A lot has been written about the employment crisis in the broader technology sector, and the IT services industry, in particular.
The projections seem to be gloomy given that as many as 100,000 professionals, out of the 4.5 million people employed in the IT sector, could lose their jobs by 2017-end. Further, it is estimated that within the next three years, one-fourth of these jobs could get redundant, further aggravating the crisis.
Most of the risks have been attributed to changing global demand, which has been amplified by regulatory changes within customer countries. But, it does not necessarily tell the full story – the lack of relevant skills, a broken education system that does not produce employable graduates and a changing business landscape where headcount does not grow in line with revenue growth.
Industry bodies, including NASSCOM, have been trying to downplay the impact on the sector, but it is clear that there is a real crisis brewing and it needs to be addressed at many levels to mitigate its impact on both existing and future employees.
The most vulnerable functions that are likely to be affected are mid-level managers with low skill levels, especially in newer technology areas, besides project or programme managers and those involved in easily-automated tasks such as customer care and manual processing.
The industry should, therefore, recognise fundamental changes in the sector and prepare to reskill and upgrade the workforce for the next wave of opportunities. There is also an onus on individuals to seek out and upgrade their skills to meet future demands – they need to own their careers and not just depend on employers to help them cross the chasm.
Finally, we need to make sweeping changes to the education system to prepare a future workforce that is not only industry-ready, but will also be equipped to grab emerging new opportunities in both established companies and the startup ecosystem.
Digitisation creates opportunities
Digital transformation, which is sweeping every sector, opens up new opportunities for people in companies large and small. The need for it is relentless and driven primarily by changing customer expectation, focus on cost reduction through robotic automation, changing governmental directives and digitial maturity of the value chain, among others. It also opens up immense opportunities for IT sector professionals, who should acquire new skills in both technology and business domains.
Following are the skill expectations of the members of any organisation driving digital transformation through the enterprise:
Business acumen: Any process change starts with an in-depth understanding of the business, its value chain and the competitive environment. Knowledge is important to be able to come up with new and unique solutions for the industry. This is one of the glaring gaps in today’s workforce – many do not understand the sector at depth and depend on others to tell them what needs to be done.
Product thinking: This is a mindset shift from operating in silos to owning the customer journey as a series of experiences that cut across the company and its partners. Collective accountability in making customers successful is the job of every single member of the team across functional lines, starting with the CEO downwards. Every member should feel the need to ensure their customers have the best experience using their solutions and this will maximise the success of the organisation.
Technology depth: There are many emerging areas, such as blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and virtual and augmented reality, which needs to be understood at depth to help any organisation through its digital journey. These are new and sustainable opportunities not just in larger organisations, but also in startups. Every company is looking for people with these skills, but there is a dearth of talent who understand or are capable of working with these technologies. The implications of these technologies needs to be understood by all functional areas, whether in management, technology, marketing and sales, to be able to bring the best experiences and value to customers.
Agile structure and processes: The world is fast changing and hardwired organisational structures and set-in-stone processes will not enable success for any organisation. The entire organisation needs to rethink its structures to enable agility. Everyone needs to learn to work within a collaborative framework keeping customer success at the forefront – something that is non-negotiable. This is quite different compared to today's IT organisations, which operate with rigid hierarchy and repeatable processes with a delivery mindset. There is a change management process required to get away from this mindset and motivate employees to think differently about success criteria.
The education system
Most engineering graduates in India are unemployable with very poor functional and soft skills. According to the National Employability Report 2016 from Aspiring Minds, 80% of graduates from engineering colleges are unemployable. Only 3.67% of computer science graduates are employable in the IT product space, which is a pre-requisite for digital transformation and startup companies. Most lack basic numeric skills or aptitude and less than 10% of computer science graduates can write software programmes.
This is not only a crisis that stares at the industry, but something that affects the society as well, since many students come from a weak socio-economic background and have a debt burden that they will not be able pay without a well-paying job after graduation.
This needs to be addressed immediately. Here are some areas that we should focus on:
Accountability of institutions: Make educational institutions accountable for their output quality. Most colleges lack both infrastructure and competent faculty. We need a major overhaul of the curriculum as well to ensure it matches the expectations of the market. There needs to be a national level of accreditation and audit to ensure it is adhered to by the institutions, failing which they should be fined or in extreme cases shut down.
Go beyond IT: India needs a wide variety of technical manpower beyond software engineers. There are many sectors of national importance, including manufacturing, civil infrastructure development, agricultural engineering, solar power generation and more, which require engineers with digital skills to drive innovation. It is perhaps time to look beyond IT as the primary target for new graduates. There needs to be proactive counselling for students at the high school level to channel them into areas, where they may have a better future in terms of employment.
There is no better time to start the journey to reinvent oneself than now. Building new skills and capabilities will only open up the individual to new opportunities and also make him or her valuable to their current organisation. Here are some techniques and resources to get going.
Certifications: With a plethora of options across the internet to upgrade your knowledge and gain certifications, it is the first place to start. Sites, including Coursera, edX and udacity, among others, bring the best of courses from world-renowned institutions to your desktop or mobile. If you so desire, getting an advanced degree through an accredited institution is also a possibility to gain new capabilities.
In-house training: Maximise the opportunities offered within your organisation for training and re-skilling Most companies have a learning and development programme that offers courses tailored to the future directions of the company. This will not only add value to you as an individual, but also set up for future opportunities within the company.
On-the-job learning: There will always be opportunities to go beyond your day job and volunteer for projects that will bring new on-the-job learning. Networking within the company to identify and engage with other teams that are working on areas you may be new to, could be a good way to learn other domains. It will also get you recognised as being willing to go above and beyond your work, and could open up new options.
Ecosystem engagement: Networking outside your work environment through industry-connect platforms. Working with startups either directly or through incubators and accelerators are great ways to build new areas of understanding. Creating speaking and teaching opportunities are a great way to learn and give back to the system.
These are by no means the only way to get started, but be proactive and make the move with an eye to the future. The path to a new beginning starts with the first step.
The author is former head of product development at eBay India.
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