Investing in Cutting-Edge Technologies and Jobs of the Future

by Ravi Kumar S., President, Infosys

The world of business is a furiously evolving space, and organizations must adapt to constantly changing conditions. The digital age offers them the incredible opportunity to do exactly that. They can now bring together data and software intelligence to continuously sense and process changes within the business and its ecosystem. AI-led automation then empowers them to respond rapidly with adaptive intelligent decisions, so the business can change at the pace of change. It is about technology. It is about engaging with customers differently. And finding entirely new ways of doing business. And yet, at it’s very heart, it is about people. Because, without the right digital skills and a facilitative environment, no digital transformation, however well provisioned or executed, has a chance of succeeding. And this talent transformation is a composite of transformation of the workplace, workforce and work itself.

As I think about what I want to share with my co-panelists and delegates of Milken Global Conference, when we discuss this very topic Investing in Cutting-Edge Technologies and Jobs of the Future on Monday 29 April, this transformational triad, I believe, merits discussion.

Seamless open workplace: When it comes to where work will be done, the traditional, walled-off workspace hampers collaboration and agility. An open workplace without opaque cabins and cubicle farms, allowing employees to connect with colleagues and customers alike, is one that’s more suited for the needs of the digital economy. It’s about providing an immersive environment that is built as if it were a living lab. One where ideas flow seamlessly, people interact freely and innovations can be prototyped at speed. Beyond the physical space, it is also about experimenting with new people-centric policies and org structures in tune with the reality of a digital workforce. A way of working that anticipates employee needs, is empathetic to their priorities and responds by offering individualized learning plans, personalized rewards and even tailored growth paths. A visit to any of our technology and innovation hubs in the United States will bring home the point of this imperative.

Workforce to take on blurring white-and blue-collar jobs: On the one hand, automation is putting a number of people doing repetitive, mundane tasks out of work, but on the other, the digital economy is creating a huge demand for specialized skills that are in extremely short supply. Building these skills from the ground-up – through policy and academic change – will take years; in the meantime, private enterprises will have to take other measures to mitigate the skills crisis. We, as employers, must offer learning and growth opportunities to a diverse community of aspirants – not just those with advanced computer science degrees or STEM qualifications, but also others including our own legacy workforce, blue collar workers and even displaced workers. We can help these ‘new-collar’ workers nurture a mix of technical skills (coding, data science etc.), soft skills (strong work ethic, self-motivation, high cognitive ability, social, emotional and leadership skills etc.) and holistic skills like problem-finding and approaching solutions with deep empathy for users. This is obviously not predicated on the discipline one graduates in, not even STEM fields, but on one’s ability to learn quickly and lifelong to operate with a flexible set of contemporary skills that are constantly improving, on the job. These are what we call Z-skilled workers. These individuals straddle disciplines and zig-zag between skills, learning, unlearning and relearning as they go from one project or role to another. Z-shaped skilled individuals bring empathy, creativity, and learnability to the table. This approach will allow enterprises to absorb even older workers who, although lacking in digital expertise, given byte-sized, on-the-job, just-in-time training and lifelong learning, can still be deployed successfully in digital roles calling for innovation and problem finding.

While the technology industry leads in this kind of hiring because of its constant need of new skills, many of which like programming and data analysis, can be learned by anyone, other sectors are also looking at ‘new-collar’ digital hiring with interest. For example, manufacturing companies can transform their shop floor workers (displaced by automation) to fulfill new collar roles to work with CAD files, maintain robots and 3D printers, do data mining and analysis, design user interfaces, and maintain equipment in real-time.

A new kind of work: With the workspace and the workforce transforming, it is clear that work must too – from tasks that are executed by humans alone to programs owned by humans+machines coming together in the gig economy. As people evolve to become better problem-finders, machines are evolving to be their efficient problem solving partners. Work that entails insights and analytics will now be delivered by software-led intelligence. These insights can guide people in their problem-framing, even as automation creates greater bandwidth for innovation and creative work. Add to this the flexibility that the gig economy can bring – especially for niche skills that need to be leveraging on-demand and for short periods – and there is a huge opportunity for enterprises to scale human enterprise purposefully at the pace of demand.

Today, businesses are finding it nearly impossible to source and dedicate people with specific skills in adequate numbers for their digital requirements. At Infosys, we are evolving a solution in the form of a skills pyramid – where we have a large number of entry level new-collar recruits at the base, from a broad range of disciplines – ranging from humanities, liberal arts and design in addition to STEM, who progress into mid-pyramid roles, with deep skills training. These associates are complemented by seasoned experts, in relatively modest numbers, at the top – to mentor and work alongside them in digital transformation projects. We rely on orchestrating lifelong learning and establishing a strong employee value proposition to retain and nurture entry level employees through their progression into mid-tier roles and beyond.

Should you wish to discuss how this might manifest in your particular context, happy to learn more from you and share thoughts next week at Beverly Hills. See you there.