Q&A: Managing And Upskilling Your Workforce by Vibhu Khanna

Join us for a Q&A session with Vibhu Khanna, a senior manager at Entigrity Private Limited, as we explore his 15-year journey in the industry.

Entigrity specialises in staffing for clients in the US, Canada, and the UK.

Vibhu brings 15 years of experience to the table. Following approximately five to six years as an entrepreneur, he spent the first nine and a half years in a variety of job roles. In early 2022, he joined Entigrity Private Limited, where he manages HR and other functions.

Q: Can you provide more insights into the upskilling and offshoring of CPAs (Certified Public Accountants) and how it differs from the more common offshoring practises like call centres and IT-related functions?

Upskilling and offshoring Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) is a practise that has been around for about 30 years. Big firms like KPMG, EY, Deloitte, Grant Thornton, and others have been doing it for a while, establishing offices that offer remote staffing services to US accounting firms.

Essentially, it involves providing skilled professionals who work remotely to assist these accounting firms, creating an extended workforce through remote staffing services.

Q: What criteria do you use when selecting individuals for upskilling, and what are the fundamental terms and concepts associated with the process of upskilling in your industry?

When selecting candidates for upskilling, we use a specific set of criteria. We assess their proficiency in English, as effective communication with clients from Western countries is crucial.

We also evaluate their accounting knowledge through tests to ensure a strong grasp of the basics. Familiarity with Microsoft products and specialised accounting tools like Thomson Reuters and QuickBooks is considered a plus. While a background in a CA firm or Chartered Accountancy (CA) qualification is preferred, we are open to candidates who started but didn't complete their CA qualification.

Our primary focus is on identifying candidates with a solid foundation in the field who can meet these criteria and excel in the role.

Q: Given the ample opportunities for individuals in India, why should they choose to offer their skills offshore?
  1. Good Pay: Even without much experience, you can earn competitive starting salaries, often around 10 lakh per year. As you gain experience, those numbers can grow, and some folks end up making 50, 60, or even 70 lakhs annually.

  1. Global Exposure: Offshore work lets you collaborate with big multinational companies (MNCs) and renowned organisations, including the famous "Big 4" accounting firms. It's like a launchpad for your career, with lots of learning and growth.

  1. Industry Growth: Over the last 8 to 10 years, the offshore industry has matured a lot. Many companies have set up offices in India, recognising it as a hub for accounting work. It started with tech, but now accounting is a big part, offering even more opportunities.

So, if you're considering offshore careers, it's a promising path to explore.

Q: What are some common challenges and grievances that individuals often encounter during the upskilling process, and is the process challenging enough to result in a significant drop-off rate?

When it comes to training individuals in our industry, we have a well-thought-out process. Our HR teams are thorough in explaining expectations to candidates, setting them up for success. This approach usually works well and keeps issues to a minimum.

Our onboarding programme typically runs for about three months, especially for those new to US accounting. If candidates already have experience or a good grasp of accounting and English, the onboarding process can be expedited. We have a dedicated team that covers various forms, modules, and software over a 12-week period.

For candidates who have prior experience working in CA firms, the transition tends to be smoother. They are often seeking additional opportunities and improved compensation.

Additionally, we have offices across India, making it convenient for candidates to find opportunities in various locations. Overall, our careful selection and onboarding process help reduce the dropout rate, and once individuals are onboarded, there are relatively few dropouts.

Q: When managing diverse teams across locations, what key lessons apply universally for building trust, providing assurances, and navigating relationships, particularly in HR roles, whether in large corporations or startups, and especially during upskilling programmes?

Managing diverse teams across locations necessitates a few key principles:

1. Transparency: Building trust in diverse teams starts with transparency. Being open and honest about decisions, changes, and challenges helps foster trust and assurance.

2. Empathy: Navigating relationships across diverse teams requires empathy. Understanding the unique needs, cultural backgrounds, and perspectives of team members is essential for effective communication and relationship-building.

3. Clear Communication: During expansion and upskilling programmes, clear communication is paramount. Ensuring that all team members are well-informed and have a platform to voice their concerns is crucial for building trust and providing assurances.

4. Cultural Sensitivity: Acknowledging and respecting cultural differences within the team is vital. Cultural sensitivity training can help team members understand and appreciate each other's backgrounds, contributing to a harmonious work environment.

5. Proactive Issue Resolution: Addressing issues promptly and proactively is key to maintaining trust. Whether it's addressing teething problems during expansion or addressing concerns related to upskilling, being proactive in resolving issues helps build stronger relationships.

In HR roles, regardless of the organization's size, these principles apply universally and are especially relevant during upskilling programmes.

Q: How can you foster a strong sense of belonging, commitment, and ownership among newcomers to ensure they prioritise the team's success, even during challenging situations like tight deadlines or errors?

Fostering a sense of belonging, commitment, and ownership among newcomers involves several strategies:

1. Clear Communication: We start by ensuring that from day one, we provide newcomers with a clear understanding of our organization's mission, values, and goals. We explain how each newcomer's role contributes to our team's overall success.

2. Support and Mentorship: We offer vital support and mentorship to newcomers, connecting them with experienced team members who can guide and assist them during challenging situations.

3. Ownership Empowerment: Empowering newcomers to take ownership of their work is crucial. We grant them autonomy and responsibility within their roles, enabling them to actively contribute to our team's success.

4. Feedback and Recognition: Regular feedback and recognition for their efforts and achievements are essential. Acknowledging their contributions reinforces their commitment to our team's goals.

5. Learning Opportunities: We provide ongoing learning and development opportunities to help newcomers grow in their roles and feel more connected to our team's overall success.

By implementing these strategies, we aim to ensure that newcomers prioritise our team's success, even in challenging situations.

Q: What strategies promote effective handling of difficult conversations in both associate and leadership roles to prevent negative outcomes like job loss, ensure discussions are respectful, and minimise misunderstandings?

A leader today was probably an associate some time ago. It's important for newcomers to keep an open mind and try to understand why things happen. Professional careers can last 30–40 years, and many experiences will be new. Being open to feedback and learning is incredibly valuable.

For supervisors and leaders, empathy is crucial. They were once junior employees, and they should remember what that was like. Understanding why decisions are made, even if they seem strange, is important. Junior employees often have the right intentions, but there are often complex factors involved. Handling these conversations with empathy and a willingness to explain can make interactions smoother.

Q: Which sectors stand to benefit the most from upskilling efforts?

In the past year, I've witnessed significant advancements in technology, particularly in areas like AI and chatbots, which have the potential to disrupt almost every industry. What's remarkable is that even if you're not a tech expert, you can now create a basic website in just four minutes. This rapid pace of technological change underscores how accessible and user-friendly technology has become.

It's challenging to predict which industries will remain untouched by these changes in the near future. In fact, it's a safe bet to say that virtually every industry will experience some level of technological transformation. Therefore, it's crucial for individuals to allocate time for continuous learning and acquiring new skills. As technology continues to advance, new job opportunities will emerge. Every industry should anticipate changes, and while we can't precisely quantify their magnitude or specifics, change is undoubtedly on the horizon.

Q: How can HR professionals or those in people-facing roles contribute to upskilling initiatives?

They understand how vital it is to spend time and resources on staff development and encourage a culture of constant learning. They work closely with outside partners and use technology to give their employees the right tools and knowledge to stay current in their fields. This doesn't just help their industry stay competitive; it also opens the door to new ideas and growth opportunities.

Q: How can you enhance your leadership skills through learning from your peers or juniors? Additionally, how do you handle a situation where a junior employee is resistant to change and reluctant to embrace advancements in their role or the organisation?

As an organisation, we prioritise keeping our employees well-informed about all the changes and improvements taking place. We employ various communication methods, such as town halls and newsletters, to disseminate these updates, ensuring that everyone is aware of the developments. However, it's equally important for individuals, whether they're newcomers or seasoned members of the company, to adapt to these changes and meet evolving expectations.

Our overarching goal is to strike a balance between fostering a culture of continuous learning and ensuring that our employees are equipped to meet the evolving demands of our industry.

Q: How do you transition an organisation from industry-standard tools to more efficient but non-standard tools, aiming to boost productivity, and how would you propose and implement this change to clients, considering the evolving tech landscape?

Our approach involves assessing the potential value of a new tool and its impact on both our organisation and our clients. While improved efficiency and productivity are undoubtedly valuable, we must also consider broader implications, such as the need for staff adjustments. One option is to invest in training our existing staff to effectively integrate these changes and ease the transition.

Utilising new tools to enhance efficiency not only benefits us but also allows us to provide better service to our clients. While clients may initially resist change, the ultimate result is a win-win situation. It empowers our employees to acquire new skills and excel in their roles, ultimately benefiting our organisation and potentially attracting more clients.

To facilitate this transition, we allocate resources for training and acquiring the necessary tools, which form the foundation of our plan for this change.

Q: How significant of a role do emerging technologies play in the upskilling of employees who may not be well-versed in these technologies, and what are the responsibilities of HR in this process?

Given that accounting is a specialised field, it's crucial to ensure that our learners have a solid grasp of the fundamentals before incorporating the new tool. Fortunately, our dedicated L&D team possesses the expertise to effectively organise the material and ensure that learners can make optimal use of the new tool.

In this process, the HR team plays a vital role in supporting the L&D team. They assist in obtaining approval from top management, particularly if the new tool entails a significant expense. Additionally, the HR team plays a pivotal role in encouraging learners to embrace and utilise the new tool effectively.

Here are some steps the L&D team can follow to integrate a new accounting tool into the existing learning and development material:

1. Understanding the Learners: We assess learners' existing accounting knowledge to tailor teaching approaches for the new tool.

2. Prioritising Key Concepts: We identify essential concepts for effective tool use, focusing on critical aspects to avoid confusion.

3. Creating Engaging Materials: Our team develops engaging, comprehensible learning materials.

4. Testing and Feedback: We conduct trials with select learners to gather feedback and refine materials.

5. Sharing Materials: Refined materials are accessible to all learners for a seamless transition.

Q: How does your company identify areas or skills that need upskilling, and what are the different ways you plan on delivering the same?

In our company, we approach upskilling in several ways, such as:

1. Checking Internally: We regularly seek input from our teams regarding their skill levels and aspirations. If someone expresses an interest in learning something new, such as AI, we fully support them and even offer scholarships.

2. Listening to Clients: Sometimes, our clients have specific skill requirements for their employees. In such cases, we ensure that we provide the appropriate training to meet these needs.

3. Self-Assessment: We encourage our employees to evaluate their own skills and identify areas for improvement. Managers and Learning and Development specialists use this information to create tailored training plans for each individual. Employees can participate in surveys, discussions, or workshops to reflect on their development.

4. Future-Proofing: We stay vigilant about industry trends and emerging skills that will be crucial in the future. This foresight informs our training programmes, ensuring that our employees are well-prepared for upcoming challenges.

5. Personalised Development Plans: Every employee receives a customised development plan outlining what they need to learn and how to achieve it.

6. Diverse Training Options: We offer a wide range of training programmes, including online courses, in-person workshops, and mentorship opportunities. These options cater to employees at various levels and in different roles.

7. Financial Support: Our company assists employees in pursuing further education by providing financial support for expenses like tuition and books.

By employing these strategies, we ensure that our employees possess the skills necessary to excel in their roles and satisfy our clients' needs.

Do you work in HR?

Email abhash.kumar@springworks.in and let’s talk :)

Note: All views expressed in this interview are personal and not linked to any organisation.