While the IT sector in India is rushing to re-skill and get back into the classroom with a renewed zeal, the reality is far more hard-hitting. The $154-billion industry has been hit hard by the wave of automation with Indian IT bellwethers and top employers downsizing heavily. And while the tech landscape is reeling from the aftershocks, skills such as big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality and robotics process automation among others are finding more takers.
Now, the question the Indian tech workforce is faced with is — how to stay relevant with rising fear of retrenchment? A NASSCOM report indicates that 40 per cent of the tech workforce in India needs to reskill themselves over five years, if they want to survive the onslaught of automation. Another startling statistic is that India will lose up to 640,000 low-skilled jobs to automation by 2021 and the IT industry will shrink by 14 per cent by 2021.
The IT mass layoffs is about the shift in focus from “scale to skill,” explains Hari Krishnan Nair, Co-Founder Great Learning. Nair further added, “The same companies are hiring in big numbers for emerging areas such as Big Data Technologies, Business Analytics, Artificial Intelligence and Internet-of-Things. As an IT professional, the need is to upskill oneself and re-orient one’s career in these emerging areas.”
Workforce re-alignment has become the new mantra with global giants such as Capgemini, TCS, HCL, Tech Mahindra, Infosys and Wipro among others on a mission to reskill and this will be a serious challenge, as companies scramble to rewrite business models to address skill-centric gaps. The crisis is said to be bigger than the recession of 2009. In this grim scenario, NASSCOM and Boston Consulting Group have identified eight new technology areas that are hot with 55 job roles. Data Scientist and Data Architect figure heavily under the big data analytics category while other job roles include AI research scientist and Language Processing Specialist under AI.
In a webinar, hosted by Harish Subramanian, Director, Growth & New Product Development, Great Learning, the industry expert believes IT layoffs is not an overnight phenomenon. “It’s been a long time coming and all the companies will adapt very quickly to the situation. We do know some of the factors that led to this,” he said during the webinar. Subramanian laid down factors that led to the current situation.
Don’t blame the IT layoffs on automation alone
- One of the biggest reasons is macroeconomics — immigration, tighter rules on foreign staff, protectionism, cautious economies.
- Changing business mode – there is a fundamental shift from IT to advanced techn and a shift from process oriented IT to more advanced technology
- Slack in the system — historically companies have had deep benches and are now looking at whittling them down
- Automation — repeatable processes and even some intelligent tasks can now be automated
Age of continuous learning – single skills are passé
In times of retrenchment, it is best to go back to the drawing board and do a thorough skill gap assessment. One thing is clear, “single skill is not enough to sail” through the ferociously competitive environment. According to Subramanian, knowing one thing and knowing it really well doesn’t work anymore. “Increasingly single skills are becoming redundant, your one single skill starts to become more of a detriment rather than an attribute. What happens when people figure out a way to automate that and do it cheaper and faster,” he said.
The obvious answer is to upskill, emphasizes Subramanian. “The whole idea is to build new skills and competencies in technologies that are now sought after. One has to learn to be part of the solution and not the problem, which means embrace automation. Try to be at the forefront of the industry development such as in automation, one should try to build competencies in RPA and testing automation,” he shared.
Develop skills that will be relevant even five years from now
AI is chipping away at repetitive, low-skilled jobs such as Systems Admin, Help Desk Technicians, small mainframe programmers among others. Even if you belong to the senior software engineer cohort, your jobs are threatened by disruptive technologies. So build up the in-demand skills to boost your employability. Subramanian shortlists six areas which are hot right now and will see a demand for talent. The good news is that every one of these technologies has become pervasive and one doesn’t need to become an expert in all of these areas. “But you can pivot to areas that fascinate you,” said Subramanian.
- AI, ML, Data Analysis
- Automaton: RPA, Testing, Robo-calling, robo-advisory
- Information & cyber security
- IoT, connected everything
- Multi-platform UI/UX, HCI etc
- Fintech, blockchain for record keeping
How to make continuous learning part of our life?
For working professionals, it can become increasingly difficult to step away from their daily roles and chalk out time for developing new skills. There are plenty of factors to bear in mind that can set one off on a lifelong learning path and help develop reputation capital as well.
Subramanian lists down pointers that can boost your learning:
- Even more important than learning a specific skill is to develop a framework to constantly learn (formally or informally) a completely new area every couple of years
- Inculcate the ability to pick up a new skill quickly and methodically
- Contribute to a community to develop reputational capital
- Work on an open source project you really enjoy
- Contribute to a community developed project
- Check out firsttimersonly.com to get started on a beginner friendly platform
It’s not all about tech skills – you need soft skills too to land a job
While most academic programs teach purely hard skills, there is a bunch of soft skills that can help in arriving at an effective solution and solve business problems. Today’s business environment requires a mashup of diverse skill set. Whether it is effective interpersonal skills or possessing cross-functional team management skills, the ideal candidates are those who can work well in a team. After all, one doesn’t do all the heavy lifting alone.
Soft skills such as collaborative problem solving, a deep understanding of the root of the problem and combining judgement and rigour can help one advance in their career. In the skills-based job approach, soft skills can also pave way for better employment opportunities for candidates. So, if you want to survive in the automation age and come out as a winner, it’s time to innovate and follow a path to continuous learning.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.