For any reader of the tech media, headlines such as “Infosys, Cognizant, Wipro techies stare at job loss as Indian IT firms battle Trump’s protectionism”, “IT job crisis: Automation, skill standards, ageism all play a part” and “Tech graduates in India have zero hands-on experience” have become commonplace now. All of these—without any exception—accentuate India’s biggest job crisis in the information technology services sector, as organisation after organisation decides to lay off employees to cope with the slowdown in growth. The Indian IT industry is witnessing a major crisis that has accelerated with the global backlash towards outsourcing, protectionist policies by developed countries to protect their vote-banks, and changing demands of global corporates. The industry’s growth rate, which always stood at double digits, has, of late, come down to 5-6%, resulting in ‘job losses’, ‘firing’ and ‘layoffs’.
According to industry body Nasscom, up to 40% of the estimated four-million workforce need reskilling over the next five years, if they are to keep pace with the changing face and automation of the IT industry. Therefore, the new mantra to avoid job redundancy is continuous reskilling.
While IT professionals have upgraded their core IT programming skills to remain pertinent to their roles and deliver on their KRAs, what has lagged is upskilling to make them suited to higher roles within the organisation as well as keep them conformant across sectors. After all, with the unprecedented pace of change, those that fail to go beyond domain specialisation would lose relevance at a faster pace than otherwise.
In a survey of over 350 senior C-Suite and business heads that we conducted last year, Indian IT CXOs felt that the mismatch between skills required and those available could impact India’s standing as a global IT powerhouse. The mismatch between skills required and skills available in the market ranked as the second-most critical problem for the IT/ITeS sector, with 85% of respondents identifying this as a critical issue. The most significant skill gaps identified were in innovation and strategic thinking (57%).
Clearly, individuals are exploring options that can add value to their resumes and make them employable across sectors. It’s an interesting story as, while on one hand, individuals are applying to such courses and, on the other hand, companies too are investing in upskilling and reskilling courses for their middle managers to demonstrate their commitment to and retain their employees.
Many CEOs have pointed out that cross-functional and cross-technical knowledge will be crucial to remain employable in the long run. Some topics that found mention in CEO interviews in the last one year, including from the likes of Vishal Sikka of Infosys, include design thinking, analytics (including artificial intelligence, predictive analytics and machine learning) and digital (including digital marketing, digital strategies and innovation). Essentially, all three are problem-solving techniques for businesses and can be used across a diverse set of industries.
To illustrate, design thinking is about integrating the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success. What this amounts to is discovering the latent needs of the customer, and in some cases the customer’s customer, and delivering a solution that wows them, even before they realise that they have the need. Such cutting-edge solutions have the potential to create industry disruptions through products, services or simply better delivery of either. Design thinking is centred on the three pillars of ‘customer desirability’, ‘technically feasibility’ and ‘business viability’, respectively. Some examples of business models that have disrupted their respective industries include AirBnB, Uber, etc.
Obviously, the need of the hour is to augment theoretical learning from books and/or videos with practical industry application.
One way of doing this is to invest in building an in-house training delivery system, which could be a combination of classroom and online training. This may prove to be expensive in the long run as, to remain on top of best practices worldwide and translate it for upskilling employees, it will need trainers that are on the top of their profession.
Individual employees are, however, keen to embrace globally-relevant content and pedagogy where training is delivered via new-age technologies such as videos, webinars, global cohorts and experiential programmes, where they would be able to check their progress on a real-time basis. Even today, Indian institutes lag far behind global business schools such as Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Kellogg, INSEAD, etc, as far as delivering such pioneering and internationally-recognised techniques and skills are concerned.
From an India Inc standpoint, an organisation’s growth cannot be sustained by managers, who are merely tenured or qualified, but not really able. Similarly, the country’s economic growth cannot be sustained if businesses do not invest sufficiently in education and training of employee assets. Staying ahead of the curve is, and will always be, the only way to stay relevant.
The author is executive director, Emeritus Institute of Management, Singapore. Its founding academic institutions are MIT Sloan School of Management, Columbia Business School and Tuck At Dartmouth. Views are personal