The Smart Staffhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/the-smart-staff/

The Smart Staff

Address skills shortage in municipal bodies to reform urban governance.

 column, express column, Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, Amrut, municipal bodies, Smart cities, Greater London Authority, urban governance, city governance
Right-staffing municipal bodies with enough skilled employees is continually being neglected.

The Smart Cities Mission and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (Amrut) envisage Central assistance of Rs 48,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore, for 100 and 500 cities, respectively. On the face of it, the amounts seem staggering, but once we break them down, Smart Cities is slated to draw an average of Rs 96 crore per city per year, and Amrut, Rs 20 crore. These amounts are modest. Municipal bodies need to be right-staffed to plan, fund, execute and maintain sophisticated urban projects. At present, our municipal bodies fall significantly short.

Right-staffing municipal bodies with enough skilled employees is continually neglected. Even as we await detailed guidelines on Amrut, the states need to formulate a roadmap to address the skills shortage and suboptimal human resource practices in municipal bodies. Our cities are expected to house over 800 million citizens by 2050. The current backlog in infrastructure and services will only be exacerbated. Right-staffing of municipal bodies, therefore, must be a central objective of any urban reform agenda. This has three components — enough employees to meet target service levels, ensuring municipal staff possess the right skills and empowering municipal bodies with an organisation design that positions them to deliver well on citizen outcomes.

First, the workforce numbers of municipal bodies must be estimated. Currently, the relevant norms are non-existent or poorly determined. Municipal bodies could undertake a 1-3-5 year workforce planning exercise, addressing target service levels, capital budgets, the span of control, jurisdiction etc. Effectiveness or efficiency enhancing measures need to be factored in while determining such norms. Municipal acts as well as cadre and recruitment rules need to be amended so as to mandate a scientific 1-3-5 year workforce plan that synchronises with concurrent fiscal and city development plans. State governments, and sometimes the Centre, must provide financial support. Such salary costs can be linked to revenue mobilisation and self-sufficiency measures over a five-year period.

The second element of right-staffing is ensuring municipal personnel have the right competencies. The delivery of urban services requires specialised skill sets. Role specifications, in terms of both technical and behavioural competencies, need to be well defined. Technical skills stem from the subject matter of the job and the latter from the organisation’s strategy and values. The Greater London Authority, in the job description of its group finance manager, says the role needs full membership of a professional accountancy body and experience of local government finance. It also specifies behavioural competencies such as building and managing relationships, communication, decision-making, stakeholder focus and problem-solving. Contrast this with the Karnataka cadre recruitment rules, which specify only minimum technical qualifications, in terms of basic degrees, examinations to be passed and the years of work experience required. Municipal cadres can solve this quality challenge. Once competencies are defined for each job, they should be integrated with other components of human resource management, such as hiring, evaluating, developing talent. Cadre and recruitment rules should reflect such an integrated process.

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Having an optimal number of staff with the right talent is not enough; they need to be organised in a manner that enables them to perform. This is the third component of right-staffing. Indian municipal bodies are designed to deliver the strategies, processes and systems of yesteryears. This has resulted in skewed pyramids, significant gaps in the design of middle management roles, the absence of critical verticals and a lack of robust horizontal operations such as human resources, strategic planning and performance management. While designing the organisation structure, municipal bodies need to factor in the value chain of functions to enable collaboration and communication across departments and parastatal agencies.

The skills challenge facing Indian cities is complex but far from insurmountable. They can effectively redesign their organisation structures and build a workforce capable of delivering the desired quality of life for their citizens if they apply proven contemporary human resource techniques and practices.

Co-authored by Srikanth Viswanathan. Poddar is senior consultant, talent and performance, Aon Hewitt. Viswanathan is coordinator-advocacy, research and capacity building