Modern human civilization has witnessed three industrial revolutions. From steam power to powering mass production to the electronics and IT age, these revolutions have defined how we live and operate today. Each of these revolutions disrupted the earlier way of living making what seemed impossible a reality now in the digital economy.
The Digital Age
At present we are witnessing a drastic and rapid shift in businesses. Today’s digital economy has completely transformed how industries and economies operate. From the internet making everything global and everyone connected, to automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence transforming our way of working.
At its core, the digital age has completely transformed how we work; I have only heard of dreadful stories of internal mailmen transferring physical memos and bankers depending on physical books (till the late 90s), and personally experienced sharing different versions of files and haphazard data collation while collaborating on a project, and manually dragging and dropping images and connecting to create process maps just a few years back. None of these time-extensive activities are required anymore in the digital economy (the former two are long forgotten) all thanks to email, cloud, and basic automation, under the umbrella of digital transformation.
This digital transformation is just scratching the surface, the possibilities are endless with billions of people across the globe connected, and unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge are unlimited.
This digital transformation is just scratching the surface, the possibilities are endless with billions of people across the globe connected, and unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge are unlimited. This is additionally augmented by new technological breakthroughs in fields such as AI, robotics, IoT, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and quantum computing. AI and ML is all around us in both professional and personal spheres, from self-driving cars to software translating languages in a fraction of a second or creating investment strategies. As we speak, engineers and designers are already working on developing symbiosis between human bodies, machines, and the products we consume.
Challenge or Opportunity
These industrial revolutions have not only taught us that ‘present fantasy’ can be ‘future reality’ but also, that be it large businesses, large economies, or individuals, whoever refuses to get involved are left behind. According to the Brookings Institution, in 2002, 56% of U.S. jobs required low skills, 40% required medium skills and a meager 5% required high digital skills. Come present times and the story is completely different; 23% of the jobs require high digital skills while jobs requiring low digital skills have gone down to 30%.
In India, the industry body NASSCOM found that 40% of the IT workforce in the country will require to be reskilled in the coming years to keep pace with the technological developments in areas such as automation, analytics and machine learning.
Path to Reskilling
Understanding the technology landscape: It is imperative to understand the current digital age and its impact on your current job or area of interest. As I have mentioned earlier, at present, we have multiple disruptive technologies at play in multiple industries, it has become essential to have a basic understanding of the technological advancements in your industry, and constantly updating your-self. Any good analytics professional will let you know about the new tools and techniques that they must learn regularly to keep themselves afloat. Previously popular and ubiquitously used tools such as SAS, SPSS, etc. have very limited scope now.
Tracking the growth trajectory of your chosen field: It is never easy to predict the future impact on your field or industry, what one can do is to look at the ongoing developments and analyze how it can impact their current role or their area of interest. E.g. if you are in day-to-day operations, then knowing RPA can benefit you significantly, a similar case has been presented above for analytics professionals. The best way is to look at the impact of similar areas with a bird’s eye view and try to extrapolate to your area, rather than focusing on specifics. For example, the impact of RPA on the day-to-day operations rather than on the bank account opening process; using collaborative tools for meetings and knowledge creation rather than on client meeting for B2B sales; AI predicting diagnosis through medical records rather than AI predicting the degree of tooth decay.
- Picking your area of future growth and path: There are a plethora of technological developments that are taking place and are likely to increase exponentially; it is very important to pick your area of interest or industry. Once, a basic understanding, following point 1 and point 2 as specified above, has been developed, one can follow two approaches, approach 1) Look at the industry and pick the area which you think will benefit you the most. Approach 2) Pick the digital field you like the most and can use in your existing area of responsibility or want to develop a career in; remember as the digital age in evolving, one’s profession can evolve too. An important point to remember in both the strategies is to choose a specific area. You cannot go for all at once. No analytics professional can learn all tools in a month, no data scientist can learn all programming languages and ever-evolving systems in three months, no product manager knows about end-to-end ‘cloud products and usage’, no IoT practitioner can say that they know the usage of IoT in all industries. It’s a continuous time- and effort-intensive process, hence, choosing specific areas for advancing your skills is essential.
- Learning path: At this stage, you have a basic understanding of new fields; their potential impact on your field of work. You have developed a basic understanding of key digital areas that are either of your interest or impacts your area of work; You have chosen the field to develop your expertise in. Now is the time to develop and follow your training plan, major points to remember are a) It must be continuous, b) It must be in blocks, c) The blocks need to be connected. Remember, the digital age is evolving, and prediction is no easy task, hence, be Agile and follow the scrum path. Keeping your training in form of blocks will help you to add or modify your path as changes in the filed occurs, or in case you realize that you have chosen the wrong area to skill yourself, you can accept early and make a change.
Call to the Organizations
Some of the steps for organizations to take,
Make reskilling a priority: Prioritizing on continuous reskilling of resources over continuous talent acquisition. Remember the golden rules, 1) The digital age is advancing at an exponential pace, and 2) We are just scratching the surface, making talent acquisition a priority will not help in continuous BAU in the long run.
- Benchmarking the current skills and planning training around the gap: It is important that benchmarking is done for each unit. The focus should be on the areas of skill gap (skills possessed vs required for the job in the immediate to mid-term).
- Business involvement in decisions regarding the courses for their teams and divisions– Apart from the fact that business will have practical experience regarding the gap areas, involving business in such decisions will also result in a greater sense of participation and involvement.
- External partner: Remember point number 1. Evolving at an exponential pace. As such, L&D teams cannot afford to depend 100% on the in-house talent for providing training on all emerging areas.
- A strong link between L&D initiatives and business outcomes: Continuous checks are essential. Again, learning from Scrum, if L&D initiatives are not working it's better to accept that and rework on the initiatives.
In this journey, the most and the least an organization can do is to accept the changes being brought by the digital age and provide a structure of continuous learning of the right topics. This is half the battle won. The rest still lies with the individuals as willingness is the crucial factor for this journey to be successful.