These are difficult days for Indian techies, and it’s not going to get much better.
On April 21, reports suggested that Wipro, India’s third-largest information technology (IT) company, has laid off up to 600 employees. Meanwhile, US-based Cognizant is reportedly considering laying off 6,000 in India, where the bulk of its workforce is stationed. Earlier this year, Infosys, the country’s second-largest IT firm, acknowledged that it was “releasing” nearly 2,000 employees every quarter, and cutting back on recruitment.
And this may be only the beginning of the bloodbath.
For some time now, the $150-billion Indian IT industry, which directly and indirectly employs some 10 million people, has been bracing for a crisis. India could lose 640,000 low-skilled jobs in the industry by 2021, HfS Research, which analyses business operations and IT services, had warned in 2016. This was mainly because non-customer facing positions such as IT support jobs would likely be automated.
In a February 2017 study, consulting firm McKinsey estimated that about half of the 3.9 million employees of Indian IT services companies would become “irrelevant” within the next four years, again thanks to automation. And NASSCOM, the Indian IT industry’s trade lobby, also expects at least a 20% reduction in jobs available in the sector over the next three years.
“We are looking at re-skilling one million people because new technologies are reshaping the job market,” Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president at NASSCOM, told Moneycontrol News. “While the industry will remain a net hirer, the pace of job creation has come down.”
But re-skilling at that scale is easier said than done. Some 65% of the workforce in the sector just cannot be re-trained, reckoned Srinivas Kandula, head of French IT company Capgemini’s Indian operations. “Probably, India will witness the largest unemployment in the middle level to senior level,” Kandula, who has around 100,000 employees in the country, said at a NASSCOM event in February.
It’s not that new jobs won’t be created as the IT sector transforms. The problem is that Indian engineers, many of whom graduate from sub-standard institutions, are woefully under-skilled to partake in this new technology ecosystem. A recent study of over 36,000 Indian engineering students found that only 4.77% met the minimum requirement for a computer programming job.
If that’s the basic standard, finding candidates who can navigate the world of automation and artificial intelligence is a long shot. “Generic coding skills are going out of fashion now. You are required to be adept at data science, machine learning, cyber security…But there are zero people formally trained in these things,” Prasar Sharma, director for emerging technologies at Mumbai’s SP Jain School of High Technology, told the Financial Times newspaper.
Then there’s the fact that key regions for the Indian IT industry, from Singapore to the US, have been increasingly shutting the door on Indian engineers, further stymieing employment opportunities.
Oddly, many young professionals don’t seem quite bothered by the chaos. Over 80% of the individuals aged between 21 years and 24 years who were surveyed by education technology firm Talentedge remained confident of retaining their jobs despite automation. But inside the landscaped campuses of many Indian IT firms, the reality is rather different.