Opinion

Do job-seekers have the right skills to pursue the best jobs in IT?

KR Sanjiv | Updated on October 07, 2019 Published on October 04, 2019

With rapid advances in technology, strong foundational knowledge and combinatorial skills are a must to stay ahead of the curve. Reskilling is the key to success

There are myriad opportunities. The total number of job openings in the US alone rose to 7.3 million in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recently, I read that there are job openings at a large US-based technology company for designers of chipsets to deploy in areas such as on-device machine learning. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cyber-security positions by 2021. Having said that, are job-seekers today equipped with the right skills to pursue the best jobs in IT?

With rapid advances in technology, what one learnt at university or in the workplace over the past years, may not be enough for application in today’s business scenario. There is a pressing need for skilled workforce. Businesses need to make significant investments in training and upskilling employees so that they meet the required skill sets for the job. Upskilling will help the job-seekers or employees remain competitive in the new world of work, besides ensuring that businesses have access to the talent they need for the jobs of the future.

Foundational skills

Reskilling is based on two key fundamentals — foundational and combinatorial skills. This first one is to improve the talent’s foundational skills and is an absolute must. For example, there is an increasing requirement for business intelligence/data visualisation tools like Cognos, MicroStrategy, QlikView, Tableau, Japsersoft and other similar tools. There are training and certification programmes on most of these available today.

But if the basic understanding of how databases work, how cubes are created, how to optimise these data stores, when to use columnar vs relational vs graph vs document databases, etc., is not strong, the talent will struggle to succeed in this space. On the contrary, a talent with good exposure to these fundamentals will have the ability to master any one of these programs at ease, switch from one to other, or pick up a new entrant in this space with minimum challenge.

Today, the challenge before businesses is to create a workforce that has strong foundational skills. A Java or C++ or Python or Swift programmer who has strong foundations in coding can master it. If the talent has proven records in writing high performance code, unbreakable codes, ability to frame the logic optimally, proper object design, memory management concepts, etc., can build these foundations in any of the languages. A strong foundation will also help them switch between these languages easily and pick up new ones like Rust very quickly.

Over the years, enterprises have trained people on the last mile — the tool syntaxes or the IDE — and deployed them on projects. Such trainings have resulted in narrowly compartmentalised workforce who can do programming only in Java, or C++ further restricting the opportunities that come their way. In this scenario, fungibility suffers a great deal as well as their ability to handle complexity. Businesses now need to build a curriculum where these skills become well entrenched with employees. In addition, they need to re-skill employees who have over a decade of experience in the industry and now find their skill sets becoming obsolete.

Combinatorial skills

The second point is on the need for breadth. Historically, we have tended to super specialise in just a few areas. For very large multi-year, multi-country projects, this was appropriate but not for today’s dynamic and evolving businesses. Agile, small high-performance team configurations and vast amount of use cases that demand a confluence of emerging technologies are the norm. The industrial application of these technologies would come as combinations.

Combinatorial skills is key to staying ahead of the curve. It is a mandatory skill for an employee or talent involved in projects that require data sciences, blockchain and IOT, or projects that require AR/VR, deep learning and UI design. Projects in the 5G space require people who understand core networks, micro services, virtualisation and building cloud native applications. Versatile individuals with a variety of skills, can achieve the path to a successful career much easily. The broader the ‘topical’ skills become, the better are the chances of finding long-term success.

Besides these foundational skills, elite topical skills such as cyber security, analytics, machine learning, computer vision, artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things (IoT), 5G, cloud, AR/VR, and encryption will help improve the talent’s marketability. These elite skills will dominate the next decade of digital.

To summarise, reskilling is the key to success. It is different from doing a certificate course over four or six weekends on a particular topic. A recent study called The Future of Jobs 2018, published by the World Economic Forum, found that “by 2022, no less than 54 per cent of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling, of which, as many as 10 per cent will need to invest more than a year, while another 9 per cent will need between six months to a year in reskilling.” Investing in ways to create the foundational and combinatorial skills, fostering a culture and rewarding mechanisms for adoption of these is the key to success, for both organisations and individuals.

The writer is Chief Technology Officer, Wipro Ltd

 

Published on October 04, 2019
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