IT hiring in India outpaces U.S.

Is the recession making outsourcing more attractive?

Indian IT companies have started adding thousands of employees after a year of relatively flat growth. But the same can't be said for U.S. companies.

The IT labor market here is showing, at best, signs of stabilizing and modest growth after big job losses, but not anything like last quarter's India-sized leap.

Three of India's biggest IT services firms, Wipro Ltd., Infosys Technologies Ltd., and Tata Consultancy Services have alone added a total of 16,700 employees in the last quarter based on an improving outlook, according to quarterly reports this month. Combined, the three firms employ about 359,000 people.

The major Indian firms see improving demand and believe that the pace of outsourcing is getting back on track. But they may also be betting that when U.S. companies start building out new IT projects, they may turn to outsourcers rather than add or rehire permanent employees.

The recession may have changed views on outsourcing for some firms, said analysts. "As people start up projects, they may rethink about how they bring their developers back," said Tom Lang, a TPI Inc. partner and managing director for CIO services for the Americas.

The U.S. firms may turn to outsourcers, both onshore and offshore, for the flexibility to add and subtract capacity as needed, he said. A move to cloud services may also bring more work to outsourcing, he said.

The downturn "solidify the benefit" of outsourcing, said Atul Vashistha, the chairman of outsourcing consulting firm Neo Advisory. Companies and suppliers were "able to ramp down fast" with the downturn, he said.

The U.S. IT work force, which peaked at just over 4 million in November 2008, has a lot of lost ground to cover as a result of the recession. Industry group TechServe Alliance, which tracks U.S. IT-related occupational data month-to-month, counted 3.81 million IT workers at the end of September, marking a net gain of about 11,000 jobs to the end of last month.

TPI, which tracks outsourcing spending, said on Wednesday that the total market value of outsourcing contracts (from an index which measures contracts that are greater than $25 million) was this market's best performance in six quarters, reaching $24.7 billion for the most recent quarter, a sequential increase of 47% and 8% percent year-over-year.

But despite these numbers, Lang said the outsourcing market is just starting to get back to normal, and still has a way to go. Last year "was a very dismal year," said Lang.

The Indian firms are largely bullish on the outlook. TCS alone reported revenues for the quarter ending Dec. 31 at $1.64 billion, up 10.3% year-to-year.

N. Chadrasekaran, CEO of TCS, told analysts this month that some last quarter's business was pent-up demand. And while he warned financial analyst not to extrapolate other quarters from the most recent one, he nonetheless told them that "we are quite positive about the future."

Wipro Ltd. added 4,855 employees in its most recent quarter, raising its total workforce to 102,746 employees after relatively flat hiring over the past year. Its workforce in the year-ago quarter was 96,965.

Infosys added 4,429 employees in the last quarter, also its largest quarterly gain for the year, reaching 109,882 employees. One year ago, it had 103,078 workers.

TCS added 7,417 employees this quarter, raising its headcount to 130,509, not counting subsidiaries. In the year ago quarter Tata was at 125,629, and actually declined in the number of employees during the year.

The Indian firms compete for talent and some of the new hiring is important to their image in the labor market, said Vashistha. "There is a brand reaffirming that needs to happen; they need to recruit regularly otherwise the talent will start to go somewhere else," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, send e-mail to pthibodeau@computerworld.com or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed .

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