The Digital Era Learner: re-wiring your skills

by Sairam Bollapragada & Riyaz Mulla

Continuing the streak from the earlier notes on skill demand , the Digital Era is characterized by imagination, speed of change and integration – of technologies, experiences and disciplines.

The one quality or competency needed to survive in such an era would be “Learnability” – the ability to learn, adopt (and not just adapt) and re-learn. One may argue that this has always been the case with the human race but the speed, intensity and novelty is at a scale never before demanded in human life.

That sounds a little dramatic (isn’t it?) -so let us look at it in some detail and also see how learning and learning systems need to adapt. Just like the IT professionals and others are assuming that the HR and L&D departments would take care of their learning, the story will be actually entirely different. In the span of the IT careers, this wave is going to challenge every engineer to re-craft and adapt oneself to fit into the fast developing future market demands (– very much like the video below).

(please see : https://www.facebook.com/InspirationLifeSkills/videos/1146290182056242/_)

Let us begin with imagination – today success, rather survival, of business depends upon their ability to imagine a user experience. Implementation is the easier part. So you have aggregators who hardly own any physical infrastructure having tens and hundreds time more customers than traditional, brick and mortar organizations who had perfected their business models over the ages simply because they have been to imagine and tap into a customer experience.

And you have IT and Telecom companies applying for Payment bank licenses and professional networking organizations buying out eLearning companies simply because they could imagine a user experience which was till recently not considered as part of their domain.  This is not a first instant and everyone will have at least a few such examples in their businesses.

What this means to learning is that we have to become essentially multi-disciplinary to survive. A Project Manager can no longer rest on strong process skills of managing scope, time, cost, quality and risk. There was a culture earlier where a pure project manager was in demand to plan and execute deliveries without getting into the nuts and bolts of the technology. To do the job, a PM only needed to understand multiple domains, new estimation techniques, different business models and their contractual and commercial implications, new tools and governance models and so many things more.

On the changed scenario of SMAC/IoT, there is too much being said about speed of transformation so we will not delve into that. What it means for the leaner in the digital era is not just that one has to learn new things continuously, but that the utility of is learnt is also short-lived, comes with an expiry date. Which means that one has to not only learn a particular tool or technology but also has to keep oneself abreast of industry developments, market trends, futuristic research etc. It is like the stock trader who has to trade in a continuously volatile market – you can’t pick your ten long term bets and go to sleep assured.

And finally it is about integration – of bringing multiple technologies, products, platforms, devices, people, domains, organizations, business processes, country and trade regulations etc. together to bring that one seamless user experience to that runner whose wearable fitness device detects an abnormal heartbeat and sends a message to an ambulance to reach the location of the runner, keeps the local hospital informed to prepare an ICU bed, sends the complete medical history to the doctor on duty, contacts the insurance agency to arrange for cashless admission and sends an alert to an immediate family member to rush to the hospital. Extending the scenario further to a smart city, further adding to the speed here would be instant availability of PHR (Patient Health Records) for quicker diagnosis initiating on-need medical insurance processes.

Is it possible for one person to architect and implement such an application or platform without learning on the aspects of Medical, pharma, insurance, emergency action aid, etc? Thus a learner of the Digital Era must gear up to learn about complementary skills which he needs to procure or collaborate, the technological, business, cultural and regulatory sensitivities of collaboration and the ability to integrate, dismantle and integrate at continuous pace. Most importantly one has to learn the art of networking and building relationships beyond a sphere of influence.

Continuous Learning thus isn’t just about classroom lessons – whether brick and mortar or virtual, whether self-paced or in groups. It is also about learning by the minute – watching videos, reading informative blogs while commuting, subscribing to e-newsletters and research papers, attending seminars and symposiums – mostly on own cost and time, crowd-thinking: joining relevant forums and having conversations with new people across age groups, professions, cultural background – basically as diverse as possible. Availability of sandboxes and lab environments is highly critical now, rolling up sleeves and dirtying hands with new technology – till something works – for sure. Undoubtedly, it is an iterative process with infinite loops and variations.

The future workforce is going to be a world of nervous, eager, excited, confused people. Many of them would also be passive and would prefer to lie back and watch.

In the ever changing, fast paced technological scenario where hiring multi-skilled and talented workforce will become inevitable, it is difficult to predict too much in advance. However, one thing which will not change now will be the need to learn continuously. The skill gaps will be too much of a risk glaring at the employability and hence the Learnability of all will be challenged!

A ¾ th of the companies feel that the gap in the skills is holding them back from the digital transformation. Very few of the companies are yet on the bandwagon which are making conscious efforts to train their workforce to adopt to the digital needs. HR is often left out of the participation to develop those skills. Learning modes will shift to Gaming, Competitions, Technology incubation, hackathons, and many alternative methods. Four of the 10 pain points faced today are related to skill gaps. A third of the IT team members fail to keep their skills current.

Every business unit should do an intense skill-gap analysis to understand where, how and when their existing workforce need to take up Digital skills and what upskilling efforts and/or investments would be needed to meet upcoming demands.

Hence the strategy for moving from Industrial era to Digital era will be like:

  • Moving FROM managing the teams TO leading the teams from the front
  • Moving FROM hiring the best players for your team TO rapidly assembling and disassembling the teams
  • Moving FROM Specialized domain expertise (SME) TO Digital skills embedded into every role
  • FROM following a need based skill upgrade for your teams TO pro-actively upgrading the team skills
  • For professionals, personally up-skilling rather than waiting for the companies to sponsor their trainings and learning will be the key to survival
  • Certifications would assume significance right from the school curriculum.

Companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and others have started running certification programs for school children from class 6th onwards. Hence the next gen is getting to know the basics quite early and that too under the direct umbrella of top brands. They would know at an early age what many of us even don’t know now and hence be ready to be taught a lesson or two by the next gen!

Conversations with clients lift the brand and relevance in the market- AT EVERY LEVEL. This calls for a cultural change in the corporates.

The increase in customer demands for the same budget is also fuelling the change in the corporate culture as ever. Dell has completely adopted Social Media to succeed. They see that as the future way of doing business. Dell is also created their twitter profiles of their customer service and support – DellCares. The intent is to help clients real-time with personal touch.

Referring to NASSCOM’s data points at ILF2016, we can expect 50% increase in the digital technology based jobs; of the 4.4 million jobs created in Big Data in 2015, 66% were unfulfilled; and 500% increase in key digital business jobs by 2018 is expected. All this indicates that we need to embrace Digital skills in an exponential way.

Digital/IoT is all much more about Customer experience. Forrester conducted CX index suvery of 299 brands in mid-2015 and found that 2.3% have improved, 69.2% remain same and 28.5% have gotten worse – all this while it is known that 86% of the clients say they are ready to pay a premium for great customer experience.

The Digital wave is just not impacting the IT folks and engineering folks. It is impacting anybody and everybody whose occupations are touched by it. One of the many examples is Marketing and Sales folks. The amount of campaign that has gone digital through social media has been enormous in the recent past. All marketing and branding techniques used earlier have in many ways got dated. The Digital Marketing dovetailing into the Digital Strategy of organizations is compelling the marketing and sales teams to pick up their game and play to win at different level. Those harping on their past glory are getting left out.

The irony is that more than 85% of companies feel that by digital transformation of its employees, they would create USP. NO!! They need to fast realize that It is their survival at stake. Around 54% of them are not yet convinced they need to take to this roller coaster which will shake their inertia. Even today, more than 80% of the training budgets are spent on developing and honing traditional skills and not the emerging ones. In the midst of all this confusion, more than 60% organizations refuse to realize that the traditional training methods need to be replaced.

The three most demanded skills in order of priority as per the market is Mobile, Analytics and Social media. Knowledge of Cloud is a given ICT skill that people should know.

Some areas where large scale ITC focus are being predicted are – 4G/5G, Ambient Intelligence, Artificial Brain, Atomtronics, Augmented reality, cryptocurrency, IoT, 3D optical data storage, Machine Learning, mobile collaboration, Optical computing, Speech recognition, 3D ICs, Ubiquitous  computing, Quantum cryptography, wearable computers, Cyber sciences, Android/gynoid, swarm robotics, UAV, etc.

Unfortunately, it is found that IT fraternity, especially folks in app development/support, tend to get married to the product suite from a vendor  and don’t show inclinations to move across the boundaries set by the product vendor (hence the dearth of Enterprise Architects). Going by the predictions, EA will be inevitable and people would need to skim across vertical solutions and be adaptable to understand, appreciate and learn the other skills as well.

Looking at the gaps, we can say that ”The speed of the change will matter”. Hence Learnability –  by all means, whether personal or through sponsored channels, will hold the biggest key!

About Authors:

Sairam Bollapragada:

Sairam started his career as a scientist in the Indian Defence R&D and has been in the industry for the last two-and-a half decades. He is passionate about incubating new technological advances in the IT sector and brings to table his technology management and IT delivery experience to table. He has taken to writing to blogs in the recent past and expressing his thoughts and opinions at https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/…….for his profile, pls refer : https://in.linkedin.com/in/bsairam.

Riaz Mulla:

Riaz is a Trainer, Facilitator and aspiring Writer. He heads Functional and Virtual Training for Tech Mahindra and is passionate about building new age learning ecosystem. The inherent dichotomy of human drama fascinates him and he is grateful life has given him the opportunity to make a profession out of his passion. He has one published story and is about to finish his first novel.

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