India's IT industry is unlikely to remain the amazing job engine that it has been. For the past two decades, the fastest way to increase your income has been to land a job with an IT company. The industry has provided a ticket to prosperity for millions of young Indians; children of security guards, drivers, peons and cooks catapulted themselves and their families firmly into the middle class in a single generation by landing a job in a BPO. Hundreds of engineering colleges mushroomed overnight churning out over a million graduates a year to feed the insatiable demand of India's IT factories.
This party is coming to an end. A combination of slowing demand, rising competition and technological change means that companies will hire far fewer people. And this is not a temporary blip -this is the new normal. Wipro's CEO has bravely admitted that automation can displace a third of all jobs within three years while Infosys CEO Sikka aims to increase revenue per employee by 50%. Even Nasscom, the chronically optimistic industry association, admits that companies will hire far fewer people. Not only will the lines of new graduates waiting for job offers grow rapidly longer every year, but so too will the lines of the newly unemployed as all companies focus more on utilization, employee productivity and performance. Employees doing tasks that can be automated, the armies of middle managers who supervise them and all those with mediocre performance reviews and without hot skills are living on borrowed time.
So what do you do if you are a member of these endangered species? What constitutes good career advice in these times? I'd say that the first thing is to embrace reality and recognize that the game has changed for good. The worst thing to do is be wishful and wait for the good times to return. They won't. But there are still lots of opportunities. What's happening in the industry is 'creative destruction'. New technologies are destroying old jobs but creating many new ones. There is an insatiable demand for developers of mobile and web applications. For data engineers and scientists. For cyber security expertise. So for anyone who is a quick learner, anyone with real expertise, there will be abundant opportunities.
There has also never been a better time for anyone with an iota of entrepreneurial instinct. India is still a supply-constrained economy and so there is room to start every kind of business: beauty parlour, bakery , catering, car-washing, mobile/electronics repair, laundry, housekeeping, tailoring. For entrepreneurs with a social conscience, there is a massive need for social enterprises that deliver affordable healthcare, education and financial services. Not only are there abundant opportunities but startups are "in" and there is no shame at all in failure. The ranks of angel investors are swelling and it has never been so easy to get funded.There is even a website, www.deasra.in, that provides step-by-step instructions to would-be entrepreneurs.
"The worst thing to do is be wishful and wait for the good times to return. They won't. "
For those who prefer a good old-fashioned job, there are abundant jobs in old economy companies which are struggling to find every kind of talent -accountants, manufacturing and service engineers, sales reps. Technology is enabling the emergence of new 'sharing services' such as Uber or Ola that enable lucrative self-employment; it is not uncommon to find cab drivers who make Rs 30,000-40,000 a month.
My main point should be clear. While India may have a big challenge overall in creating enough jobs for its youthful population, at the individual level there is no shortage of opportunities. The most important thing is a positive attitude. The IT boom was a tide that lifted all boats -even the most mediocre ones. However, this has bred an entitlement mentality and a lot of mediocrity. To prosper in the new world, two things will really matter. The first is the right attitude. This means a hunger to succeed. Being proactive in seeking opportunities, not waiting either till you are fired or for something to drop into your lap. A willingness to take risks and the tenacity to work hard and make something a success. Humility. Frugality. The second is the ability to try and learn new things. The rate of change in our world is astonishing; whatever skills we have will largely be irrelevant in a decade. People are also living much longer. So the ability to learn new things, develop new competencies and periodically reinvent ourselves is a crucial one. Sadly, too many of us have no curiosity and no interest in reading or learning. The future will not be kind to such people.
"The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die.'' -Friedrich Nietzsche
(The author is former chairman of Microsoft India)
This post first appeared in The Times of India