Transformation of the industry and skills needed, Mona Bharadwaj, IBM India

At the ongoing Dataquest T-Schools Higher Education Conference and Awards 2021 event, Mona Bharadwaj, Global University Programs Leader, IBM India, presented on transformation of the industry, and skills needed to do so.

She said people may remember the Doordarshan logo. Most of us had one TV and one telephone in the family. Dads probably had only one job. You may also remember some of the wonderful brands that existed, such as, HMT Watches, Bajaj Scooters, Dyanora TV, Nokia Mobiles, Rajdoot Bikes, etc. All of them had some really good quality.


In 1998, there were about 1.70 lakh Kodak employees. In a few years, digital photography came into being, and drove Kodak out of market. Kodak also went bankrupt. What happened with all these wonderful brands? They were out of the market as they did not change over time. This is such an important thing today. Such is the case with any industry that does not accept changes and transform. The pace at which the society is changing is forcing the industry to cope. That, in turn, is pushing education institutes to transform as well.

Until a few years ago, companies taught or conditioned employees to operate in alignment with their business model in a structured, business-oriented manner. There was top-down decision making. There were job descriptions with set responsibilities. Everything was fixed and static. Usage of fixed teams was prevalent at that time. It also taught the employees skills in that company’s culture.

Until the digital era, clarity of decision was conveyed in a structured manner, and executed in a stable environment that was not receptive to constant change. There was a need to speed things up and have a more ways to address the changing needs of customers very quickly. It led to advent of the digital era.

Digital era
The digital era introduced the need for more business and new skills. It also brought a more flexible culture. Remote work, always-on access, transparency in work, less hierarchy, and even pop-up teams operating across organizational and cross-functional boundaries happened. An operation had to operate within an ecosystem of partners.
All this required agility! Different management styles also came into being, that also encouraged a more agile environment. There was autonomous decision making, more experimentation, peer-to-peer coaching, flexibility in structures, etc. Essentially, the organizational and cultural competencies needed to shift, so they could reflect the new ways of working. This was historically about how the industries and the skills transformed and evolved.

What does the scenario look like today? Executives are now tasked with continuous innovation, and succeeding in this constantly evolving landscape. They also recognize that navigating it requires individuals that communicate effectively, apply problem-solving skills, critical-thinking skills, and drive innovation using new technologies. They also draw and act from the insights available from vast amounts of data. It also calls for a lot of creativity, empathy, ability to change course quickly, and a propensity to learn, and seek out personal growth.

Future of work
The future of work is expected to be more transparent, flat on-demand, and competitive. Transparent is obvious. When we say flat, it means less hierarchy. There is more decision making at each level. On-demand implies that teams will be assembled and dismantled based on the needs of a project. Competitive means the whole world will be the hiring ground for an employer. We have the onus of making students ready for that future of work.

India’s economy is expected to grow at a very fast pace. Rapid industrialization means there would be requirement of around 250 million people by 2030. As of 2021, India is said to produce 1 million engineering graduates. India’s technical education infrastructure includes 3,500 engineering colleges, 3,400 polytechnics, and 200 schools of planning and architecture. Today, over 35% of India’s population is below the age of 20. India could potentially emerge as a global supplier of skilled manpower.

Looking at Jobs of Tomorrow report by World Economic Forum, demand for human and digital factors are driving growth in the professions of the future. They predicted that 7 professional clusters would emerge in tandem. These clusters are: data and AI, engineering, cloud computing, people and culture, product development, marketing, and sales and content.

On one hand, these reflect adoption of new technologies giving rise to greater demand for roles in data and AI economy, and new roles in engineering, cloud computing, and product development. On the other hand, emerging professions reflect the continuing importance of human interaction in the new economy, giving rise to greater demand for care economy jobs, roles in marketing, sales, and content production. As well as roles in the forefront of people and culture.

Role of India
Needless to say, the workforce that India is looking to provide the world, skills are of great importance today. Today’s skills can protect us from the vast uncertainties the future may have. Key technology skills, supplemented by good decision making, negotiation, problem solving, good communications, networking, etc., create a distinguished combination for an accomplished career.

There are many ways to enhance skills of students that are needed today. One also needs to focus on exponential learning through hackathons. Mahatma Gandhiji had announced a design competition back in 1929, with Rs. 1 lakh as prize money. This happened when he encouraged people to take up the spinning wheel. He was looking for engineers that could input raw cotton into machines and produce yarn as output. He had some conditions. He recognized what technology could do.

Maybe, Gandhiji was ahead of his times. He may have been the original sponsor of a hack to design a better charka. Today, students stand to gain a lot by participating in hackathons.

For academic institutes, working hand-in-hand with the industry is a key way of making students better skilled for the future. IBM and other companies have some very useful partnerships with academic institutes. You should also use those to become better skilled. Institutes grab opportunities for courses, mentorship, internships, etc., from industries to make students ready for a better tomorrow. The future really belongs to those who are ready for it!

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