Which IT jobs will survive automation? Find out

By Chandralekha Mukerji, ET Bureau

A recent report by HfS, a US-based research firm, predicted that India's IT services industry will lose 6.4 lakh 'low-skilled' jobs to automation in the next five years. This is alarming, given that the $160 billion industry is one of the biggest employment generators in the service sector. Another report points to a bigger problem—the huge gap between new information technology jobs created and the number of engineering graduates produced every year. While more than 15 lakh new engineers enter the job market every year, the absorption capacity has shrunk to 2-2.5 lakh. What does this mean for employees? Head hunters say fierce competition among freshers and skill over scale will now become the norm.

Though the jobs that will be lost are mostly bottom of the pyramid positions, mid-level employees are also at a risk of becoming unemployable, unless they upgrade themselves. Employers say this is not a new trend in this sector. "In the IT and ITeS industry, learning never stops and one has to keep updating themselves as per the latest industry skills. Those who are not able to do that have perished in the past and will continue to do so," says Praveen Dewan, Managing Partner, Antal International.

The HfS report points to a similar trend, anticipating that while process-based jobs will perish, the industry will see a 56 per cent increase in high-skilled jobs. Areas which will see high demand and lucrative paypackages are big data, analytics, machine learning, mobility, design, Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence.

Staying relevant in the future

Head hunters predict no dearth of opportunities with the right skills. "The government is pushing for automation in all its departments, and jobs will be created across levels. Then there is the strong startup community which is hungry for high-skill workers," Dewan says.

With the influx of a large amount of diverse information, skill-based positions like data scientist, designer and digital marketing expert are here to stay. Data scientists are expected to be in high demand.

"Not only in IT & ITeS, data scientists will be also sought after in the manufacturing, R&D, banking and financial sectors and in expanding e-commerce companies," says Sunil Goel, MD, GlobalHunt. Big data analysis calls for knowledge of com puter science, analytics and statistics skills, strong communication skills, and a working knowledge of business intelligence tools.

A number of jobs related to IoT, will also be generated. "As Internet speeds increase, the need for maintaining and managing internet infrastructure will also grow," says Dewan. Experienced people with profiles such as digital marketing expert, marketing technologist and solution architects, who have both business and technical know-how and are able to align the two, will be in high demand. Areas like mobile application, cloud computing and IT infrastructure risk analysis and security will stay relevant for a long time. "Developers with experience in user-interface (UI) and user-experience (UX) are in demand. Data visualisation experts with the skills to present data in easily intelligible ways will be in demand too," says Goel.

To stay employed and move up the value chain, people with midlevel job skills need to pick up 'new skills' as per the latest business innovations. "The industry is embracing technologies like cloud, digital, automation and analytics mobility, which a mid-level employee must start learning. All major IT companies are running upskilling campaigns for their staff and it is an opportunity for their employees to upgrade," Goel adds.

Students and fresh graduates can no longer rely on what is being taught in colleges as much of it is fast becoming redundant. "Around 80 per cent of engineering graduates today are not industry ready. Till educational institutes revise their courses, students have to pick up the new skills by themselves," says Dewan. Short-term diplomas, or open source courses and MOOCs are a way to up-skill at a low cost.

Solutions for the low-skilled

While the mid-skilled still have time to upgrade, the low-skilled could soon lose their jobs. "Shortterm courses in integration and management services, advanced excel, web research and content management can increase their employability quotient," says Rituparna Chakraborty, Senior Vice President, TeamLease Services.

"People employed at the process level can look to join an IT organisation with a service desk or ITO services, since most of the skills are similar to the BPO or KPO sector," says Goel. Experience in IT process can also get you a job as a technical writer, data expert or quality analyst in an allied sector like banking or e-commerce. BFSI, healthcare, transportation and real estate are a few of the sectors where they can immediately find jobs without having to acquire new skills. Startups can also absorb some of them.

"There are jobs in the operations teams of large e-commerce companies. Logistics is another area where there is a need for a lot of manpower," says Dewan.