Are You the Problem or the Solution? Upskilling Mid-level Management
By A P Ramabhadran
As we continue to move rapidly through the 4th industrial revolution, we find new opportunities and possibilities peeking at us from the future. The need to reskill and learn new things becomes pivotal, especially for mid-level managers. This article by Mr. A P Ramabhadran, CEO, Manipal ProLearn focusses on the necessity to reskill mid-level managers and the challenges it has. This article has also been featured in the January 2018 issue of the Indian Management magazine.
Remember the days when people used to maintain handwritten files in offices? Well, probably not, as I am referring to a scenario that’s about three decades old, and extinct. The advent of computers was feared to be a job slayer back then and there were many who didn’t vouch for the possibilities it brought along with it.
Fast forward to the present – we end up laughing out the fear aspect! Well, back then it was a similar apprehension among people regarding skill redundancies as it is today with the new technologies. Technology has never been a job slayer, it has only re-defined the jobs that we have. Those who upgrade themselves in the lines of modern technology will have no dearth of opportunities!
The paradigm shift in technology that we are witnessing now will only create new opportunities in the future. However, the nature of the jobs is going to change and the transition period will be a testing time. Repetitive jobs or the ones that do not require high skills will be automated. The Upskilling European Industry Report by the European Commission has stated that by 2025, 50% of the jobs will be the high-skill ones.
Re-skilling the mid-level management and its challenges
The role of a mid-level manager is very crucial in today’s business world as they are an important link in the entire organisational pyramid. From being a part of boardroom meetings to handholding the young workforce, mid-level managers act as fulcrums that balance organisational loads. However, the trajectory of their career path is rapidly evolving with the upcoming digital technologies and increasing margin pressures faced by organisations.
The increasing remuneration cost borne by companies for the mid-level managers is leading to a bulge in the middle of the organisational pyramid. Moreover, a severe knowledge gap with respect to the latest technologies and trends among mid-level professionals is posing a huge problem for organisations.
While some may advocate large-scale re-skilling for the mid-level, not many organisations find that to be a wise investment anymore. A recently launched Industry Whitepaper by Manipal ProLearn and a group of passionate Industry professionals (The NxtGen Group), on the hiring trends among companies, stated that organisations find it cost-effective to hire freshers based on their new technology skills. You can download the whitepaper here.
The Whitepaper also pointed out an interesting experiment carried out by a mid-tier IT company in India that gathered a group of freshers and experienced professionals and asked them to solve a set of problems by using a new technology. The task was to figure out the technology without any external help and solve the problem. While both the groups solved the problem, the freshers took only one-third of the time taken by the experienced professionals. Similar findings by other companies are prompting them to re-think on their mid-level workforce and concentrate more on hiring freshers who are comfortable using new age digital technologies.
Some of the other crucial hindrances to upskilling comes from the mid-level workforce itself. Surveys conducted by organisations revealed that there is a continued inertia and resistance to change, low self-initiative among employees to upskill and opposition to meaningful assessments from the mid-level workforce.
Employees in the mid-level need to take the initiative to self-learn and expose themselves to new challenges as they face some serious competition from the Gen Y.
The Gen Y challenge
A study by NASSCOM and Gartner on the global technology spend by the industry over a period of 10 years revealed tectonic shifts in spending patterns. In 2014, out of a total spend of $ 2,750 bn, 90% was on traditional technology and 10% on digital. By 2025, out of the total expected spend of $ 4025 bn, only 40% will be on traditional technology, while a substantial 60% will be spent on digital.
Organisations nowadays have realised this changing trend and aim to hire ‘digital natives’ who are stepping into the industry as experts and do not need to spend a decade or more to gain expertise. These digital professionals are no longer governed by ‘Career Paths’, instead, they walk a ‘Learning Path’ and exhibit a strong learnability quotient. This new practice among organisations is also helping them in bringing down the ‘time-to-market’ and the ‘time-to-productivity’.
Need for lifelong self-learning in today’s world of Automation and AI
Owing to the availability of fresh talent who are proficient in new technologies and skill-sets, midlevel managers are experiencing the push from below. So, what is the way ahead for mid-level professionals and how can they surf along the strong undercurrents of change? Upskilling, reskilling, and continuous learning is the answer to stay relevant and productive.
In the late 20th century, college graduates who came out with a degree and skills in a particular domain managed to work a lifetime without upskilling. That’s no longer what we see today, as repetitive jobs are being taken over by the wave of automation. Wondering if this is going to take over jobs from humans? Well, not really. The new wave of digitisation and smart bots will certainly put an end to tasks of repetitive nature but will also open new vistas of opportunities.
Importance of collaboration to create future-proof leaders
The mid-level professionals who have typically spent 12 to 15 years in a domain and have gained a considerable amount of experience can go on to become the next-gen leaders if they are reskilled on the futuristic technologies. This makes a collaboration between the Government, Industry, and Academia pivotal to this whole exercise of upskilling.
Source: NxtGen Leadership
Some of the early adopters of these technologies such as Capgemini, Cognizant, IBM, Accenture, and TCS have taken steps to reskill their workforce, others in the industry are also showing encouraging signs of investing in their midlevel management teams. Programs like the Architect Readiness Program, Digital Architect Program, Product management, Cyber Security, RPA, Cloud Orchestrator, Data Visualization, etc. are getting increasingly popular in the technology areas. In parallel, diversity-based programs such as Women Leadership, and Techno-Leadership programs such as Human Error Avoidance and Building Business Partnerships for delivery teams are also gaining popularity as they provide cognitive and design thinking perspectives to mid-level managers.
The above programs is an indicative list of professional programs brought to the industry through innovative collaborations between the Manipal Professional learning group (Manipal Prolearn) and various industry partners. The fact that such programs are delivered by institutions which combine the academic rigour and pedagogical expertise of educational institutions in collaboration with industry practitioners delivering customised use cases, ensures that measurable productivity benefits are witnessed both by learners and the organisations.
There is also a great example in the upskilling efforts taken up by the Singapore government in helping their workforce to upskill. They offer a $ 10,000 cash reward to its citizens, who display expertise in certain skills. The idea is to help them in further honing their skills. In addition; a 90% subsidy on government supported courses for eligible citizens above the age of 40 is also offered.
Such kind of efforts from the industry, academia, and the government helps in fostering a strong foundation to yield a rich harvest of a dynamic next-gen workforce.
Riding the shifting trend in learning
Source: NxtGen Leadership
To put things in simpler terms, today’s business landscape requires multi-taskers with cognitive thinking and problem-solving skills. Gone are the days when people came into the industry with one skill and survived for 30 years. Today, a constant learning endeavour will not only keep you relevant but will also give you a disruptive edge. There will be more Ubers and Airbnbs in the near future that will leverage technology to disrupt an entire industry.
The shift from the ‘T’ where learning was restricted to deep expertise in a single skill to deep expertise in multiple skills is reflected in the ‘Pi’ above. However, even the Pi is not sufficient today. The ‘Comb’ structure or Triad vertical lines reflect deep expertise in multiple skills, domain skills, and soft skills topped by an integrating horizontal line. This signifies cognitive and solution thinking skills, which is also termed as Design-Thinking capabilities by some.
With the half-life of technology being less than two years in today’s world, professionals should always be on the edge of their learning seats to drive across smoothly. Today’s measure of a true professional is not about changing jobs or climbing up the corporate ladder but about displaying the ‘Learning Quotient’.
On that note, let’s keep the learning lamp burning and be a part of the Triad world!
About the author:
Mr. A.P. Ramabhadran is the CEO of Manipal ProLearn, the professional learning unit of Manipal Global Education Services Pvt Ltd. He is an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and has worked with blue chip organizations like P&G, Whirlpool, and Hutch over the past 30 years. His passion is to bring strategic thinking into execution by helping people identify their innate capabilities.