Monday, May 21, 2012

War for Talent or War for Jobs?

Few weeks ago, I was in US and had the opportunity to read the local newspapers, specifically one of the columns authored by reputed columnist & nobel prize (equivalent) winner - Paul Krugman - for his contributions in economics. The column is about unemployment. It projected the serious concerns around unemployment among young Americans. He quotes the unemployment rate among American youth is around 16.5 percent. In spain, unemployment among workers under 25 is more than 50 percent. This is the scenario for people who are just graduating out of college and expecting jobs.

If this is the case for fresh graduates, on experienced professionals front, I am reading HP planning to layoff  close to 30000 people - 10 times the staff strength of Facebook.

On other front, there is a growing war for talent among much hyped, overvalued Tech Startups in Silicon Valley. The hype is so much that people are even speculating Tech Bubble 2.0.

In India, in IT service sector, the average tenure of employee is thinning year after year and its a growing challenge to deliver results with scarce resources. (Of course, you have access to plenty of resources. But here I mean ondemand access to quality resources who can make meaningful contributions)

In non-IT sector, especially in semiskilled/unskilled sectors, I hear from businesses that its lot more difficult to attract and retain loyal employees with their organizations.

Two diagnally opposite situations - Which is true?.

The key question that I would like to discuss in this post is - What is the role of Technology in the overall scenario of Employment Generation?

Let's accept - Technology does take away jobs!. Period!. The question is - How do we create new ones?

Would like to quote an interesting example that one of my ex-colleagues shared. When my ex-colleague tried to convince the management of deploying a technology that would enable an industrial automation, the management rightfully agreed with the solution, but didn't eventually deploy because doing so would take away the jobs of certain semiskilled/unskilled workers. In India, it could be considered socially irresponsible, though rightful from business perspective. Its upto the competitiveness of the respective industry in which the company operates, to decide whether to deploy the technology or not.

In recent times, people in India, especially in Bangalore would agree that as more and more technology workers get their jobs, the demand for semiskilled/unskilled workers is only increasing. Yes, the demand for domestic services, labor-intensive - people centric services have shot up.  There is enough demand and increase in their wages/prices.

Hence, Technology actually takes away jobs in certain segments and creates demand in other segments. In this case, it creates demand for tech-savvy workers and unskilled workers.

The question is - Is this sustainable?. Companies like HP are getting disrupted by Facebook/Cloud business models. The moment tech workers get crashed, it would have a cascading effect in their supporting unskilled worker base as well.

With Technology advancements like Robotics and Highly competitive Intelligence accessible to everyday computing systems, a lot more preparation is required to retain/grow jobs. This article by MIT - winning the Race with Ever-Smarter Machines - articulates the various ways where the humans and ever powerful computing systems can co-exist peacefully and still create unique value propositions for the customer. The author states, even if technology progress froze today, we would have enough things to do.

As mentioned in this eBook, the key message is "key to winning the race is not compete against machines but to compete with machines".

And its going to be far more critical in coming years. Here is an another interesting study that reinforces  this point of view. Workforce Planning and Job Creation is going to be fulcrum of everthing that we do, if we want to create sustainable institutions!

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