The New Jobs Mantra: It’s Time To Be Selfish, Really Selfish

The New Jobs Mantra:  It’s Time To Be Selfish, Really SelfishReskilling is key to success.
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  • Don’t just ask where are the jobs, but ask whether you are ready for the jobs that are available.

    The future belongs to the independent and the brave, not the passive.

The message from the IT industry to employees who may be rendered redundant in a changing work environment is: “go, look after your interests by upskilling or right-skilling”.

Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president of the software services industry lobby Nasscom, is quoted by Business Standard as saying this: “An aspect of diversity in the industry is going to be self-learning. It is no more going to be like Infosys will take you to the Mysore campus and train for three-six months (and) then you come back and get job-ready. Today it is on-the-job training: go do a big data analytics programme, do something on virtual reality and get certified. While the employer's responsibility is obviously to show where the future is and what kind of skill development can exist within the company and outside, in today's environment the individual has to be equally worried about his or her future.”

Gupta is right, for investing in one’s career is not something that can be left to companies alone. Companies will primarily look at what their own bottomline interests dictate; it follows that you should look at what your bottomline requires you to do. Companies can, at best, indicate where the talent is needed, and even then they may not be able to predict the future. They can fund employees to learn future skills, but who knows if the skills acquired will be relevant for a long time?

Put simply, don’t just ask where are the jobs, but ask whether you are ready for the jobs that are available.

But the problems faced by employee obsolescence in the IT industry pales into insignificance when compared with the problems in less sophisticated job markets, where too jobs are not being created in places one would have liked. Reskilling and upskilling are even more relevant to the non-technical job markets, where 12 million young men and women are seeking employment. But our colleges and schools hardly prepare anyone for the challenges of skilling.

Even though we have an Human Resource and Development Ministry and even an independent Ministry of Skill Development to help, it is not apparent that information on jobs and skills is widely disseminated in a useful format.

The reality is that politicians and governments can enable job creation and skilling, but beyond the few jobs that government itself can create (in defence, police, administration, etc), governments are not the answer to the problem. It is entrepreneurship and growth that create jobs, not governments. What governments can do is monitor where the jobs are disappearing and where they may be appearing, and then create the enabling conditions and quick skilling opportunities for people to take advantage. For this, it needs databases that only industry and business can generate, and linkages with colleges and skilling institutes, where certification courses can be quickly generated for people to benefit from.

The reality of India today is not that jobs are not being created, but they are being created in places where we didn’t expect.

Every time you order a pizza from your home or workplace, someone delivers it. And the restaurant that offers to deliver food generates jobs in the logistics chain that supplies it the ingredients and in the warehouses that store ingredients in bulk.

Every time you enter a housing society or office, there are security guards jotting down your name, seeking an ID proof or writing down your mobile phone number. There are literally lakhs, or millions, of security jobs being created in India.

Every time you take an Ola or an Uber, you are essentially employing a driver part-time instead of keeping one full-time. As more and more people use ride-sharing apps to get a taxi or an auto, more and more drivers get self-employed through this process.

As more women take up full-time jobs, and old-style mothers-in-law refuse to baby-sit their children, we are seeing creches and playschools employ young women and older maids as full-time employees to take care of your kids. The free service provided by the former mother-in-law has now been converted into a paid service in playschools, balwadis and creches. Richer people also employee full-time helpers around the home to take care of children. Providing home-cooked food, once taken for granted in the Indian joint family, is now a paid service in many cities. Your mother-in-law may be providing this service for a fee, or doing world tours for senior citizens, creating jobs in the travel services industry.

Similarly, as washing machines and vacuum cleaners replace some domestic and office jobs, underemployed household help now find jobs as cooks and as employees of urban cleaning services companies. The kaamwali bai of yesterday is today’s rasoiwali didi.

The simple point is this: millions of jobs are being created even as globalisation and automation are destroying many jobs. The reason why we still ask “where are the jobs?” is because we have not learnt to pose the question correctly. When we ask this question, what we really want to ask is “why are jobs not happening in the places I would like to see them?”

When one talks of a job, the mental picture is one of a factory or an office or a government office or banks, where salaries and income growth were assured in the past. In the technology-driven new world of today, these jobs are simply going to shrink. Manufacturing companies use more robots and artificial intelligence to drive higher output; they also employ casual or contract labour in larger quantities, and thus permanent and “safe” jobs are shrinking. Car makers need fewer factory workers and more in dealer networks and small garages, some of which are not permanent.

Even in software services, lower-skill jobs in coding (eg, Java programming) are disappearing, and automation is taking over. Which is what the Nasscom official was suggesting.

At some point, government may also not need huge standing armies, as the nature of warfare moves to cyberspace and drones.

The real jobs problem can thus be boiled down to one simple idea: the short-term nature of employment, and the poor quality of the new jobs being created. In this scenario, individuals have to empower themselves constantly with new skills, so that even if one job goes, another can be tried out. Governments cannot create new jobs, but they can observe trends and build training centres for upskilling people all the time.

Not only that, employees of today increase their possibilities of job retention when they keep adding new skills to their repertoire. As Scott Adams writes in his entertaining and insightful book, How to Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big, you don’t need extraordinary talent to succeed. “Each skill you acquire will double your odds of success.” Thus while Java coding skills may be going out of fashion, Java skills plus a knowledge of Spanish may still help you retain your job if your company is doing contracts in Spain or Latin America. In this case, your language skills may help save your job since you are useful to the company in another vital area – talking to clients in Spanish.

We should stop asking where are the jobs and instead focus on what we need to learn to get the jobs that are already on offer from areas we did not previously associate with a formal job.

More important: think a bit selfish. Your company will not do for you the things you won’t do for yourself, which is regular investment in skilling. The future belongs to the independent and the brave, not the passive.

(Parts of this article were earlier written for DB Post)

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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