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Jobs in 2021: With tech taking centrestage, ‘gap year’ 2020 is likely to force professionals to reinvent themselves

Jobs in 2021 will be different from jobs in 2019. Some features will be very new. Some may vanish altogether. But some will remain for the next 10 or 20 years, particularly the use of digital technology and the internet for remote working and projectisation

The concept of a ‘gap year’ is unheard of in India. I remember a friend who had joined IIT Madras with me, taking a gap year when we hit the last semester. He took six years to graduate but unlike many of us, he stayed true to his chosen discipline of Mechanical Engineering.

That was in college. What about a ‘gap year’ for a professional? Most HR executives while interviewing candidates do not look kindly at a gap in the resume. This is generally viewed as being unemployed after being sacked from the previous job.

But COVID-19 has, in fact, made 2020 a gap year for all of us. Many sectors have seen wholesale layoffs. Several careers have hit a wall.

Millennials, in particular, have had a forced gap year. “There is no guarantee that a gap year will reveal a young person’s true calling,” writes Chetan Mahajan in his column in Business Line. “But at least one will be treating an adult like an adult, and making them responsible for their future. In the process, the youth may escape a rut and discover true joy.”

As a B-School Dean mentioned in a webinar, be ready to answer the question, “What did you do during 2020 that you would not have done any time else?” It could have been taking a new course on Digital Marketing or learning to play the guitar from a digital guru. But be ready to answer the question, was his advice to his students and alumnus.

As the fear of the pandemic eases, new workplace norms will emerge and new skills will be in great demand.

“Technology will play a much larger role across different verticals — from manufacturing to logistics to healthcare to education and more,” said Nasscom president Debjani Ghosh in an interview with Business Line.

Work from anywhere

The application of technology and work from home or work from anywhere is going to bring IT services to the centre of the organisational ecosystem. Tools have to be created and implemented to safeguard company confidentiality at the same time facilitate smooth working. So if you are in IT, be ready to become more innovative and agile.

Millennials have taken to work from home like a duck to water. A poster child for this generation is the founder of Zoho, Sridhar Vembu. True to his company, which is about enabling digital work culture, he has been running a multi-billion dollar global corporation from his remote village in Tamil Nadu.

Zoom fatigue is a reality, with many people I spoke with wanting to get back to their offices. But there are also a large number of white-collar workers who want to continue this #WFH and #WFA culture.

Reinventing HR

This brings to focus on what the office will be like in June 2021. HR departments in companies have been going through challenging times. Employees have been complaining of attending not just work-related Zoom meetings but also motivational Zoom meetings and cringe-worthy ‘antakshari’ sessions organised by HR teams. Where will HR draw the line?

Also, work from home is not easy for all employees. Some have had serious logistical issues like finding a quiet place to work. Working women have had a trying time juggling school classes for their kids and attending to office duties. Millennials are anxious about losing their job (out of sight, out of mind).

HR teams may therefore have to figure out new ways of monitoring organisational ‘mental’ health.

The pandemic has also created new opportunities in HR. Training, which was a neglected child, has got a new boost with the benefit of remote learning. I see this getting new wings in 2021. HR departments now have the opportunity of delivering on their goal of seven or nine days of training for all employees. This used to be a lofty goal in the past, but now it can really happen.

In a global survey done by Lenovo on ‘Technology and The Evolving World of Work’ — covering 20,000 people in 10 countries including India — 72 percent of the Gen Y and Gen Z said that they were more productive working from home. And 75 percent of those interviewed from India said they would continue to work from home.

This is going to pose new challenges to HR heads. How do you create a company culture and social capital if people hate coming to work? New work systems may have to be created.

For example, will it now be the job of HR to create employees’ bubbles in several parts of a big city and encourage get-togethers, parties, jogging, and trekking expeditions?

Companies are also now clear that having a ‘gap year’ on your resume does not disqualify you. Some corporates have even put down a policy for ‘Boomerang Placements’. This is a new phenomenon where you hire back employees who you let go as recently as 18 months earlier.

So keeping in mind that you may be head-hunted by your past employer for a boomerang hire, be sure not to burn any bridges. And keep in touch with all your old colleagues.

Jobs in 2021 will be different from jobs in 2019. Some features of jobs will be very new. Some may vanish altogether. But some will remain for the next 10 or 20 years, particularly the use of digital technology, use of the internet for remote working, projectisation of work and dissipation of corporate culture.

The smart employee will be able to find solutions to ride these changes. And smart employers will be able to adapt to these changes, even build a new definition of the corporate culture.