…Renewed interest in employee education and development. As I explained earlier, we are entering an era in which employees must be able to learn and develop constantly throughout their careers. However, if we are to expect employees to be able to do this, we have to expect leaders to have that same ability, even before the employees do. I expect that we will see companies increasingly put emphasis on providing training and learning opportunities for their employees to update their skill sets.
There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.
To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.
As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Nitin Rakesh.
Nitin Rakesh is CEO of Mphasis, a Blackstone company, and co-author of the award-winning business book, Transformation in Times of Crisis. Based in New York and a computer science engineer at heart, his lifelong passion for innovation and technology is evident throughout his career. Coupled with his deep domain expertise in banking, financial services and insurance verticals, strong customer orientation and an entrepreneurial mindset, Nitin has been able to bring cutting-edge service offerings consistently to accelerate value creation for customers, shareholders and employees.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
I’ve always been passionate about technology and studied engineering in my undergraduate years. Going into technology was a natural transition from my finance background in dealing with banks and financial institutions.
I am an engineer at heart, I love building stuff. I started experimenting with newer areas — as I came out of college, in the early 1990s, looking at how do you apply technology to things like image processing, character recognition. Those were very early days of artificial intelligence because you are teaching the software how to actually recognize handwriting.
What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?
Human cost notwithstanding, several outcomes of the crisis on businesses were a culmination of underlying trends that already existed in the environment — smartphone driven experiences, ever expanding computing infrastructure, sensors and connected devices, to name a few. So it was not a surprise that once we entered a “remote world” thes
e trends accelerated, adoption went through the roof, and new disruptions and challenges emerged. This perfect storm enabled digital vanguards (think Netflix, Zoom, Amazon etc.) to advance their market position and spurred many enterprises who were amid this journey to accelerate their transformation roadmaps. These trends are of tremendous interest to businesses like Mphasis, since we service many enterprises that are in many different stages of this digital transformation. As such, we are also now witnessing, many tailwinds tied to their transformation acceleration.
A recent industry report stated that digital adoption is accelerating across industries — for both consumers and enterprises. For example, a leading global bank added 5 million new customers on its mobile banking app in one quarter during the COVID-19 pandemic. E-commerce penetration in the US increased by nearly 19 percentage points in the first quarter of 2020, compared to 10 percentage points increase in the previous decades. Meanwhile, with increasing focus on remote enablement, companies are also reporting an increase in the digital skilling of their employees and are actively reviewing processes to identify opportunities for automation and digitization. If the pandemic era was all about resilience and continuity of business, we believe that the coming years will see clients starting to form, and budget for, medium-to-long term plans around digital transformation.
The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?
It’s true that some of the revolutionaries in technology did not earn degrees, but that does not mean that anyone can follow that path. While the stories of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and others who “started in their garage” make their paths seem accessible, the reality is that not everyone has the resources, financial freedom, and groundbreaking idea to change the world as we know it. That is not to say that it will never happen, but it would be unwise to depend on that trajectory as a career path without those resources and ideas to back the plan up. Currently, nearly 60% of U.S. jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. While some companies are easing up on those requirements in light of the shift to an employee-driven economy, the culture is still one that encourages young adults to earn advanced degrees, and encourages employers to view possession of a degree as a predictor of future profit generation. There are many benefits to a college education on top of academics, including networking opportunities, exposure to a future job tasks in a safe environment, and socialization. However, top-tier universities are not the only places to seek those benefits. Any school, even those perceived as less prestigious, can provide these opportunities, including smaller, local schools which may be more affordable. And for those who want to continue their education but aren’t sure that college will suit them well, trade schools teach valuable skills in necessary service areas and set graduates up for long-term, stable employment.
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment, but employment that fits their talents and interests?
I recently read a book called “Range” by David Epstein. It’s an interesting concept, because it’s the antithesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s thinking about being a specialist. We’re living in a world right now where range is important, because we’re asking employees to do a lot more than just one task in their role. We’re asking them to not only develop IQ and EQ, but what I call LQ, or “learnability quotient.”
That’s a measure of how well and how quickly you can learn new skills in order to can stay relevant? At least in the tech industry, there is a high demand on our employees to constantly upgrade themselves because things change very rapidly. Moving forward, job seekers will need to find a way to shift their mental model of doing the same thing over and over again for the next 30 years and accept that in any job, they will have to constantly learn new skills. Once they can embrace that, they will be able to find success in any industry because they will be walking in with expectations that match their employers’.
The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs, appears frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?
Every aspect of our life today is touched by some form of AI that we don’t see. Whether you’re using Google Maps, shopping on Amazon, watching Netflix content, or even just sending an email, almost everything is powered by some element of AI. So people are right to believe that AI will become more visible and change many kinds of workplaces. It will first help to define AI. AI isn’t about creating computers that can think independently. It’s training a computer to do a better job than a human brain can do at menial, repetitive tasks.
Imagine you have a process that requires you to gather data across all of your systems so you can get a view of the customer. 70–80% of the project time would be spent gathering the data. You can now automate all of that using some form of machine learning or AI model, and the only thing an employee needs to do is analyze the data and make sense of it. And now that you have that time back, you’re able to focus on adding value and understanding the customer better.
With that in mind, people will need to develop skills that AI and automation cannot replicate, which are creative skills. Flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to think on your feet mean that you can provide value and create change in even “non-creative” roles like retail. Those are all skills that can be learned by anyone.
Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?
While I don’t see businesses remaining fully remote, hybrid working has shown us how we can bring people together from around the world and still be productive and innovative. I think it will open up a lot of doors for new innovation, but we have to evolve to a place where there is seamlessness between the physical and virtual world. That means that you can be anywhere and still be part of something. Of course, there will be moments where you need that real-world, face-to-face interaction, so you do team meetings and offsite because there’s an importance to the human element. That doesn’t mean that every meeting and interaction has to be the same. But if you’re in the office and your team is meeting in a conference room, you’re all on video anyway because there may be 25 people who are not in the country and can’t be in the office, but are still part of the whole journey. So I think the benefits outweigh the costs in that regard because some of the foundation is already in place. I think we will eventually get there.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?
If remote work is to be a part of our future, we must ensure that it is accessible to everyone. That’s not to say that no jobs will be done in person. Rather, that anyone who wants or needs to work from home must have the resources to do so. Even if companies provide computers and other equipment for their employees, lack of high speed internet is still an issue for many lower-income employees, especially if there are others in their home using it at the same time. Employers may need to provide a stipend for this.
From an infrastructure standpoint, housing may need to develop with telecommuting in mind. For those living in apartments, microphones and webcams can pick up sounds from neighboring units, causing disturbances on calls. Developers may need to increase sound dampening between units, incorporating thicker walls and better insulation into their designs.
What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?
Employers will need to accept that their employees have greater agency now than ever before. They are more empowered to negotiate for a fair salary, work from the places that are comfortable to them, and demand accountability from their leaders. We have already seen the workforce turn away from restaurants and retail positions for these reasons, and employers will need to demonstrate that they can meet those needs in order to attract talent.
As for employees, the shift to a hybrid workplace may mean a decrease in stability. Irregular schedules and competition between primarily in-person and primarily remote employees could create tensions that we will all need to learn to cope with and use to our advantage.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?
There is no doubt that the crisis, especially the second wave, has brought about irreversible changes in the lives of those impacted. Our first priority — now and always — is the health and safety of our employees, and we will continue to strive to emerge from this crisis much stronger. I want to acknowledge and thank all of our employees who have set an extraordinary example of commitment, professionalism, and solidarity during this global pandemic.
Every employee and organization is different, and there is no one policy or silver bullet for all. One person may have financial troubles, while another is struggling with their mental health. We understand that one company cannot solve the world’s problems alone, but we also know that our employees cannot tap into their full creativity and innovation when they lack basic stability.
At Mphasis, we strongly advocate the importance of breaking the stigma attached to mental health and strives to promote mental wellness. We are proud to be one of the first few organizations to roll-out a ‘Mental Wellness Guideline’ for its employees and managers to help maintain and enhance their mental well-being. We also have special initiatives focused solely on mental health as a part of our wellness programs. Also included in Mphasis’s wellness program are free counseling sessions, a wellness app promoting the formation of healthy habits, and a ‘No Panic’ handbook about managing stress and anxiety. On the HR front, Mphasis has extended its medical insurance policy to cover all employees and dependents for Covid treatment, as well as adding new policies concerning leave, medical emergencies.
Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
All of the complications and stumbling blocks we have discussed are manmade. That means that we also have full agency and authority to invent solutions and discover new ways to take advantage of both AI and human creativity. It may take some trial and error, but we have weathered countless industrial revolutions before, and this digital revolution is no exception. I have full faith in human ingenuity.
Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between the job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?
The tech industry tends to behave very differently from other sectors in this regard, as technological developments that we predict could lead to job loss often end up pointing to new opportunities for advancements. The disruptions created by the pandemic only accelerated this cycle. Thanks to client demands for more advanced and more efficient technologies, Mphasis was able to not only retain all our existing employees, but also add a significant number. By adopting the Tribes & Squads model, a variant of agile management developed for engineers at Spotify, we have been able to create teams of specialists that collaborate across different spaces. This model helps us to maintain sight of the employee skills and specializations we have in our team, which encourages us to continue to utilize those skills in new ways every time we move on to a new technological opportunity.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Renewed interest in employee education and development. As I explained earlier, we are entering an era in which employees must be able to learn and develop constantly throughout their careers. However, if we are to expect employees to be able to do this, we have to expect leaders to have that same ability, even before the employees do. I expect that we will see companies increasingly put emphasis on providing training and learning opportunities for their employees to update their skill sets.
- Employee engagement and benefits will become a priority. Due to the pandemic, employees came to the mass realization, for many reasons, that their labor was undervalued and underpaid. Those same employees, many of whom had lost jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, are now turning down or not even applying to jobs that they may have accepted before. We have already seen companies begin to offer higher pay, cash bonuses, and tuition reimbursement to attract workers in a competitive market. Other companies are implementing team activities, offsites, happy hours, and other entertainment to foster bonds between coworkers and retain valued employees. We as leaders must be prepared to show our employees that they are valued in ways that matter to them rather than empty platitudes.
- AI will continue to permeate all industries. The use of AI and machine learning to automate basic processes will quickly become more visible in the coming years. I anticipate that customer experience tools like unmanned registers in stores and chatbots will become more sophisticated, leaving employees free to tackle more complex customer and infrastructure challenges. We will be able to teach computers to not only collect data, but to analyze it, and make advanced recommendations based on the findings. Soon more people will be able to call themselves “AI experts,” and I hope that visibility will bring familiarity, and hopefully demystify an incredibly helpful discipline.
- Greater focus on inclusivity within hiring. Regardless of a company’s or leader’s interest — though all leaders should recognize the value of a diverse workforce — inclusive hiring is quickly becoming non-optional. Research shows that companies that are more diverse are more productive, more efficient and give better returns to shareholders. More importantly, diverse companies are more creative and innovative thanks to the varied perspectives and resources employees bring from different backgrounds. The move to working from home has allowed individuals with disabilities to join the workforce despite not being able to commute to an office. Similarly, hiring processes conducted over the phone have helped to combat implicit biases surrounding physical appearance. Including these employees in decision-making means that your products and services will resonate with more consumers because they will feel their needs are being met, and your employees will be more committed to their work if they feel they are being heard and valued.
- Digital customer experience is here to stay. Digital customer experience isn’t going anywhere. Now that consumers have had a greater taste of ecommerce, telehealth, and live-streamed entertainment, they won’t let it go very easily. Business owners that think they will be able to abandon these avenues will likely see that they lose some of their customer base to competitors that still offer these more convenient methods.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill
In order to remain successful and relevant in such a rapidly evolving industry as technology, companies need to be willing to innovate and experiment. And sometimes experimentation ends in failure. In a culture that that often only rewards success and discourages risk, the fear of failure paralyzes us and keeps us from moving forward. At the same time, we sometimes believe that reaching our goal means the hard work is over. In both scenarios, we trick ourselves into slowing down, allowing others to outpace it. This quote proposes the solution to both, which is to keep moving forward. When we fail, we must try again. When we succeed, we must set a new goal to work toward to keep moving up.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM. I would love to learn from his years of experience in IBM’s cloud and cognitive software division, and I am sure his insights into the future of AI and quantum computing would be enlightening.
Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.