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The practice of overhiring as a growth enabler has spread to a variety of sectors such as retail, insurance and even manufacturing.

TRENDS: The practice of overhiring as a growth enabler has spread to a variety of sectors such as retail, insurance and even manufacturing.
Time was when benching was primarily associated with IT and ITeS companies. Now it is being adopted by other sectors as well. Benching works when companies expect to win a major project or order in the near future.
And traditionally, sectors like FMCG, BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), automotive and logistics have not used the practice. But all that is changing.
"We keep people on the bench for our retail business," confirms Arvind Agarwal, management board member and president of corporate development and HR at RPG Enterprises.
Here's more proof: The number of people on the bench may not be on the same scale as IT, "but companies are taking on more than they require, even up to 20 per cent more, especially at the graduate and engineering trainee level," says Anita Ramachandran, CEO of Cerebrus Consultants.
So it's normal today to find chemical, auto, retail and insurance companies overhiring and in the latter two cases its easy for them to create new territories as well.
The traditional logic, according to Subhash Khare, Vice President, Central Staffing and Employee Productivity, Wipro, shows that there are two primary reasons why companies keep people on the bench: First, it is an essential element of a business where what you sell is in the nature of a 'project', and where successive customer engagements for a resource cannot be timed perfectly back to back. Therefore, when a project ends, the resources wait on the bench, for the next project to begin.
However, most resources on the bench do not really idle away their time; they are engaged in either skill enhancement or some other productive activities.
The other reason for benching is that it facilitates growth. It's really an outcome of a "make" vs "buy" decision, and their corresponding cycle times. Organisations hire freshers and groom them, rather than depend too much on lateral hiring, which may be expensive and unpredictable.
Even Elixir Web Solutions, a supplier of talent, keeps recruiters on its bench for clients; the process is called RoD (Recruiters on Demand). It is a cost-effective way of handling the contingent hiring need without utilising current staff.
"The client gets an additional resource in the office to manage contingent hiring with the support of a back office in Elixir Web Solutions," says Amit Mathur, manager of outsourcing and consumer durables, Elixir Web Solutions. The recruiters are sent to the clients and once the hiring-related project is over, they are either reabsorbed by Elixir or are sent to other clients.
The important feature is that the recruiters do not get tagged as unstable as they are associated with Elixir.
Rather, they get experience in varied companies. Elixir often does benching for clients such as Hutch, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sapient Corporation and Max New York Life. This means that managing benching is also a key activity that companies have started paying attention to, as it's necessary to keep talent engaged.
"Manufacturing companies are beginning to take on the concept of benching and are working with it in interesting ways," says Ramachandran.
According to her manufacturing companies are creating different cells such as productivity-enhancement cells and technical services cells in which they can park extra people.
"Senior managers up to general manager level are being taken on for these roles. You often have heads being hired under the guise of special projects," she says.
T Muralidharan, chairman of TMI First, a recruitment firm, also has a similar point of view. He says that while IT companies get people on their rolls and use the benching period for training, non-IT players, especially in BFSI, hire more people than required and keep the excess people deployed in managing new initiatives.
TMI First recruits for a variety of customers across BFSI, manufacturing, design engineering and pharma. In every sector there is pressure to hire, and many companies are hiring more than they need.
And finally, it's important to take lessons about managing benching from the pros in this game. Khare says benching is a growth enabler, and the key lies in striking a balance on the bench size.
"Broadly we plan our bench size proportionate to the next quarter's growth. A lower bench may stifle growth, and a higher bench will increase the cost," he says, adding that it is vital that people on bench appreciate why are they there, and not feel negative about it.
Most employees synchronise their training, holidays, etc with the duration of the benching stint.