The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poachers enter defence labs
- Fat pay lures scientists to software & engineering firms

Bangalore, May 30: This is one virus that is spreading fast and which public sector units and defence labs can’t do anything about.

Software majors and engineering giants setting up shop in Bangalore are aiming their cross-hairs at the available talent and luring scientists and engineers from the public sector with obscenely fat salaries. The targets are those with five to seven years in software, especially with experience in testing, and those in aeronautical design and engineering.

Often, their monthly pay packets are what they would have probably earned in a year in their previous jobs.

Among the big guns hunting for good hands are Infosys, TCS and Wipro. Offers are also pouring in from engineering giants such as CFM (an engine manufacturer), Snecma, Airbus and British Aerospace and a host of multinationals for positions in their Indian subsidiaries or at their design hubs in Europe.

The chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Ashok K. Baweja, is a worried man. “We are being severely poached. Recently, I lost a senior manager working in a very critical area. He left for a salary packet of Rs 1 lakh per month. I cannot pay him that much and had to let him go. I am still looking for someone to fit into his shoes,” he said.

A scientist-engineer at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) said he was receiving dozens of offers of around Rs 1 lakh a month.

And with India and the US getting closer and with the number of H1B visas being doubled, engineers are excited about prospects in America. The Indians’ ability was acknowledged also by Nasa administrator Michael Griffin, who recently visited Isro facilities in Bangalore.

“Our canteens are agog with rumours every day that someone is leaving for a hefty salary. We joined government defence labs from a sense of pride. But how long can we sustain ourselves on low salaries in the name of patriotism'” asked another young gun who has just returned from abroad after a master’s programme paid for by his lab.

“I tell juniors to be careful while changing jobs and pay attention to career opportunities, job security, savings, housing, subsidised education and other advantages in government jobs. But the rush towards the exit seems to continue,” rued a senior manager at Bharat Electronics’ radar division.

“Even the argument that they would end up paying more income-tax in the private sector is not a deterrent.”

Srinivasan JK, who worked with a Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) lab for six years, left last year and joined a leading IT company.

“I know it’s a hire-and-fire world out here. But it’s more challenging to complete a project within a fixed timetable,” he said.

“At DRDO, it was a drab 8.30 am-to-4.30 pm routine where research opportunities were forever postponed ‘till tomorrow’. The private sector is more dynamic and the increments, too, are good. One can always be on the lookout for better opportunities even as one gains experience.”

To retain talent, HAL has planned several measures, said Sanjeev Sahi, director (personnel).

“We can’t compete with private sector salaries. So we have devised a compensation structure that includes soft loans, car loans and other sops like sending our officers for courses abroad. It hurts that people working in critical areas are leaving. Now we have realised that the company can grow only if it takes care of its people.”

It’s a realisation that others, too, may soon wake up to.

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