Building a digital career from scratch

Even after the current crisis passes, our future success will be linked to our ability to learn and adapt as we move from one digital role to the next.
By: | April 9, 2020 • 4 min read
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Plenty has been said about how digital automation will impact the workforce and how our transition to a digital economy, as workers, will not be without challenges. At the same time, as digitalization is reshaping the workforce, it is also shaping the future for new-age jobs. You’re likely thinking of computer science-led, STEM-skills-centric traditional technology jobs. Here’s where I ask that you to think again about a different kind of future of work.

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The good news begins with the embrace of technology across every function of organizations

Ravi Kumar

Technology plays a part across the customer value chain for all companies. Think of the service staff at your favorite restaurant taking your order on an iPad that is connected to a central order processing system back in the kitchen. The iPad must work without glitches to keep the business running smoothly.  Think of the apps, from your favorite service providers and stores, that you use to shop, track orders and simply stay informed. They need to keep these apps up and running all hours, day after day, all year long. And because every one of these companies collects and maintains customer data, they need to study these data for trends—this means they need data analysts. They must also secure these data and run cybersecurity operations. In similar situations, people will always be the organizing force making sure the technology works the way we want it to. This means an unprecedented rise in new digital jobs will appear. These digital-backbone jobs are a big part of the 700,000-plus IT jobs in the U.S. left unfilled last year. And best of all—these jobs don’t need for workers to have computer-science degrees or even STEM skills that we so strongly associate with technology jobs. They merely require the skills to get the job done. And talent emerging from non-STEM streams, from design backgrounds and from the fields of liberal arts, can also play a role here.

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Here’s where good gets better, because companies are now hiring for these skills, and not for degrees.

Companies struggling to find the right talent to drive their digitization efforts and future-proof their business are looking to hire and develop talent sourced from new untapped pools outside of traditional labor markets. In a recent survey of C-suite executives in the U.S. around the future of work, 56% respondents said that they are looking at two-year vocational qualification holders to drive for them the new opportunities created by technology. Meanwhile, 66% said they were sourcing talent from among community college graduates and 41% were open to training and grooming talent sourced from non-STEM backgrounds. In practice, this shift away from traditional talent hot spots is part of an ongoing shift in the labor market as businesses bring in more emphasis on design and creative capability—a boon for graduates of the humanities and liberal arts as well as qualifications with a specific design focus.

Best of all, these companies also ensure your digital pathway becomes a stairway to progress.

The more progressive firms already have a framework in place. The first step there is to raise the aspiration of people from these alternate talent pools and instill in them faith in the “digital pathway.” Most of these individuals possibly have little to no exposure to role models, from their own ecosystems, that have leveraged these new digital jobs. So, these hiring companies facilitate exposure for them to these digital backbone jobs through authentic mentors who have benefited from the digital pathway. In fact, 42% of the executives we surveyed in the study I referenced earlier are leveraging this tactic to transform their talent model. The second step of the framework is to help this alternate talent compete and thrive in workplaces still dominated by the traditional STEM talent pools. Creating continuous-learning bridges for them to accrue credits for their digital work or earn time off to pursue training courses as they work is one way in which many companies help them gain STEM skills as well. The third step is all about instituting and leveraging the apprenticeship model of learning by doing—popular in the manufacturing line of work—to upskill and progressively upgrade from simple testing and maintenance jobs to higher-paying coding, tech and problem-solving jobs. About 32% of the survey respondents said they find this useful to incentivize the right behaviors that drive broader cultural change.

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This kind of progress, however, can only be nurtured in a broader culture of continual learning, where the rewards of a fulfilling career go to those who own their own learning journey while being open to change and evolution, with support from the workplace. As we progress into the digital future, our success will no longer be linked to our qualifications or experience, but to our ability to learn and adapt as we move from one digital role to the next.

Ravi Kumar is president of Infosys.