With the sudden march of automation driving artificial intelligence, machine learning and digital transformation, jobs are getting scarce. At the Express IT Awards 2017 held in Bengaluru on December 7, a panel discussion on “Future of Technology Jobs” unfolded. CXOs and experts from the industry brought in varying perspectives on the widely debated topic. Sunil Jain, Managing Editor, Financial Express, in his opening remarks highlighted how technology has the potential to change India even as the IT industry changed the way the world looked at India. Edited excerpts:
How do you perceive the overall current job scenario in the Indian IT industry?
Krishnakumar Natarajan, Executive Chairman, Mindtree: Artificial intelligence, machine learning or augmented reality — are all a reality. Any quantum movement in technology will also have a significant impact on productivity. So there is certainly going to be loss of jobs, which are mainly repetitive and monotonous. Even if you look at the $100 billion IT services industry, it added 160,000 to 200,000 jobs a year and that number is going to go down. That is one way of looking it. You should also look at new jobs being created. There would be new jobs, like customer experience specialist and data scientist. There is huge optimism in terms of what types of new jobs will get created.
Vishal Dhupar, Managing Director, Nvidia India: Each time when there is a major revolution taking place, people ask the same question —what will happen to jobs? I believe there is a tremendous opportunity in the age where automation is going to be automated further.
Akhila Vasudevan, Executive Director, IBM India: We are talking about a situation where business processes are led by technology and supported by people versus led by people and supported by technology in the past. Obviously, it has to have an impact and we have to accept that. It is traditional change management that will come into play. Efficiencies are going to get realised. The question is what is it that we need to do in order to reskill the workforce. Prof. Sadagopan, Director, IIIT-B: The next stage is IoT, which will be at the micro level, and at a much larger level, there will be robots. There is going to be phenomenal opportunity. The number of jobs being created is going to be much larger than what we have seen. And to a large extent, I think (they will be created) in this country because the IT industry is the largest generator of organised jobs. The definition of the IT industry will change.
Padmaja Alaganandan, Advisory Partner, People and Organisation Practice Leader, PwC: The concept of a job wherein you are locked with somebody over a period of time, is already reducing and it is going to continue. If you look at markets, like the US and the UK, 30% of the workforce do independent work and many of them, out of choice. What it means for organisations is that the repeatable jobs will not be relevant anymore. That means skilling – not just in terms of cutting-edge new technologies but also learning about a business and its value chain. Irfan Abdulla, Director (Talent & Learning Solutions), LinkedIn: If you look at the workforce of the future, there are three trends worth observing. First is the rise of AI. At LinkedIn, we have a lot of data and if you look at the year 2014-16, over a period of two years, we saw the number of jobs that required artificial intelligence went up from 50,000 to 440,000 jobs, which is about a 900% increase over a period of two years. That is real and it is happening across industries. The other important thing is the skill gap and that is a real problem. Not only in markets like India, if you look at mature markets like the US, about 6 million jobs are there but 7.1 million people are unemployed. This shows there is a skill gap. The third point which is going to really shape the future workforce is the rise of independent workforce.
What is your perspective on reskilling?
Krishnakumar Natarajan: Skilling is going to become the priority for the industry. The skills required for tomorrow are going to be very different. The method of learning will be very different and there will be no more a classroom-driven experience. Instead, there will be a far more immersive type of learning experience. So the pedagogy of learning needs to change and what skills you impart to the existing workforce needs to change. How do you create an ecosystem to do that? We need to accelerate that process. The adoption and transition that is happening in my opinion is too slow we need to move much faster.
Vishal Dhupar: For the last 70-80 years, computer science has helped machines rationally understand. We can give it a logic and that is how we write the software. Today, if we are looking at bringing intuition into the machine, we have to fundamentally change the way we deal with the machine. This requires a very different approach. You’ve got to understand what goes into human brain neurons and how these neurons are going to function in the machine part of it. For that we will have to reskill the workforce because what industrial revolution allowed us to do in 70 years, may be artificial intelligence is going to give us a span of 20 years. The speed at which we can reskill is the most critical path. Akhila Vasudevan: The next level of jobs can be created which is anything around ability to work around cognitive computing. Most importantly AI cannot operate without content. It is very important to be able to look at content creation and to be able to ingest that into the AI systems. So where we are going with that is a skill which is about continuous learning and of curiosity becomes the two more important elements from a skilling perspective. That would drive the future capability. It is very important to have subject matter expertise in whatever we do and specialisation would become very critical.
Irfan Abdulla:What we are seeing is that every company is a digital company, irrespective of the industry. We have seen big data picking up. A lot of people are saying that AI will take away jobs. Today, there are jobs, like IoT officer and data scientist. The other thing I want to highlight is that if you look at the average life span of skill, that has changed dramatically. Companies are not just focusing on the technical skills, but also looking at soft skills. So what you need is creativity, adaptability and innovation. If you are looking at hiring people for today, the reality is that in two years, the skill needed will be very different.
Are Indian IT companies challenging students enough?
Prof. Sadagopan: Primarily, we are a services industry. I think that is changing and we are definitely moving into products and platforms. To some extent, being a part of a premier institute, what has happened is that in the last 20 years is that the society has given too much pat on the back. Probably, that has gotten into us and our students. You find premier institute students don’t have the fire in the belly. Together we need to challenge ourselves.
What about diversity in jobs?
Padmaja Alaganandan: Very interesting question. There has been so much debate on this but the whole discussion is on a leaky pipeline. There are so many different dimensions of diversity. At the entry level, there is 40-50% gender ratio. But once it comes to executive positions, it is only 5-6%. The whole pipeline is leaky. There has been so much progress that we have done in the last decade and, of course, much more can be done.
Is the Trump factor a challenge?
Krishnakumar Natarajan: I don’t think so if you really see the opportunities ahead. We are over two trillion dollar economy and will certainly grow at 6-8%. AI will drive productivity and so the number of jobs created could be smaller. Increasingly, you are looking at diversity and people bringing in different capabilities, and fortunately, today this capability is not just confined to India. They can be applied at a global level. I think the globe is the real opportunity, and Trump or no Trump, we can certainly win in the market.