Travel is an excellent opportunity to connect with people across varied spectrum’s of life, and a great way to strike two way conversations with real people. Here are glimpses from three such conversations from my travel to Bangalore, October 2013.
I could sense that Mr A, my co-passenger, was a businessman and a frequent traveller. The train was late by about two hours and he did not waste any time spreading his bedspread and going to sleep, as soon as we boarded! So the conversations were left for the following day which I initiated with some hesitation. Mr A was refreshed from a good night’s sleep and was willing to speak.
We spoke on a variety of topics, ranging from his venture, the challenges of the IT services model, lessons from epics that can be applied to modern management, politics without scruples, and so on. Mr A was a trader, who imported solvents from the Gulf Region and sold it to various companies across Southern India.
It was fascinating to learn that solvents (petrochemical derivatives) are the preferred form for dissolving anything, for creating products ranging from the pharmaceutical industry to the food industry! Solvents can dissolve literally anything, which is essential when the final product is a blend of multiple chemical constituents that do not mix with ease. The natural question for me was: How safe is this process? His response: The final process of separation of the finished product is very good and has evolved, leaving truly no traces of the solvent.
That is where his business is; he mentioned 50 Crores as his annual revenue. Certainly an excellent accomplishment for a person who did his Engineering in Electronics in the early nineties, was out of job for quite some time, and then decided to venture into this business.
My innovation charter at work could not resist finding solutions for fixing thefts in transport via smart logistics and inventory management, to which he smiled and responded: The purchaser is already being billed for the theft, for theft is an accepted necessary evil, in this business! I guess GPS and IT solutions will not work for this person. The good part is that he does have a computer based system for inventory management and billing.
I was quite surprised when he asked: Why are the big players in IT not creating products and still relying on low end services? I had to scurry with my usual responses, not entirely convinced myself! It sure left me thinking…
Another travel, the next gentleman Mr B, was the head of the training division at a well-known product cum Services Company at Bangalore. Given my stint in training and building talent pools, there was a lot of mind-share along the bus journey. We spoke on Engineers who lack skills and motivation, talent pool challenges, and attrition. I realised that the problems are universal, and we truly could not converge on any solution. He spoke of Nascom’s projection of 10 million skilled workforce needs by 2020, not surprising since the prediction is that IT will hit 300 Billion dollars in revenue from the 100 Billion dollars of today! And where do we get the skilled talent pool? That was the open question which I guess will need some serious pondering…
The last gentleman, Mr C, was a chartered accountant. On my return journey by train, this gentleman was accompanied by his son, who had just secured a medical seat at a well-known college at Bangalore. Our conversations drifted into Education, or the lack of it at the school level, the pain pangs of parents, uncoordinated admission processes across the country, to the lack of rigour in students today to explore and understand the core of what they want to study! The conversation then shifted to IT, and the discussion veered towards why the current pool of IT talent does not truly know what they are doing! Interestingly, he also mentioned that lawyers and chartered accountants, who are in IT firms and making good money, are facing similar challenges. The job they are doing is way below their trained capabilities and does not truly provide them with longevity or incremental skill development in their career! But he was happy to notice that there is a new breed of entrants to his field from the Engineering field, and they seem far more committed on building a long term career, and hence are focussed on building the associated skills needed.
To sum up, three interesting conversations, that highlights the challenges faced by today’s youth, where opportunities are abound, but the lure of easy money could pull them away from their core strengths and learning, and hence result in disillusionment and burn out early in their career.
Is there an easy fix for the problem above? For there is no doubt that IT services and the associated businesses it has helped create, has provided job opportunities to millions of students and will continue to do so for many more years. What we then need is a meaningful alternative to that, and one that can symbiotically exist with the current model.
Which means that we need a new breed of brave entrepreneurs, who will create truly value added services and original products in the IT and engineering space, and in turn provide that alternate path to the millions of engineers who will continue to graduate over the next several years. The good part is that this is slowly happening, NasComs effort of creating 10,000 Start-up’s, Start-up Village of creating 1000 start-ups, and similar ventures backed by good mentors and investor networks, and government’s support, should surely help create that change.
The talent is there, the intent is there, the passion is there. It is time that we move up the value chain, and create a unique identity for our IT and Engineering business models.