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Why IT jobs in India will need different skill sets

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NEW DELHI, May 29 — India’s large information technology (IT)services companies could fire around 56,000 employees this year, Mint reported in early May . That’s double the number they usually fire, the report added.

People I know in the IT business admit that this is a conservative estimate and that the real number could be much higher. Across the sector – this would mean looking beyond the top seven companies Mint considered – the casualty list could add up to between 100,000 and 200,000, they claim.

That’s worrying. Since the late 1990s, when legions of COBOL-crunching Indian IT coders helped exterminate the millennium bug, India’s IT services companies have become employers of choice (and, more importantly, employers of scale) for young engineers. At their peak, they were hiring any engineer who came their way (and made the cut). In the mid-2000s, the CEO of a large (diversified) engineering company told me that his firm, one of the most respected in the country, couldn’t find any engineers because of “these IT guys”.

The boom in IT services was fed by, and in turn, reinforced, a boom in engineering education. Many of the colleges were churning out unemployable engineers but this wasn’t a problem either for the colleges (the students would get snapped up, usually in their third year, by one of the IT companies) or the companies (most had parallel engineering schools running on their sprawling campuses to which these graduates would then head – a sort of finishing school for engineers).

Both booms are now at risk. Why did it come to this?

Blame it on the innovator’s dilemma. The theory – there’s a book of the same name – by Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, says the very factors that contributed to a company’s success – focus on a segment and innovative workflow processes – could eventually result in its failure, especially in the face of disruptive change. Christensen is on the board of our largest IT services company, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

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