India's Nasscom will set up national employee registry

Registrywill conduct background checks on Indian outsourcing staff to reduce risk of criminal activity

India's National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) will begin work next month on an online national registry of employees of business process outsourcing (BPO) companies, according to an executive of the Delhi-based organization.

The proposed registry, intended to help conduct background checks on Indian outsourcing staff, could help to reduce the risk of criminal activity, some industry representatives said.

"It may take about four months for the registry to be fully operational, after the software is tested and other details sorted out," Sunil Mehta, vice president of Nasscom, said on Thursday.

The registry will be hosted by the National Securities Depository Ltd. (NSDL) in Mumbai. NSDL, which manages electronic share transfers, already has expertise in this area. It hosts a database of investors, key executives of companies, and stock market intermediaries, Mehta said.

Nasscom decided to set up the registry to enable BPO companies to do background checks on the employees they hire.

"A registry of this nature will be very useful for BPO companies like ours, as it will ensure that we do not hire an employee who has already done something illegal in the industry," said Prakash Gurbaxani, chief executive officer of TransWorks Information Services, a Mumbai-based BPO company.

The proposed registry will attempt to balance the privacy of employee data with the need for companies to check the backgrounds of the staff they hire, according to a source close to the matter who declined to be named. Once the employee registers on the site, agencies appointed by NSDL will do the background checks. The information will only be revealed to a prospective employer, and only with the explicit permission of the employee, the source said.

Setting up a registry of employees sends out the right signals about how serious India is about data security, said Gurbaxani. He added, however, that the success of this initiative will depend on how quickly employees register with the database and the background checks are completed. Companies are hiring thousands of staff and often need them quickly, so it may not always be possible to insist that the employee has been registered, he added.

Nasscom also started a pilot of a program this week to assess and certify applicants to the BPO industry. The certification program, called Nasscom Assessment of Competence (NAC), should help to cut costs for BPO companies. Currently, for every 100 applicants interviewed by companies, only about six on average are employable, Mehta said.

Nasscom will be doing a preliminary screening of applicants on parameters such as ability to speak and write in English, grammar skills, and analytical skills, said Mehta. The program will help BPO companies cut recruitment costs by about 50 percent, he said.

The pilot has been started in Delhi and neighboring towns of Gurgaon and Noida, and will be extended to Bangalore and Mumbai over the next four weeks, Mehta said. About 36 companies are participating. Applicants will take the test online at specified locations under supervision from Nasscom-designated staff. The program will be rolled out across India by January next year, Mehta added.

India's BPO industry needs a large number of employees certified quickly. It employed 348,000 staff as of March 31 this year, and is expected to generate employment for over one million people by 2009, according to Nasscom.

The success of the certification program will hence depend on the quality of applicants certified and the number of applicants who go through this certification, according to Gurbaxani. "If it works as an effective filter, it will certainly help us cut down costs," said Gurbaxani. "Until a sufficient number of applicants that have been certified, we will still have to do the screening ourselves."