India File

Reboot,or get the boot

Venkatesh Ganesh/KV Kurmanath | Updated on May 07, 2018

India’s 40 lakh IT workforce needs to quickly master AI, machine learning and blockchain, among other technologies, to survive. How is it faring? Venkatesh Ganesh and KV Kurmanath report

“It was like asking Rohit Sharma to (also) bowl good medium pace,” remembers Sudhir Chatterjee. The 38-year-old IT employee from Siliguri, West Bengal, picks up his pet sport to explain a crucial moment in his career, and life. This was Easter 2017. Chatterjee was staring blankly at an uncertain future. After graduating in computer science from Karnataka’s RV College of Engineering, Chatterjee got himself a job at HCL Tech in 2006. “It was the height of the outsourcing boom and I started out as a tester, managing the IT applications of a multi-billion dollar US bank,” he says.

As the years went by, he managed large teams, changed jobs, grew in the ranks and was even able to afford a villa in the outskirts of Bengaluru. Then came the knockout punch: Chatterjee was deemed to be a non-performer and told to quit. Initially, he felt that with his dozen-odd years of experience he would land a job anywhere.

But then reality hit. “For a year or so I struggled as I was considered not fitting in any organisation's matrix,” he reminisces. What companies did not tell him was that his experience in what the industry calls the “waterfall model” was no longer relevant.

Also, he was required to code and know the modern “Agile” way of programming, things not required when he started out, indicating that he may have to add more skills to his kitty.

Initially resistant to the idea of reskilling, Chatterjee took the plunge; it was a make-or-break situation. He enrolled in a Jetking training centre around Easter 2017 to learn Agile and DevOps (software development and operations). “It was like resurrection,” he beams. By March this year, he got a job in a leading European outsourcing company in Bengaluru and, despite taking a 40 per cent pay cut, is glad that his career is back on track. He is working on a project involving DevOps.


Chatterjee is just one of the many thousands updating their skills in India’s $167-billion IT industry, which is going through a period of uncertainty, thanks to myriad changes in the global IT market and the way new technologies have displaced the old ones. Automation is expected to render nearly 70 per cent of the Indian workforce irrelevant. According to Nasscom and industry reports, India is home to 65 per cent of the global IT offshored work and 40 per cent business process work; hence, such changes are sure to hit the economy badly.

According to the ‘Future of Jobs’ report by FICCI-Nasscom & EY, 60-65 per cent of the 40 lakh Indian workforce in the IT-BPM sector alone would be deployed in jobs that have radically changed skill-sets. To put the scale of the transformation in perspective, this is followed by 55-60 per cent in BFSI and 50-55 per cent in automobiles. IT is at the epicentre of the disruption since its uses radiate across sectors.

IT services companies employ engineers trained in traditional IT services whereas the market requirements are moving towards digital projects which require different skill-sets, including analytics, artificial intelligence, data science, blockchain, Internet of Things and mobile technologies, among others. An increasing number of businesses, globally, have completely computerised manual parts of their processes.

The industry has hence uniformly echoed the narrative of reskilling. “Ongoing reductions of headcount in outsourced businesses (due to automation) will eventually result in a scenario where (only) 30 per cent of the workforce will remain relevant,” says DD Mishra, Research Director at Gartner.

Industry body Nasscom has launched Future Skills platform to re-train all of the 40 lakh IT professionals across eight new skill-sets that include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Big Data Analytics, UI/UX (user interface and design) and more (see Factoids). The Centre is, however, yet to unveil a policy or plan on IT reskilling, while promising that it is being worked out.

Nasscom’s skills platform, to be run by a third party player, will suggest the right roles for candidates after conducting a test. Nasscom has asked its members and partner companies to log on to the platform to give employees access to courses across 155 ‘job roles’ which might be required by the IT industry.

Besides Nasscom, the bigger players are doing it in-house (see accompanying story). Kumudha Sridharan, Senior Vice President, Global Delivery Enablement, Wipro, says the company reskills in new areas around Fullstack , AI-ML, IoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Big Data. This is applicable to technical and managerial roles.

With reports of large-scale retrenchments coming in, people with experience have woken up. Forty eight per cent of all applicants to Nasscom’s AI/ML programme are over 31 years of age. A little over 50 per cent are from the large companies, followed by 26 per cent from small companies. Interestingly, start-ups, early adopters of automated solutions, AI and ML, which give them an edge, have also shown huge interest. As many as 18 per cent of the applicants are from this segment.



New domains

Unlike Chatterjee, many employees get opportunities to relearn while on the job. Shashidharan Menon, a 40-something techie, started out in late 2000 as a ‘C’ developer for a US multinational. After two years, he decided to become an embedded systems engineer as he was passionate about working on systems that power a mobile phone. He even refused a promotion to a managerial position, which would involve handling people rather than coding, so that he could develop new skills. “It was my own interest area and nobody stopped me from reskilling,” he says.

In May last year, Bengaluru-based Ranjan Shil was ‘benched’ with a warning that if he didn’t upgrade his skillsets, he would have to leave. Shil, 32, was forced to enrol in an online course on data science. He was able to complete the course in six months; he got to retain his job, with a 20 per cent increase in salary.

Venunath Ch, Founder and Managing Director of BostonLogix, recently joined the Foundations of AI and ML Programme at the International Institute of Information Technology (Hyderabad). “I wanted to see if I can apply AI and ML in our own products,” he says. The IIIT-H programme is aimed at reskilling the existing workforce.

“Even though most of this reskilling is done internally, we also encourage employees to take external training-cum-certifications in the new areas,” says Wipro’s Kumudha Sridharan (see graphic).

Santanu Paul, Founder and CEO of talent building firm TalentSpring, says availability of human resources in AI and ML is an issue. “Only 1 per cent of the IT employees are trained in AI. Compare this with three to five lakh AI-trained professionals in the world,” he says. Industry experts estimate that about 75 per cent of all IT projects will have some AI technology by 2021.“But do we have enough human resources to address this demand?” asks Paul. Quoting an IDC study, he says global investments in AI are doubling every 18 months. “From $12.5 billion in 2017, investments in AI are likely to be at $52 billion by 2021,” he says.

Like AI, ML is seeing a lot of action. Prajakt Deshpande, Vice-President (Software Development) at Oracle, is among the 400 participants at the IIIT-H programme in AI and ML. Having begun as a Java and server-side programming professional, Deshpande sees ML as an opportunity.

“We are planning to equip at least 10,000 IT professionals with skills in AI and ML,” PJ Narayanan, Director of IIIT-H, says. Nearly one-third of all the applicants to IIIT-H’s programmes have over 10 years’ experience, while 28 per cent of them have 5-10 years’ experience. The fact that about 73 per cent of the applicants are from services companies reflects the turmoil, followed by 10 per cent from the product companies.

The bottom line

Despite efforts at reskilling, the workforce is going through a period of insecurity, stress and job losses which cannot be wished away. “Many companies make it look like it is the employee’s sole responsibility to upgrade,” says P Parimala, President of Forum for IT Employees, Tamil Nadu. “Most reskill programmes are done after work hours and workers are forced to undergo these in order to protect their jobs. This puts enormous stress on their work-life balance,” says Parimala, adding that such programmes should be conducted in a much more organic and employee-friendly way.

There is also the fact that the current skill set requirements in the IT/ITeS industry itself are staggered, feels Rajesh Parameshwaran, labour rights expert and former software design architect with an IT MNC in Bangalore. “Right from candidates holding engineering degrees in Computer Science to anyone with a graduate degree, everyone is a potential employee in Indian IT industry,” he reasons.

“Jobs that require engineering-like skills are considered in the upper slots in the hierarchy and typical IT/ITeS jobs come very low in the hierarchy. Once the reskilling mission starts, can we expect the industry and employers to treat this entire spectrum of professionals the same way?” he asks.

Labour experts say that while the middle layer of front end/application developers might still be considered for reskilling for jobs that would find relevance in the new scheme, the bottom layer, which could get impacted heavily due to automation, could be less preferred. “Most of the ITeS/BPO professionals could face the same fate,” says Parameshwaran. Parimala agrees: “The unions are aware of the problem.”

With inputs from Jinoy Jose and Varun Aggarwal

Published on May 07, 2018

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