‘Industry needs problem-finding capability, not just problem-solving skills’

Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, Executive Director, Cognizant India during an interview to The Hindu, in Chennai.

Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, Executive Director, Cognizant India during an interview to The Hindu, in Chennai.   | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Cognizant chairman and managing director says that quality of talent available for recruitment has actually improved in the last few years

Ramkumar Ramamoorthy, the recently-anointed chairman and managing director of tech major Cognizant’s Indian arm says that quality of talent available for recruitment has actually improved in the last few years. But that isn’t enough for an industry that is turning really hungry for some new-age skills. He elaborates on these skills in this two-part interview:

How do you influence education, curriculum, quality of talent, from the perspective of a company?

While Cognizant does business with over 50+ clients in India, our India operations with over 200,000 employees, largely caters to the technology and business needs of our global clients in North America, UK, Europe, APAC and the Middle East regions.

Arguably, being the second largest employer in the private sector, attracting, skilling, retaining and growing talent is one of my key mandates in my role as head of India operations. And given that, as an industry, we do not have the skills needed at scale to capitalise on the massive opportunity unleashed by digital technologies, I work closely with educational bodies such as AICTE/UGC, Vice Chancellors and Deans of universities, and new-age learning and skilling partners to (1) shape curriculum (2) drive faculty development programs (3) bring about greater industry-academia linkages, thereby being a an evangelist of educational reforms as well as newer models of continuous learning and “learnagility”.

What trends are you seeing in education today? We hear about unemployable graduates going up. Has this impacted job creation and hence market growth?

Very often you see headlines that only X% of the graduates out of college are employable and the actual numbers are going down. As one of the largest recruiters of graduate talent in the country across engineering, science, management and liberal arts, I would argue that we have a seen a decent increase in quantity and quality of graduate students in the past few years. But is it enough? Not really.

The expanded talent pool is because of several factors. First, corporates, including prominent leaders from the IT industry such as Azim Premji and Shiv Nadar, have entered higher education in a meaningful way. Second, dozens of private universities including well-known names such as Ashoka, Flame, Lovely, O.P. Jindal, Galgotias and KREA have significantly expanded the pool of talent.

Third, many well established institutions such as BITS-Pilani, Vellore Institute of Technology, Sastra, Amrita, ICFAI, SRM and ISB, have established satellite institutions or extended campuses across the country and overseas. And fourth, with newer learning platforms and massive open online course (MOOC) providers such as Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, Edx, Future Learn, Khan Academy as well as government-funded platforms such as NPTEL and Swayam, rich and curated learning content is made available and students are lapping it up. This has substantially improved access, quality and equity in learning. In fact, during recruiting, almost every graduate student presents nano-degrees and micro-credentials that they have obtained in their areas of interest.

Is poor job creation an issue? Or is it only availability of talent that will determine growth?

The IT industry is not demand constrained; we are supply constrained.

As indicated earlier, while there have been efforts taken to expand the talent pool, it is still not enough. I was with a bunch of CEOs last week in New Delhi and one of them said, “if only he had access to 500 skilled drone operators, he would hire them tomorrow”.

With digital, it’s important to note that it’s not merely participating in market opportunities. We have the ability to shape them. Shape in bold and italics! Every new technology creates newer business opportunities. Creative and innovative companies are shaping these opportunities and participating in them.

Can you give some examples of skills are needed today but which were not there yesterday? What is being done to create these skills within companies and outside by the government and educational institutions? Can you elaborate?

Do not look at skills just in terms of technical skills like data science, cyber security, automation, and the like.

Let me elaborate. Earlier clients knew their business problems and brought in consulting and technology partners like Cognizant to creatively solve them. Today, many clients do not know what the business problem is in all areas. For example, well-established large banks like Citigroup and Bank of America are today battling robo-advisory wealth management startups like Wealthfront and Betterment with about $25 billion in assets under management. Large banks need help in ideating on how to win against these new-age firms. What they need today is not just problem-solving capabilities; they need problem-finding capabilities.

It’s for this reason companies like Cognizant have created “Collaboratories” and “Studios” to bring in multi-disciplinary talent to brainstorm and ideate on finding those problems and co-creating solutions with our clients.

Some of the new age skills needed include critical thinking, creativity, cognitive flexibility, inter-disciplinary thinking and emotional intelligence. Even the World Economic Forum has listed many of these skills as the ones needed to thrive in 2020 and beyond.


What is your view on faculty remuneration at degree level institutions in India? Are we in a vicious cycle or is it at all possible to raise the quality of teaching, and, how?

I am actually very optimistic about what’s happening in this area. While tenurial security has brought about some degradation in the learnagility of faculty members in certain government-funded institutions, with private universities coming up in large numbers, this should no longer an issue. The quality of teachers is only going up as their remuneration and career growth is directly linked to the quality and reputation of the institution, employability of students (in some sense), research output and industry funding, thought leadership, IP creation and patents, and other related parameters.

In addition, newer models like Uni4Life (University for Life) should encourage those passionate about teaching to join universities and other learning providers. With continuous learning becoming the new normal to survive and to grow, universities are looking to enrol their alumni for life for an additional fee, and provide learning modules and interventions as they climb their corporate career lattices. This is enabling many from the industry after decades of experience to take up teaching as they are best positioned to run these Uni4Life programs.

What are the trends that you see in consumption of information, learning and knowledge, new-age influencers, including those on social media?

It is fascinating to research how information consumption, learning and knowledge management have evolved over the years. With content explosion, on average, consumers globally spend five hours per day online and 60% of that time on social media.

Newer platforms are defining ways in which content is consumed, shared and monetized. For example, the circulation of widely read English newspapers in India is anywhere between 1.5 million to 3 million. Compare this with Twitter profiles of political leaders and celebrities in India. Many have 20 to 30 million followers, with the exception of one at 52 million. Now, cut to Instagram. Almost half-a-dozen celebrities and cricketers have over 40 million followers.

It is estimated that over 200 million pieces of content is created every minute globally. The challenge is that we are dealing with consumers who are seeking rich content but at the same time are both time-starved and have poor attention.

In this context, content curation, mass personalization and newer models of consumer engagement have taken center stage. All this is enabled by data, machine learning, analytics, and artificial intelligence. The same applies to learning and knowledge management.

What is the impact of competition from China on the IT services sector? More than 15 years ago, we had heard of their intent to start learning English from kindergarten levels—and that language was the only barrier to their conquering the world. What is their progress in the global services space?

Most of the IT services companies in China have focused on supporting the Chinese market and clients in Japan because of lingual and cultural similarities. They are yet to do what India has done at scale to support all global markets.

Several economic research reports have pointed out that between 2020 and 2030, India will have about 92 million people in working age and ready to join the workforce, making the country the largest emerging workforce provider to the world. In the same period, about 68 million people will drop out of China’s workforce due to the ageing population.

Given this context, it’s no longer just an opportunity for India but also an obligation for us to support countries around the world who look up to the rich talent that India is bestowed with. Our entire focus should be on what we can do to become the skills powerhouse for India and for the world! Just like Intel promoted “Intel Inside” we have an opportunity to promote “India Inside”.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 3:11:35 AM |

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