The Department of Space has done well to ask the Sixth Pay Commission to enhance pay and special incentives to check the high rate of attrition from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Prithviraj Chavan, told Parliament last Wednesday that 53 per cent of scientists recruited during 2006 have left Isro for the private sector “seeking better remunerative packages”. While hiking salaries is a good decision, Isro will do well to remember that this could only be one of several steps required to deal with the looming shortage of skilled scientists and engineers it faces. The agency has only itself to blame for this crunch, having been complacent for more than 30 years since its last large-scale recruitment drive. It is no secret either that in the last ten years, its 17,000-strong human resource pool has remained static, and even dipped, while the number of satellites it produced has only grown. As a result, space engineers are forced to concentrate on routine production, rather than engage in cutting-edge R&D, while receiving pay cheques that are nothing to write home about.
If this is low motivation to perform, a snail-paced career progression, a risk-averse work environment, and the notorious bureaucracy often prove to be the last straw for them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why scientists have been steadily moving out of Isro — a trickle that has apparently become an exodus now. It is high time isro wondered how to attract the best brains. At a time when foreign and domestic technology firms are hiring thousands of outsourcing professionals, recruiting from the best engineering institutes, Isro has to ensure an integrated and systematic approach to human capital management. Only then could it improve recruitment and retention, and upgrade the competency and flexibility of its workforce.
Setting up the Indian Institute of Space Technology has been an excellent move as it could offer scholarship-for-service programmes to help recruit and retain a world-class workforce. Provided the government quickly sorts out the controversy surrounding its location, so that it can start functioning.