Amidst all the chaos and disruptions caused by the tiny ‘semi-living’ particle, aka the Corona virus, the entire industries and economies are looking towards a massive overhaul. Looking back at some of the events that had shaped the culture, tradition, and mindsets of humanity, plagues caused by microbes have been one of the significant contributors. To cite an example, The Black Death, which ravaged the major part of Europe in the late 13th century, can be considered to be the genesis of the modern industrial age. Owing to the plague, a massive shortfall of workers was witnessed in the small-scale industries that operated in the era. This situation compelled the remaining workforce to adapt to the disruptions, bringing out the creativity, and slowly paved the pathway to the industrial age, to operate factories mechanically with as limited labour as possible, thus increasing efficiencies. Therefore, as every cloud has a silver lining, the current situation may perhaps be a blessing in disguise, ferrying humanity to the land of the next revolutionary era.
The future is uncertain, and it would be just as futile to predict the changes as to bet on any lottery tickets. Having said so, one thing is certain; the role of the human in factories and work floors are going to change. We were heading towards the digital age before the pandemic struck, and this may perhaps hasten our journey to that end.
The rate of digitization in India has been on a steep rise since the beginning of the last decade, with the power of internet penetrating even to the remotest corners of the country.
Fig: The rise of Internet literacy in India. Source: PWC
One of the major shifts that are being witnessed in the service sector of India is a shift of the consumers towards the digital platform for any day-to-day household needs, from grocery shopping to placing an order for salon needs. With the applications and organizations spreading their reach to the Tier-2 cities and below, this trend is only going to shoot up. Coming to manufacturing industries, the Human Machine Interface (HMI) is advancing and modernizing at a fast rate, which would reduce the interactions needed by a human with the machines to operate the plant to a bare minimum. We would see a majority of these industries being operated remotely- the so-called ‘Dark Factory.’ The practice has already been implemented in some of the plants, notably by Phillips, wherein the factories operate without any of the workforce being present at the site. The term ‘Dark Factory’ is somewhat gloomy, and indeed it is so. This disruption would cause a massive shift in the workforce demands, causing layoffs and requiring professionals with unique skill sets. Thus, we arrive at the Big Question, what are the skills that are necessary in this ever-changing VUCA world to remain relevant? Let us try to address this by focusing on some of the trends mentioned above.
Fig: Dark Factories (Illustration). Source: Google Images
The era of digitization and digitization has already begun. As the world is getting virtual, residing in websites, this sector of the industry is going to be bullish. The fear of job loss and moving out of the employable pool is real. However, we must look at history and try to recognize the pattern. Similar concerns emerged during the 1960s-70s with the advent of the digital computer, Xerox pioneering the trend with its patented Xerox Alto, featuring the Graphic User Interface (GUI) for the very first time. There was no need for professionals with skills of calculation, technical problem solving, typing, and bookkeeping anymore. This is referred to as ‘Technological Unemployment,’ and it has taken place every time a revolutionary technology has emerged in human civilization. The rate of unemployment did increase for a short period but was soon offset with jobs being created, relating directly to the new wonder, the computer. Information Technology, for which India is now respected worldwide, was one of the many disciplines that emerged out of the disruption.
The IT boom exploded around the country, and the Indian economy quickly adapted and stabilized itself again. Thus, it’s a never-ending cycle, of which, becoming a part of, is simply inevitable. The current digital age also presents us with ample opportunities that would become relevant in the coming decades. Gone would be the days when humans had to operate machines, requiring in-depth knowledge of the workings of the same. HMIs, automation, and IoTs would instead do those works. The demand in the industries would be more on the creative aspects.
Opportunities would emerge to maintain the technologies, for which knowledge and skills in data would be of utmost importance. With robust and flexible languages like Python, Julia, and Swift coming up, these would be some of the skills that every professional needs to have. Demand for core engineers is bound to go down, with a proportionate increase in managerial roles. Thus, students must preferably move towards a career in management and focus on engineering courses that teach working knowledge in these emerging technologies. Professionals would need to think creatively to formulate strategies to outperform the market, at a time when competition would also become cutthroat. The basis for all such decisions again boils down to how efficiently an organization assimilates and utilizes data. The service sector is expected to continue to grow, with demands for people having excellent interpersonal communication skills. Thus, it is quite clear that jobs which require repetitions would become obsolete. Some of the skill sets that would be in high demands can be summarized below:
– Creativity: Future workers need to be creative to realize the full potential of the utilized technologies. Robots and automation can’t compete with human minds in terms of creativity. The future workplace is going to demand new ways of thinking, and human creativity is the key to it.
– EQ: EQ can be defined as a person’s awareness of feelings of others, empathy, and being cognizant of others’ emotions. A machine can never replace the ability of one human to connect with another, and thus having a good EQ would be a must.
– Judgment & Decision Making: It is true that machines are capable of handling a massive quantity of data and provide insights that are practically impossible for us to come up with. However, a human will need to make the decision recognizing the broader implications the decision might have on other areas of business, personnel, and the effect on other more human sensibilities such as morale.
– Technical skills: Industry 4.0 is fueled by disrupting technologies like AI, ML, IoT, and blockchain, which would demand our familiarity and comfort with them. On a fundamental level, everyone would be required to work with data and recognize the implications of patterns. Thus, it’s essential to take up and complete courses on these technologies and associated programming languages (like Python).
In this climate of change, change is the only constant. Students in developing nations like India must thus learn to build up a persona, a good soft skill, and a diverse repertoire of technological expertise, relevant to their field of interest, as the change is going to be the most radical in these regions. Education and courses would soon shift majorly to digital platforms, with organizations like BYJUs coming up with cutting-edge technologies to achieve the same. It would soon make sense and be the better alternative to take up courses there, from school levels to professional ones, which would be recognized in the industries.
Careers like IoT specialists, Cloud computing manager, Data managers would be in demand and would experience a rapid growth. The focus should be on topics that develop the ability to manage data, technologies, and other fellow humans, rather than emphasizing on how to troubleshoot machines and learning to operate them. Students must be ready to unlearn, the buzz word which everyone must be aware of because the rate of disruptions is so large, that upcoming technologies would become obsolete within a decade, initiating the needs of adapting to a newer one.
Society is evolving, and when the dust of COVID-19 settles, we will wake up to a new era. An era, which would again test Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. It is thus of utmost importance to keep abreast of the changes and to adapt to it accordingly. Alvin Toffler, the renowned futurist, and American businessman, rightly said, “The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”