Should they focus on hyper-specialisation or should they be multi-skilled?
Last week a global report caused a stir in the Indian information technology (IT) industry; it noted that with automation taking place at a much faster pace across industries, especially in the tech space, Indian software firms that employee over 16 million people are set to slash headcounts by 3 million by 2022.
While industry body Nasscom was quick to refute that—and said the IT industry continues to be a net hirer of skilled talent, and that top-5 Indian IT companies are planning to add over 96,000 employees in 2021-22—it doesn’t take away the fact that, to stay relevant in their job, IT employees need to constantly upskill or reskill themselves.
Robotic process automation
The above report mentioned that a lot of job losses will be driven by the impact of robotic process automation (RPA)—software robots that emulate humans actions, interacting with digital systems and software.
Siddhartha Gupta, CEO, Mercer Mettl, the global talent assessment company, told FE that job replacement by RPA is a reality. However, he added that while current IT jobs with low-skill requirements might become redundant, these will be replaced by new job roles with high in-demand skill requirements. “Organisations need to start investing in upskilling, reskilling and capability-building programmes proactively and with immediate effect to get themselves and their workforce ready for the transformed world of work, accelerated by digital transformation and automation,” Gupta said. “Reskilling interventions are no more a good-to-have necessity, but a business imperative.”
Aditya Malik, CEO & MD, TalentEdge, an edtech major, added that there are numerous opportunities resting in the current industry trends. “The need of the hour is to pace ourselves with the age of digital automation—the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” he said. “During any revolution, economies undergo transition, and we should not narrow down our forward-moving approach to job loss. Change is inevitable, and the current change would benefit those who adapt to its evolving twists and turns.”
During the pandemic, segments such as edtech, fintech, healthtech, consulting, cybersecurity, gaming, analytics, cloud computing, AI, ML and data analytics have flourished. This, Malik said, has raised the demand for a tech-savvy workforce adept in digital transformation, process automation, technology integration, data analytics, AI and ML. “IT employees should upskill and reskill themselves irrespective of their job status to embrace personal growth,” he said.
Upgrading your skills
Analysts added that upgrading skills should be a lifelong process. Rahul Kapur, partner, Growth Advisory, Grant Thornton Bharat, said that the IT sector follows a cyclical trend where new talent takes over and the old talent upskills to get back in the headcount. “RPA, cost reduction and increase in efficiency have been the core for any large IT outfit and they manage to maintain balance by laying-off their bench regularly. Considering that mid-sized IT companies are witnessing traction as more traditional businesses become dependent on IT tools, the existing talent will find abundant work,” he said. “However, the existing talent will do well to upgrade their skills.”
While the existing talent must upskill to remain relevant, how should technology students ready themselves for jobs in an area where there is apparently high employee churn?
Sunny Zafar, advisor, Career and Placement Cell, IIT Mandi, told FE that, in the current scenario, students need to make themselves both highly skilled as well as multi-skilled. “They need to have functional knowledge about the areas around their specialisation. For example, most companies may expect developers to know the basics of marketing,” Zafar said. “Tech stack and other technologies are changing very fast, and so upskilling and reskilling must be a continuous process.”
Prof T Venkatesh, from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, IIT Guwahati, added that while IIT students may not be negatively impacted (by RPA) as most of them are recruited for positions that require high-end skills—and such positions are unlikely to be automated in the near future—the services sector jobs might be majorly impacted. “An increase in recruitment in areas of data science and cloud computing might compensate to some extent,” Prof Venkatesh said.
Assistant Prof Karthick Seshadri, who heads the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at NIT Andhra Pradesh, said that layoffs or downsizing at any IT firm can happen due to a multitude of reasons such as economic contraction, low returns on the cost of an employee, automation, obsolescence of technical skills and non-performance of client firms in case of service companies, among other reasons.
On how current students should go about upskilling themselves, Prof Seshadri has a suggestion: “In Computer Science and IT, just like any other engineering domain, there are four vertically-stacked layers across which one needs to develop skills. These layers from the bottom to the top are Theory, Systems, Technology and Application. The rate of evolution of the top layers is more rapid as compared to that of the bottom layers. However, the skills gained in the bottom layers are typically transferrable and provide a strong foundation to comprehend and adapt to the rapidly-evolving higher layers. Many students tend to overlook this and attempt to go behind jargons and trends in the top-level layers of this stack without paying much attention to grasp the underlying principles in the bottom layers.”
Kapur of Grant Thornton Bharat added that IT graduates will never lose charm as companies will hire on campus. “The more specialised courses will be preferred, but IT skills need to be constantly upgraded as technology changes fast. IT graduates seldom get to use what they learnt in colleges for long and, hence, they must keep themselves updated of the latest technologies and skills,” he said.
The message here is that current students must be future-ready and learning-agile, and prepare for in-demand skills. “They must be aware of the direction in which technology is headed, identify the areas where new job opportunities will spring up, and consciously reskill and upskill in those future skills,” Gupta of Mercer Mettl said.
Malik of TalentEdge added that while companies are looking for candidates with multiple skill sets to save costs, this has not depleted the importance of specialisation. “For instance, a specialised management degree coupled with a niche understanding of fintech or edtech or data analysis is preferred over a general management course,” Malik said. “At the same time, tech students must adopt a balanced approach towards enhancing their core expertise, interests and gaining new skills apt to current market requirements.”
At the end of the day, while hyper-specialisation is not lost, being multi-skilled is possibly the way to go. “We are entering an era where you need to have to 2-3 livelihood options. Digital skills add a safety net, as do entrepreneurship certifications,” said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder, TeamLease Services. “If you’re multi-skilled, you will thrive.”
—IT employees need to constantly upskill;
—Job replacement by RPA is a reality;
—Developers must know the basics of marketing;
—Students must prepare for in-demand skills;
—Specialisation plus 2-3 skills will set you apart;
—Enterprising persons thrive everywhere.