfully, the Government has now become an enabler of job creation rather than being the sole job creator. There is also a confidence in one’s own ability in the knowledge age where the Indian can stand up on his/ her own against competition from across the globe. This has resulted in more jobs being created in the knowledge/ Information Technology sector. The slow pace of work and the stifling environment created due to old age values and an attitude of “Might is Right”, “Boss is always Right”” do not sit well with a generation exposed to the mobile phones and access to the Internet and information at one’s fingertips. Aspirations of the youth know no bounds and they want to explore those options rather than risk being swamped by the oppressive environment at the work place stuck in the 60s and 70s. Added to this is the fact that most of the job openings in Govt. organizations are now reservations based as well. Nepotism and references play a notoriously major role in new appointments. Job postings might as well mention, Acquaintance of a high placed official within the organization is an added advantage” given the role that plays in deciding the right candidate for the job.
Of course, private industry does have its own drawbacks but it is the state of the nation and the society that is deciding the trend and creating opportunities for people to thrive and succeed in their individual endeavors. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the scariest words in the English language in the Indian context today may well be, “The job is for the Government and it is there to help you”.