Friday, June 2, 2017

AI/Robotics/Automation - ITEmployees Cry Foul - Part2

This is part2 of the intended 4 part story with regards to job losses in IT/ITeS segments [which is what the media is talking a lot about], the slowly worsening situation in telecom post Jio [not much is being talked about] and the impending consolidation in PSU banks [almost nobody is talking about]

Today, I came across 2 contrasting opinions. One by the almost revered guru of Indian IT, Narayan Murthy and other by a veteran who got TCS to where it is today, N Chandrashekharan. According to Narayan Murthy, the top managers in IT companies have to take cuts in their paychecks. I agree with this part. He also expects companies to do as much as they can and stem unemployment. This, may I say is a utopian dream. Since the internet dot com bust, so many economists in the developed world have proposed part-time employment options to be taken by employees so that the stress on unemployment allowance is reduced and number of unemployed people goes down.

The challenge with this is that a person who has a job would like to go the whole mile to the extent s/he can in this VUCA environment - make hay when the sun shines. What Chandrashekharan has said is that we are becoming more and more digital and that means there will be more jobs. This is exactly what a lot of experts in hi-tech industries have been saying. There is a lot of demand for skilled labour. The problem that we are facing all over the world is that there is a gross mismatch in what the industry needs and the skills that the available talent pools have. In India this is a bigger problem.

As has been rightly said, re-skilling is the order of the day. If we look at the thousands of people in the IT/ITeS sectors today, there are broadly three categories of people. Highly skilled, highly motivated and people on top of their game - these guys are simply not worried. Most of them land the dream jobs they want even before somebody decides to give them a pink slip or they are confident enough to put themselves in the sweet spot sooner than later rather than compromise with the current employer. The sad part is that this is less than 2% of the workforce. The group of people is very special. Based on current economic trends, they are drawing a good salary, have settled into a good lifestyle but their talent levels are not as high as the new rules of the technology game demand. They were aware about it in the past but when the going was good, these short-comings were ignored. That will not be the case now. The biggest challenge with these people is that they have got so used to certain habits, skillsets and attitudes that it is extremely difficult to change unless these people decide to change themselves. Unfortunately, that segment is almost 40% of the workforce. For those who do decide to eventually change will need more time to get the basics right as compared to the youth who are learning these technologies upfront without any pre-conditions. The last segment is the ones who are currently at lower levels of the organization and are simply following SOPs. I fully believe in dignity of labour and I mean no offence to this segment in my previous segment. The work they do still matter a lot and even the new technologies will need these kind of people albeit in lower proportions.

Just to digress from the topic a bit - let us consider mobile phones - a technology gadget that most people use these days. Once upon a time Motorola was considered to be the best; then came Nokia with its super seller Nokia3310, a handset that was literally a style statement. Almost everybody said that this is the best one can have until BlackBerry came along. Just when almost everyone was convinced that BlackBerry is the ultimate in mobile handsets, Apple came out with the iphone and today the latest model is iphone7 and people are waiting for the 8th version.

The only constant is change. As I mentioned in my previous post as well, today technology will help automate a lot of tasks and improve productivity. However, the industry needs skilled people who will make this technology possible. There is a fantastic movie featuring George Clooney and Anna Kendrick called "Up In The Air" It is a classic case that portrays how and why human resources still make such a difference. And for the experts who keep harping about the ability of AI being superior, it is worth watching Minority Report. The movie very nicely depicts why we cannot be 100% sure about AI

To summarize, technology disruptions will keep on taking place. As long as one has the ability to upgrade and re-skill, one should be fine. Don't be pessimistic - be optimistic as there are so many avenues that are going to open up and the fact is that we have a lot of jobs and opportunities that need people. This is going to be my next article in this series - so stay tuned. Just remember the keyword "Transferable Skills"

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