From artificial intelligence to design thinking: How reskilling is changing Indian IT landscape

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Reskilling is the buzzword in the IT sector.

With the sector seeing huge churn due to automation and protectionism in the western markets, industry lobby group Nasscom’s president R Chandrashekhar told employees in May: Re-skill or perish.

Yes, that’s true. The sector is seeing layoffs and voluntary severances. Companies’ hiring is on the decline. One estimate even puts the likely job loss at a whopping 2 lakh over the next three years.

And in that, the sector is class agnostic. Freshers, middle management or the directors and senior management, as is the case of Cognizant, opt for voluntary separation packages which most IT firms offer employees.

Human Resource (HR) professionals in the information technology services companies sometimes seem to be using cruel means to lay off employees, as was evident from the leaked telephonic conversation between a IT professional in Tech Mahindra and an HR executive.

Clearly, Chandrashekhar’s advice for the IT staff is bang on.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Typically retrenchment around automation means the company is in a consolidation mode whereby talent with specific skills are given importance. “Those who lost their jobs due to lack of skills may not be absorbed back by the same companies as they will now have to prove their domain expertise again through work experience. A good option for such employees would be seek jobs in product/ internet, SaaS start-ups and global in-house centers (GICs) or become freelance consultants,” says Francis Padamadan, Country Director, KellyOCG India, a talent management solutions provider. Or go in for re-skilling.

According to a survey, Skill acquisition for the Digital Age by Simplilearn, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data analytics and mobile and software development will be the top technology areas where the need for re-skilling will be the highest. The availability of online courses and certifications has increased exponentially in recent times. Organisations choose them for accessibility of self-paced learning, ease in integration into Learning & Development strategy and availability of updated learning content.

Firstpost spoke to experts in the field to find out what is happening in the re-skilling arena and determine its landscape. Here’s what we found out.

K Nageswara Rao, vice-president, India Technology Center, Unisys, says that the country will need 700 million skilled workforce by 2022 to meet the demands of a growing economy. An important area that has already seen blistering growth is Cyber security. Rao says for security professionals, the median salary packages are already 9 percent higher than other IT professionals, according to Job Market Intelligence. The overall demand for security professionals is expected to reach nearly 6 million jobs in the next two years, making it one of the hottest skills to watch out for in the near future.

Robotics, Internet of Things, blockchain and Xaas (Anything-as-a-Service) are the other areas where demand will shoot up, according to Rao.

While the industry is taking a generational leap in training freshers in new generation technologies along with foundational technologies, the employee segment in the 3-15 year experience bracket is the main target for re-skilling, according to Arun Rajamani, country head, Pluralsight. Technology roles have also evolved today to becoming more multi-dimensional. A web developer today is expected to have expertise in 3-4 different skill areas like UX design, psychology, angular, full stack development. So the re-skilling has to focus on skill analytics to determine what the clusters of skills are today and how learning plans can be tailored to get the employee to a target skill level.

Digital skills are defined differently by companies. Rajamani says there are basically two forms of digital skills: 1) Digital experience-related skills – these skills revolve around designing and implementing digital customer experiences for clients; and 2) digital infrastructure-related skills – these skills can be bucketed into 5 categories linked to modernizing legacy IT infrastructure and IT processes – automation, cloud, devOps, cyber security and data analytics.

For Coursera, the world’s largest open online education i.e. MOOC provider, India is one of its fastest-growing markets and second-largest both in terms of learners and revenue (only after the US). The Coursera platform has over 2 million registered learners in India out of a total of 25 million globally. “We onboard close to 60,000 learners in India every month. We also are already seeing India take a lead in adoption of our enterprise platform that allows companies to partner with us on employee training and development,” said Nikhil Sinha, Chief Business Officer.

The most active learners for Coursera in India are young professionals in their 20s and 30s wanting to gain technical skills. Nearly half of enrollments are in technology domains such as computer science and data science. Since not all students with a job in hand can take time out for studies on a daily basis, Coursera is building a learning platform that makes it as easy as possible for people to fit learning into their busy schedules. For example, you can watch video lectures on your commute, submit assignments on your phone, and get immediate feedback on your code with their new in-browser coding feature.

Udacity, another online portal, found that the maximum demand for online courses in India is from Bangalore closely followed by Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai. Ishan Gupta, MD, Udacity India, said Bangalore contributes the most to advanced skills like deep learning, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. Delhi wants to learn more of artificial intelligence followed by machine learning and data analyst skills. Mumbai, on the other hand, is looking at machine learning, android and web development. Hyderabad wants to learn deep learning, data analysis and artificial intelligence. Chennai wants to learn data analysis, deep learning and android, while Pune is witnessing maximum search demand for deep learning, followed by android and artificial intelligence.

If you can think/predict what the customer will need that he/she does not know, rest assured you can find the skill — design thinking, the in-demand skill, will ensure you have a job that most companies are seeking. “Companies will hire design thinkers as they can predict what the consumer does not know and hence charge for the product/service from their clients,” says Ashwin Damera, Executive Director, Emeritus Institute of Management, Singapore.

Design thinking is a mindset. IT firms are trying to move up the curve. Higher-end services that companies can charge more is to provide value and for that you need to know that end-customers needs. For example, to provide value services to banking customers is to find out what the bank’s customer needs are in that country the banking client is based. Latent needs come from a design thinking philosophy where you observe customer data, patterns and provide a solution that the customer does not know. Idea in design thinking is to provide agile product creation or solutions.

“We have a popular course called design thinking by MIT which is taught by a professor whose students created Airbnb. Similarly, in a cloud-based model if you can provide the solution to a problem that does not exist then that is what you charge for,” said Damera.

Infosys’s new offering Aikido, formulated by CEO Vishal Sikka, focusses on design thinking, platforms and knowledge-based IT as part of its efforts to return to industry-leading growth numbers. “…Each of these by themselves help enterprises along a great new path, each of these helps bring together and tie together a lot of Infosys services we offer to clients today and together the three of these become even more powerful than the three individually by themselves,” Sikka had said while announcing Aikido.

Everything is changing in the once-buoyant and sunshine IT sector. To be relevant, constantly upgrading one’s skills is the only way to stay aboard.

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