Skills of the Future - Asking Us to Be More
Recent discussions in the media and business circles on automation − robotics and artificial intelligence − have again turned the spotlight on the future of work and employable skills. And while there is widespread apprehension about skills obsolescence, I believe these concerns can be addressed. One of the biggest and often overlooked benefits of automation is that it almost compels us to awaken our sense of curiosity and inquiry, pushes us to reskill, and adopt a path of lifelong learning − to whatever extent we can.
A report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) titled 'Future of Jobs', points to the need of the hour. It notes that by 2020 there will be a change in the kind of skills required in the digitally enabled services economy. Skills such as complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity will be most in demand.
When we, at Infosys, analyzed our business mix, we noted that the 'run and maintain' part of our commodity business was expected to embrace extreme automation, and this portfolio was slowing down. Our growth portfolio, however, was growing by double digits and there was a significant need for talent with niche and emerging skills. I strongly believe the future of our services industry is bright, but we also need to continue refactoring our talent and build skills for the future.
Along with skills development, another important aspect is the cultural transformation we started a couple of years ago with Design Thinking and Zero Distance (a grassroots innovation movement across the company). These are the foundational layers that enable us to nurture a mindset of 'problem finding' and continuous learning, as well as allow us to meet the future needs of our clients.
Looking back at the progress made in the past two years, we believe there are a few behavioral changes that will help address the skill needs of the future, and we will continue to nurture them:
- Becoming a lifelong learner
People are naturally curious and wired to explore the new, the unknown and therefore, to be lifelong learners. In the time of automation and AI, we must simply be more mindful of who we are and indulge our natural selves, which will differentiate us from AI. And organizations will do well to nurture and reward such behavior. Lifelong learning enables people to be flexible, adaptable, and learn on the job. It gives them an opportunity to focus on things they love to do. With new work scenarios shaping up, jobs with skills that synergize with emerging technologies will always be relevant. While learning may slow down as physical age advances, it is vital to keep one's faculties sharp, adaptable, and receptive to change.
- Reskilling in adjacent areas
The availability of key skills is a growing concern in our industry, and this talent scarcity is more about finding the right people with the right skills rather than lack of resources. As we move forward, new services and skills will be needed to future-proof and grow our business. Consequently, certain traditional skills will become redundant as parts of our business will embrace extreme automation. Against this backdrop, we need to seize this opportunity to fundamentally transform the way we build skills for the future by refactoring talent. One of the key interventions is to up-skill and reskill in adjacent areas. Acquiring these adjacent skills would mean building new skills and reinforcing skills that are already being used.
- Being an 'expert-generalist'
A term coined by Orit Gadiesh, Chairman of Bain & Co, 'expert-generalist' is someone who nurtures deep knowledge in many different disciplines and fields of study. This involves investing thousands of hours of study and then engaging in 'learning transfer' − which is applying the knowledge or theories of one discipline to another to create something new. An expert-generalist is immersed in continuous learning and this ensures his/her skills are always relevant. An expert-generalist has a T-shaped skill set, where the horizontal bar indicates the collaboration across disciplines and areas of expertise, while the vertical bar is the deep knowledge developed in a particular set of disciplines.
You can expect to see us at Infosys continue on our journey of learning. More than 135,000 of our 200,000 employees have been trained in Design Thinking, and this learning is implemented across client projects, on an ongoing basis.
I firmly believe this is the larger journey for all organizations. A journey where corporations, governments, and other stakeholders have to collaboratively evolve a wider perspective on how we humans can amplify our potential in this time of automation and AI - a time of unseen and undiscovered opportunities. I am looking forward to building on my perspective at Infosys Confluence, our upcoming thought leadership summit that brings together clients, prospects, and market influencers. With 'Unlimit' as the theme and some of the best minds across industries in attendance, stimulating discussions will be aplenty, such as the session on 'Training for Jobs that Don't Yet Exist'.