Re-skilling corporate India

Every time we use the term “upgrade,” we only think of it for our phones. Having used it only for machines, it’s difficult to comprehend this term on people. In this context, the scariest job right now is to be a manager in an IT company. Seems like only the specialist technology professionals have the insurance to survive in the software world. The gurus have been predicting millions of job losses due to automation. No wonder, technology companies are talking about re-skilling like never before.

Re-skilling is an inevitable path to survival in most industries, where technology is invading ferociously. But, re-skilling is a huge mountain to climb in the Indian context as we have to fight multiple demons.

It’s important to appreciate the background of the current situation. We grew up in a hierarchical culture. The head of the family wielded the ultimate power. School had its headmaster, too. We looked up to people who were managers at work. From public sector utility companies to banks where most of our known people worked, the word manager evoked respect. The advent of a new wave of employment in millions through IT companies did not change the picture.

Technology companies built even more managers than the public sector companies. Most of us go to work to earn the next promotion as a manager. Any promotion which only has a salary hike or a promotion without the manager title isn’t appreciated.

When IT companies hired in thousands, the only way they could stack up the organisation pyramid was through managers. Even though they spoke and lived on technology interfaces, the culture of the organisations fuelled managerial aspirations than continuous learning.

There are plenty of milestones we celebrate in our personal lives. And our lives revolve around them. Furthermore, societal pressure plays a big role in reaching these milestones in time. In such a situation, would you announce that you have enrolled in a cybersecurity course? I doubt if there would be any celebrations at all. I know of friends who passed some tough and key certifications relevant to IT. But, I am sure, we did not celebrate those moments.

The cultural setting in our organisation and the societal milestones are strongly ingrained in us. These are the biggest hurdle in building a mindset of continuous upgradation. So, when IT companies talk about re-skilling, they are up against their built-in DNA and the societal challenges together.

Fighting two battles

Imagine 40-year-old managers in IT companies heading to classrooms or joining online courses to learn new technologies. With age, learning abilities decrease, so, you are now fighting two battles. First one is existential, it’s difficult to admit that the identity you carefully built so far is no longer relevant. Second, fighting the difficulty of learning something new, which you know will be transient, is a painful exercise. Building a new routine of learning after many years of work experience will be another challenge. This is the age where you want to assist your kids with their school work or head to the gym to keep in shape. Last thing you want is to be seen studying for survival.

Therefore, corporates need to work on two areas. They need to start by initiating a conducive culture for veterans to re-learn. It can’t be seen as a punishment to survive, but a refreshing feeling of learning to contribute. The second area is to build the learning atmosphere for newcomers. Consequently, the induction slides have to stop showing stories of people who became VPs and CEOs. They should rather highlight the knowledge champions and IP creators in their orientation sessions to new comers. Probably, human resources should build financial incentives for relevant skills acquired. Most of all, leaders should be transparent about how they are upgrading themselves on the emerging skills. Leaders should be able to demonstrate that they are investing time to learn the relevant new skills. This would send out the message loud and clear on the required learning culture.

Finally, here is the catch. CEOs and leaders of organisations are measured against quarterly results. In the short run, they have to keep their jobs by focusing on customer relationships and delivering numbers. The balancing act on short-term results vs long-term investments and leading the change is a tough act. 

The mid-sized companies may find it relatively easier to get on the re-skilling bus. But it would be interesting to see how the larger corporates take this upgrade path to survival amid these challenges.

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(The writer is Co-Founder, Xpheno)

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Re-skilling corporate India

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