Skilling India's techies: Opportunity or challenge?

Here is why India’s IT industry is betting on creativity, design thinking, data science and empathy.

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Bob Dylan’s hit song, ‘the times they are a-changing' describes perfectly the state of India’s USD 150 billion software industry. India’s IT success story is remarkable in many ways. The industry is broadly divided into four segments: IT services, business process management, software products and engineering services, and hardware. And revenues have grown at the rate of USD 10 billion annually over the last 3 years. 

According to NASSCOM, total exports from the IT-BPM sector (including hardware) have grown at a CAGR of 12.84 percent during FY09-17. The industry is expected to hit the USD 300 billion mark by 2020. 

But the success story isn’t just about numbers. India’s technical manpower created a perspective shift at a time when the country was still developing. Its English speaking, technical workforce, which worked at lower wages than its global counterparts, and produced quality work has been in demand for decades. The industry generated 3.5 million new jobs since 2001, and from a 4.1 percent contribution to India’s GDP in 2004-05, the IT industry contributed around 7.7 percent to the GDP in 2017. 

 

Winds of change

The year 2017 saw a huge shift in demand from enterprise services to enterprise solutions. 2018 will not be any different. India’s IT industry is at an inflection point where it has to transform digitally to meet the demand for new skills. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), deep learning, AR/VR are no longer in the experimental state. According to Gartner, AI will eliminate around 1.8m jobs, but create around 2.3m net new jobs by 2020

Organizations are starting to reap the benefits of automation. In 2018, automation along with cognitive thinking will become a true story.

RajendraDeshpandeIntelenet

                                    Rajendra Deshpande, CIO, Intelenet

In a statement to CIO India, a NASSCOM spokesperson said, “IT employees need to be trained in new technologies. Along with domain specific expertise, job seekers must also place priority in acquiring soft skills like design thinking, critical thinking, creative skills, collaboration, and negotiation.” Companies need to shift focus to talent enhancement, make investments in reskilling their employees and ensure they are market ready.

Technologies such as advanced robotics and automation are changing job roles drastically. While this is expected to impact a few jobs in the microcosm; at a macro-level, NASSCOM believes that technology adoption will lead to more job creation across sectors.

 

Reskill and reinvent

Even though there is a gentle deceleration in net hiring growth rate, the Industry will remain a major net hirer in FY 2018, says a NASSCOM report. The industry body has rejected all news reports that pointed at mass layoffs in the IT sector. “There will be some impact of automation but overall, we believe that technology adoption will lead to more job creation across sectors. The key is to maintain the momentum of re-skilling which will eventually translate into 1.5-2 million people working on next-gen technologies in India within 4-5 years,” said the spokesperson.

So what are companies and CIOs doing for staffing their workforce with the right skill sets?            

Rajendra Deshpande, CIO at Intelenet, says, “Initially, the automation story was hype but it has become reality now. All the mundane functionalities such as general ledgers, email, accounts are being been automated across sectors.

“Organizations are starting to reap the benefits of automation. In 2018, automation along with cognitive thinking will become a true story.”

The year 2017 was a year of experimentation, in 2018 people will take it across enterprise, he says.

The normal domain or ERP skills are becoming ordinary but are taken up as the stepping stone for new generation ERPs. Analytics and testing automation are other hot areas where we are hiring and cross-training people.

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Sarvanan Viswanathan, Head-Internal Systems and IT, Hexaware

Has the focus shifted to retraining the existing workforce to improve productivity? “We are taking a two-pronged approach. We are hiring for niche roles, at the same time, there are multiple hiring and training sessions for current employees,” says Deshpande.

Over 50 percent of employees from leading companies are already trained in digital technologies, according to a NASSCOM report.

“At Hexaware, we are seriously looking at rebuilding the competencies, reskilling and building the related matrices and mapping the employees,” says Saravanan Viswanathan, Head-Internal Systems and IT at Hexaware. 

The company has initiated a complete revamp of its competency and skill matrices linking them to employee roles. These are defined with an expectation that somebody in a role can grow in a particular technology or across the technology, says Viswanathan.

“The employee learning quotient is defined as a metric, department-wise and it is tracked as a part of KPIs,” he adds.

 

Hiring for the future

Along with domain specific expertise, job seekers must also place priority in acquiring soft skills like design thinking, critical thinking, creative skills, collaboration, and negotiation, according to a NASSCOM spokesperson. 

Over 50 percent of employees from leading companies are already trained in digital technologies-NASSCOM

“Earlier, we were looking for hardcore tech talent. When it comes to hiring, data science, analytics, and especially digital technologies are in demand,” says Deshpande.

The focus is on innovation, and that is why design thinking is becoming a big thing, he adds. “To think differently, you have to collaborate business, IT and clients in an empathetic way. What is needed is people’s ability to analyze, synthesize, especially if you are looking at a transformative approach.”

According to Viswanathan, the skills that are in demand include mobile, digital, bots, VR, UX and infrastructure management. “The normal domain or ERP skills are becoming ordinary but are taken up as the stepping stone for new generation ERPs. Analytics and testing automation are other hot areas where we are hiring and cross-training people.”

Will the industry be able to innovate to capture new market opportunities and carry on its legacy of survival? The onus lies not only with India’s software industry, but also the Government and academia to keep pace with the era of digitization.