Artificial intelligence, big data and digitisation have changed hiring patterns. As result, the skills required for particular jobs are rapidly changing. For instance, companies in the service sector are looking for generalists more than specialists. These companies tend to hire generalists who are quick to learn new skills across various areas such as public policy, content writing and crisis management. This brings us to the ongoing debate of whether generalists have an edge over specialists in today's work environment. In times when technological innovation and big data are driving businesses, experts feel it's important to be open to learning new skills.
Take for example the number of unemployed engineers. According to All India Council for Technical Education, more than 60% of the eight lakh engineers graduating every year remain unemployed. They either need to align their skills with the industry requirements or reskill to keep pace with the changes. Employees in the IT sector are also facing a similar scenario due to AI and automation. A recent report by a global advisory firm revealed that nearly half of the workforce in the IT sector will be 'irrelevant' over the next three to four years. Hence, many will need to upskill themselves. Additionally, companies today are no longer just hiring postgraduates. Many are hiring undergraduates in various roles as many students bring a fresh perspective, are open-minded, keen to learn and creative.
Generalists vs specialists
India has seen a boom in start-ups and new age businesses through bootstrapping. In such companies, employees who have multiple skills are highly sought after. Which is why, companies are now looking to hire professionals who can handle multiple responsibilities.
Established businesses, with the growing competition from these new age businesses, are also constantly on a look out for generalists who can provide fresh perspectives. Diverse experiences allow people to think more expansively which in turn helps them approach a problem in a different way. Hence, we see many professionals enrolling for part-time courses to upskill. These include courses such as content writing, data science and public relations.
While there is a demand for specialists in various industries, they will be expected to handle different roles and responsibilities as they grow in the organisation. As a result, they turn into generalists. Sundar Pichai, the chief executive officer of Google, is a perfect example of a generalist. He studied engineering and MBA. At the beginning of his career, he worked in the fields that gave him exposure to both worlds - management as well as engineering. This turned out to be a pathway to enter Google where he led the product management and innovation efforts and eventually became the chief executive officer.
Another example is Indra Nooyi, chairperson and chief executive officer of PepsiCo. She began her career as a product manager at Johnson & Johnson and later went on to earn a Master's degree in public and private management. After this, Nooyi held various consulting and strategy positions in different companies. Her experience in consulting and strategy and her position as PepsiCo's chief financial officer enabled her to become the company's fifth CEO. Elon Musk's career brings the whole debate to a conclusion. A business mogul, investor and an inventor, he is perhaps the ultimate example of 'expert generalists'. He has acquired knowledge across a wide range of fields and finds the best way to apply that knowledge wherever he sees fit to make it better.
Up the ladder
These examples clearly indicate that companies are in need of generalising specialists who can start their career with niche skills but be open to explore different opportunities. For example, a specialisation in finance and marketing increases your relevance and workability in an organisation. This approach will help you steadily grow in your preferred domain and also be relevant in the job market.
Being a generalist doesn't mean that you should abandon your commitment to becoming knowledgeable and specialise in the field that you are interested in. But if you aspire to become a leader in the near future, then you have to keep in mind that you will need to develop skills that can help you perform your job better and
enable you climb up the ladder. Hence, it is advisable to get experience in another field as well or start reading about a different industry of your choice which will also be important for your domain, and which could make you an attractive
candidate for your dream job.
(The author is principal, KPB Hinduja College, Mumbai)