Originally published in South Asia Monitor here
All those who studied economics or commerce in school would have read how the Industrial Revolution in Europe during the 1800s transformed the world – in terms of establishing new centres of production, new skills and new sources of wealth, while making redundant the traditional methods and places of production.
Something similar is happening today in India. The Technology Revolution (or the Digital Revolution, if one may use that term) is creating a similar transformation in the way business is done today the world over. Every disruption brings with it new opportunities which help new entrants break the status-quo hitherto enjoyed by incumbents. It creates opportunities for faster turnaround times, delivery at lower operating costs, sales maximization and client delight through more relevant sales pitches using client profile/habits data, improve and maintain consistency in quality standards by using machine automation, etc. But while all this sounds nice, there is also the other side. Every new disruption also brings in new challenges to adapt to the changes, and there is always the threat of becoming irrelevant if one is slow to adapt. This is exactly what occurred during the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, this digital revolution is not something that is about to come. In fact, it has already come and engulfed several industries and sectors within its tide!
So why should Indian parents and students beware? Simply because one of the main challenges the digital revolution has brought with it is of making several traditional career options irrelevant. Many skills and competencies needed to remain relevant in this rapidly transforming technology-age will be quite different from the usual bouquet of courses many students have traditionally taken up. Such traditional courses may end up making the student unemployable after graduation, since it fails to impart the new skills needed to survive (and thrive) in the new way business is being done in this digital-age. Of course, it is not the end of the world since one can always pursue a specialized course after a traditional undergrad/postgrad to close the skill gap. But that just increases the education expenses.
Development and execution of digital platforms; design of platforms keeping into account the intuitiveness, aesthetics and ease-of-usage; reducing on-screen clutter through customization so that each client can see what he really needs instead of everything that is provided; automation of production processes in manufacturing using automated robots instead of human workers; using automated client servicing mechanisms instead of humans; converting business needs into technology inputs; analytics of customer/business data to develop sales pitches instead of just depending on the salesman; delivering sales pitches on the platforms ahead of one’s competitors but yet without excessive pushing; using automation technologies to reduce operational and delivery times instead of just time-and-motion studies on production workers; centralized control of operations without even the need of hiring local personnel; etc are just some of the activities that are redefining the way work is being done across companies in this digital-age. The scope and nature of these activities may differ from industry to industry, but it is there in some form or the other. These will only get more intensified and complex with time, stressing the need for new skills.
The idea is not to scare parents or students! Rather, it is to stress that one needs to be careful of the career options one makes today, and hence, plan the higher studies they opt for. Several courses like marketing, finance and operations are bringing in a technology angle into their course structure. Even courses like product-design, media and communications, engineering, advertising, etc are inculcating similar modules.
However, there are several courses that are traditionally pursued which may not really be able to address the changing skills needed to remain “employable” tomorrow. Without the scope to acquire those new skills, the student will be unable to handle the calls of the changing work-environment. Hence, students should be careful that they opt for courses that will keep them employable in the coming years. They need to possess the evolving set of skills and knowledge that these changing times would demand. Otherwise, remaining unemployable will only cause social discontent in the coming years in countries where the population of youth is growing fast and comprises the majority chunk. “Youth can be consumers only if they are earners first,” is a phrase perhaps worth noting.
Moreover, in this age where a plethora of private institutes have mushroomed, the course structure they list in attractively-printed brochures often differs with the actual learning imparted to students. The end-result is that students pay a huge fee for skills they thought they would learn, but never did. This is just an added wound in the pursuit of irrelevant courses.
One may add that in many developing countries where social-security benefits are nearly absent and many parents still depend on children, any chances of the children remaining unemployable may make such parents insecure. One may disagree with this; however, there are all types of people in this world, and there may well be few such cases too
Of course, no skill is fool-proof in the digital-age, and one needs to constantly de-learn and re-learn. This means that even pursuing a relevant course is not the final solution. However, the objective is to build the foundation that can at least help crack the first job without the need for additional specialized courses after college. There are already cases today of students pursuing specialized, expensive courses after under/post-graduation just to be able to apply to a job, since the course they pursued in college was irrelevant for any job. This threat of irrelevance is only going to increase going ahead, and hence parents should beware of the career choices their children make in this age of digital revolution!
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