Rebooting the Workforce

With IT firms opting for automation, reskilling is the only way for employees to remain relevant

Since graduating two years ago from Terna Engineering College in Mumbai, Mahalaxmi Thevar enrolled for a digital course, six months ago, to learn Selenium, an open source web-based automation tool. Now, she will be able to automate the repetitive work of software testing through the tool. “In college, they only taught us the basic concepts of Java. Thus, we have to keep on learning an array of programming languages,” says Thevar, who works at an IT firm. She also wants to pick up big data skills. Similarly, Naveen PN, an electronic and communication engineer, who has been working with L&T Technology for more than 12 years, grabbed the opportunity provided by his company to upgrade his skills. He undertook a course to learn to build Internet of Things (IoT) applications. He has realised that applications of IoT and embedded technologies would only augment with time as the IT industry continues to grow. “Unfortunately colleges in India are unable to provide specialised training which renders many young engineers under-prepared for the complex technological challenges,” says Naveen. Thevar and Naveen are among thousands updating their skills to remain relevant in the IT industry as a new wave of technologies displace the old ones.

As the demands of global and domestic customers change, the $153-billion IT sector, employing 3.86 million people, has started shifting towards advanced technologies such as big data, cloud, IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning. A report titled ‘Future of jobs — A 2022 perspective’, prepared by EY, in association with FICCI and Nasscom, says that adoption of new technologies is picking up more pace as cost falls. 

Nasscom states that IT firms are taking steps for revenue decoupling from headcount growth with more automation and platform-based revenue. The reduction in workforce would mean a huge cost advantage for the IT companies. 

Voice-based services, data entry, document processing and system administration are likely to be automated by 2022. Indian IT industry will lose 6.4 lakh low-skilled positions to automation by 2021, according to UK-based HfS Research. Jobs such as database administrators, software developers, data mining and marketing professionals, in turn, are likely to be upgraded to service analysts, user experience (UX) designers, data analysts and digital media professionals respectively.

Business process outsourcing (BPO) firm Intelenet Global Services is banking on robotics, analytics and mobility to fetch 20% of its revenue over the next three years from nearly nothing now. Similarly, TCS expects to garner around one-third of its revenue from digital technology over the next 24 months, as more clients scale their transformation projects. Infosys has also decided to renew its focus on digital services such as cloud, big data and analytics to boost growth amid shrinking profit margins. Infosys chief executive officer, Salil Parekh, said that digital services, which accounted for a quarter of company’s revenue in FY18, are huge opportunities and are relevant to their clients. 

Back to school
Despite machine learning and reskilling picking up pace, the EY report states that the biggest hindrance to automation in the IT sector would be the lack of availability of talent to enable technology. 

Cognisant of this gap, several IT firms including Infosys, Tech Mahindra, TCS, and Syntel have either tied up with learning platforms or have started their own courses and classrooms. Tech Mahindra has joined hands with edX, Pluralsight, EdSight, Coursera and Unity to help employees develop skills in cyber security, IoT, AI, big data, business analytics, augmented reality and visual reality. “At the end of the second quarter of FY18, we had trained close to 70% of our employees in different modules around new age technologies, driving digital projects such as cloud, development frameworks, data science and DevOps,” says Jagdish Mitra, chief strategy and marketing officer, Tech Mahindra. 

Infosys, in turn, has trained over 65% of its employees in design thinking, and started implementing it across projects. Infosys has created its own platforms such as Digital Tutor, Knowledge Hub and Lex. “All these platforms are integrated with our HR system so that we can track what the employees are learning and provide feedback,” says Srikantan Moorthy, executive vice-president, Infosys. 

With Nasscom predicting that 40% of the IT workforce would have to be reskilled in a bid to remain relevant, more platforms for reskilling have sprung up. Nasscom itself has launched a platform to upskill 2 million professionals, tying up with industry heavyweights such as TCS, Infosys, Cognizant, Google, Amazon, Oracle, Adobe and IBM. “The platform will connect curated jobs to curated courses. The emphasis is to identify the skills and courses which should be taken to acquire new skills,” says Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president, Nasscom. 

L&T has set up labs for its employees to get hands-on experience in new technologies. “We have labs in India, the US and Jerusalem. We provide eight working days of training in a month to every employee,” adds Paneesh Rao, chief human resources officer, L&T Technology Services. 

Performance equals learning
For the workforce, the push to reskill is manifesting in both performance evaluations and in the form of incentives. At Intelenet, 30% of the performance rating in 2018 will be linked to new skills acquired. “With a significant part of employee performance linked to the achievement of our transformational objectives, it will work as an incentive for people to get reskilled,” says Sidharth Mukherjee, head of Transformation and Knowledge Services, Intelenet Global Services.

IT insiders see automation as an opportunity to learn and grow, or perish. “For people who have been in the industry for 10 or 20 years, and don’t want to retrain themselves, or have become complacent, their jobs will be in trouble,” says Deepak Ghaisas, chairman, Gencoval Strategic Services. Syntel’s Arora agrees. “Performance is a qualifier but we are also looking at the potential of our employees in terms of knowledge and skills. The future of employees depends on the competencies they develop.” After Syntel employees complete skilling training courses, their news skills are also taken into account while determining their annual salary hike.

Where new technologies will create newer job opportunities, net hiring is expected to decline. The EY report predicts the IT-BPM sector would continue to hire at a rate of 3-3.5% year-on-year against a historical growth rate of 6-6.5%, to reach 4.5 million in 2022. Within the ambit of new workforce, Ghaisas believes that the base of academics has to be altered to meet new demands of the IT sector. “The government, educational institutes and IT companies will need to work together to make the workforce skillful.”

Echoing a similar view, Gupta says education institutes need to step up. “The question is how do you navigate the employees between old and new skills? If universities and colleges start teaching new skills, the sector’s ability to absorb IT professionals would be much higher,” he says. Old and new, as Gupta says, have to get on the automation train as the ecosystem evolves.