Skill up for the New Age

Students have to prepare themselves industriously to meet the requirements of the New Machine Age

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution or the New Machine Age takes off in 2020, only graduates who are highly accomplished in the new technologies, will find jobs. Cloud computing, algorithms, automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and analytical reasoning have emerged as the next generation technologies in which high quality jobs will replace existing ones.

Cloud computing, AI, robots, and social media marketing are already with us. How many graduates have equipped themselves for a seamless absorption into the new jobs?

According to Aspiring Minds, an objective assessment organisation, a mere 26% of engineers are employable. Analytical reasoning, financial and marketing analysis, essential for the vast data being transferred through Cloud, has rendered the large number of engineers and MBAs, unfit for employment. The assessment concludes with the observation that “our students are not ready for the next decade”.

What is it that has changed, and why is it necessary that students prepare for the New Machine Age with alacrity?

I spoke with R. Venkatesh, Chief Scientist, TCS, Pune and asked him this question. He replied, “New age innovations are going to dominate businesses and college curricula because jobs will centre on advances in Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and Internet of Things — or Internet of Everything — which consists of all the web-enabled devices that collect, send and act on the data collected from their surrounding environments, using embedded sensors, processors and communication hardware. Obviously, new jobs are set to replace uncreative, boring jobs where those who work on projects do not understand the entire project.”

New roles

Jobs will be created to increase profits in a digital economy by working with a handful of employees — as in Amazon, Google, Facebook and Instagram — using technology and data imaginatively. Employees will be expected to use critical thinking to develop automation for decision-making or develop applications for easily available data (on Cloud) and creatively exploit technology to provide entertainment. For instance, the arts (such as paintings and symphonies) can be creatively produced with machines by highly imaginative employees, and sold on portals in large numbers at little cost.

A new way of marketing is growing for selling products. This is called social media marketing, an important and growing skill which requires MBAs with a knowledge of machines, the web, finance and marketing to sell products in big numbers. Cloud computing has become a key part of enterprise digital transformation strategy. Cloud services are projected to become a $300 billion business by 2021. Employer interest in positions related to Cloud will rise manifold. In the past three years, jobs in Cloud computing, Cloud infrastructure, and Cloud architecture have risen by 108%. Employer demand everywhere in the world is outpacing the number of qualified candidates available.

The U.S., with some of the most advanced curricula, is struggling to find an adequate number of qualified employees for the jobs in the new age. To expect that India, where colleges offer a generally outdated curricula, will be able to produce well-qualified graduates and have faculty who can teach courses in the new areas, is unrealistic.

What does this mean? Will our graduates be rendered jobless, especially those studying computer science and engineering, although it appears that no stream is likely to remain unaffected by the machine revolution?

What can students do? They must develop a life-long ‘education mind set’, and urgently begin to train themselves to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. On researching, I found many online courses on these subjects — some costly, some affordable and some free. Students will have to search for courses of their interest, enrol for them and master them without delay. The new employer is keen on employees who are well-equipped in the different machine technologies, as well as possess skills such as inventiveness and creativity.

“AI can take on repetitive and mundane tasks, freeing up humans for other activities,” said Mike Rollings, Vice President Research at Gartner. “Rather than have a machine replicating the steps that a human performs to reach a particular judgement, the entire decision process can be re-factored to use the relative strengths and weaknesses of both machine and human to maximise value generation and redistribute decision making to increase agility.”

These requirements heighten the need to be trained in communication skills, critical thinking, soft skills and the global language of business — English. “They are precisely the skills robots can’t automate,” writes LinkedIn Learning Editor Paul Petrone in a blog.

The writing on the wall is clear. Students will have to prepare themselves industriously for these challenges, or experience joblessness. The New Machine Age is not going to spare anyone as it is going to affect every aspect of business and society.

The writer is a former Professor of English, IIT Bombay.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:55:01 PM |

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