Gurgaon-based Noble House is playing matchmaker between independent human resource consultants and businesses.
In the past few years, the number of freelancers and independent consultants is on the rise worldwide. Subsequently, it has led to the creation of an “open talent” ecosystem, more popularly known as the “gig economy”, or the sharing economy.
McKinsey estimates about 30 percent of the workforce in developed countries is engaged in the gig economy. A separate report by Credit Suisse predicts the gig economy to be worth $335 billion by 2025. India, too, is a part of this growing trend.
According to a PayPal report, India has 15-20 million freelancers, and its sharing economy could be worth $20 billion-$30 billion by 2025. The report indicates one in four freelancers in the world is from India. The enormous talent pool is being used by multinational companies, especially in the Middle East and APAC, where Indians’ proficiency with the English language is turning out to be an asset.
While some areas of work like web development, graphic design, content writing, internet marketing, accounting, etc. have traditionally been popular with freelancers, HR consulting has emerged as a hot, new domain in the gig economy. Experts reckon the loss of jobs at mid-management levels across industries has spurred the rise of independent HR professionals in India.
“A lot of mid-to-senior level employees have been laid off, especially in telecom and infrastructure companies. They don’t find appropriate jobs for the kind of skills and experience they have,” Sanjay Lakhotia, former Head of Operations at Aon Hewitt, Asia Pacific, tells YourStory.
Sanjay is now the co-founder of Noble House, an HR talent marketplace that helps independent consultants find short-and-long-term assignments suited to their experience and skill sets. He, along with Sumer Datta (former MD of Aon Hewitt, Asia Pacific) launched Noble House in Singapore last December with the purpose of organising the “fragmented” HR consulting space, and bridging the gap between talent (that goes un-utilised) and requirement (that businesses have).
Formalising independent HR
In a short span, Noble House claims to have created a network of over 400 independent HR professionals with 30+ skill sets across India and Asia. It has worked with 15 medium to large companies, handled 25-odd projects, and generated an “average billing value” of Rs 3 lakh per assignment.
It has also tried to bridge the gender gap, with 40 percent of the consultants on its platform being women. The company says it is putting a strong focus on women who have taken a break from work due to a life event and are looking to get back to active work engagements. Interestingly, women professionals account for 60 percent of completed projects on the platform.
In June, Noble House raised a seed round of $1 million from undisclosed “HR and business leaders” in India and Singapore. The company plans to use the funds to ramp up its tech platform and expand across Asia, starting with India, where it sees an opportunity in Tier II markets that are devoid of good HR professionals.
It is partly because HR as a profession has evolved over time driven by the growth of technology. A part of it also because organised HR consulting is, what Sanjay says, “very expensive”.
“Earlier HR was about personnel management and policies and programmes. Now, it is more focused on employee relationships and specialisations in areas like recruiting and training, compensation, tech-enabled workflows, etc. The entire ecosystem has changed and deep skills are now required, but all organisations are not able to afford big consulting houses.
Noble House has created a tech platform that matches the problem with the solution. Organisations can list their requirements for projects, consulting assignments, advisory roles and part-time resource needs. Workers are assigned on an “on-demand” basis. Intelligent algorithms help connect companies to a credible pool of HR talent.
More tech and quality assurance
Going ahead, Noble House plans to integrate machine learning (ML) algorithms in its platform such that the assignment-to-consultant matchmaking is more efficient and accurate. It has also partnered with a company that provides talent management software. It is even creating a model wherein all consultants on the platform are certified and reviewed by a panel of experts.
“We’re calling it the Noble Assure model,” says Sanjay. “It is a review and quality assurance mechanism where we score talent such that they are deployed more efficiently.”
At present, the average project duration on Noble House is three to six months. Payments are on a per-project basis. The company takes a cut of assignment fees. It also plans to start a subscription model in future. At present, organisations are tapping into the Noble House platform to fulfil small, specific needs as opposed to large, long-term projects.
So, for instance, companies are looking for compensation specialists during their increment cycles or recruitment professionals at a particular time of the year. Some are looking for HR consultants in strategy roles, and so on.
Avneet Jolly, Founder of US-based Insightory Consulting, tells YourStory:
“We got to work on a global M&A assignment where a US company was acquiring a small part of a business from a large Indian technology company. We needed some resources to manage the India side of the merger. Noble House was able to get us the right fit associate very quickly, which would have been difficult otherwise sitting in the US.”
Benefits for knowledge workers
While Noble House is making independent HR talent more accessible to businesses, on the workers’ side too, it is offers significant benefits.
The platform makes it easier for gig economy professionals to scout for assignments, network in the industry, get on-boarded in companies, track payments, etc. Consultants have to list their CVs, work experience, and skill sets on the platform, and wait for the algorithm to match them with the best-fitted projects.
“Most independent consultants do not know where the work is. They spend a large amount of time looking for assignments, building business relationships, chasing payments and so on. We would rather have them spend time delivering a quality assignment. Hence, all the administrative support and access to tools and services are provided by us.”
Top skills, tier II focus
Over 81 percent of the consultants on Noble House have more than 10 years each of work experience in the HR sector. They are largely located in the metro pockets of Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Mumbai-Pune and Chennai.
The top five skills offered are Organisation Transformation, Performance Management, Broad-based Total Rewards, Leadership and Succession, and Employee Engagement. So far, a few big conglomerates, IT/ITeS and hospitality firms have engaged with Noble House.
“Mostly companies with a turnover of Rs 100-500 crore are approaching us,” reveals Sanjay. “Last month, we saw a lot of interest from startups too. They may not have the ability to hire a lot of skills though,” he adds.
One such startup was OYO Rooms.
Dinesh Ramamurthy, Chief HR Officer, OYO Rooms, says:
"Noble House was quick to understand the need that OYO had towards short-term resources for certain critical tasks and projects ranging from HR technology automation and recruiting. Their solution of providing us with resources on a temporary basis seems to be working very well, and this model has a plethora of benefits, not just in HR but in other functions too."
Noble House is targeting collaborations with over a 100 companies by March 2019. It also hopes to have over 2,000 consultants on its platform by then. The focus will be on expansion in Tier 2 cities, where companies need HR professionals “to set up policies and processes”.
But, ensuring quality remains the biggest challenge in the gig economy. That is the opportunity too. Sanjay says, “Quality matchmaking is what we want to sell. We are building our own processes and services so that companies can get amazing skills at the right prices.”