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An Unprecedented Opportunity for Young Professionals

"In a VUCA world, it is critical to focus on those skills that are enduring and do not change. Skills that are not replaced with changes in technology, that can apply across industries and roles, and in life"

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The Digital Age is an era of unprecedented opportunity, particularly for young professionals. While it is an age of abundance, it is also a great equalizer. Usually, you have significant entry barriers for any business, so traditional incumbents have a large advantage in terms of capital, market share, brand, and other existing benefits. However, in the Digital Age, there is so much change happening, from simultaneous to fixed with old rules of business changing as well, that the advantage that incumbents previously had is quickly declining and becoming inconsistent. This results in greater opportunities for the rapid creation and innovation of new technologies and enterprises. 

All of this means there are phenomenal opportunities for young professionals to leapfrog and lead organizations earlier in their career. Increasingly, we are seeing it happen. A lot of the unicorns, the enterprises with billion-dollar valuations, are being created and run by young professionals. The Digital Age is truly an age for young professionals to gain ground rapidly and to seize and build on new opportunities if they are bold and courageous.


Opportunities in the Digital Age

I believe, the single greatest opportunity in the Digital Age is to be an entrepreneur. By entrepreneur I do not singularly define it as starting your own company, though it is a large part of the definition, you should approach any job with an entrepreneurial mindset. Being an entrepreneur is about taking ownership, creating and innovating, and taking on risk. Applying this entrepreneurial mindset to any job you do, can result in positive benefits for any company and your career.

Specifically, for India applying this principle, the real way to succeed is by unleashing a tsunami of entrepreneurship. We should pursue programs, policy, and adjustments in the educational system that encourage and unleash relentless waves of entrepreneurship. Walking this path will unlock the potential of the huge cohort of India’s young people.


Shelf life of Skills

There is a lot of discussion and advice on upskilling and reskilling, often tied to learning the latest popular technological advance such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, or blockchain. All these technologies are very relevant and important but we have to recognize that we are in an age where technology is rapid and dynamic. One must realize that due to the speed and the rapid innovation in the Digital Age, the specific knowledge that you may have captured- that knowledge half-life is quickly declining. Traditionally, what you had learned while attending a university held value for 5-10 years, today, it may be valuable for only a few years due to the rapid change. Additionally, any specific technical skill you learn may be relevant at that time, but it is difficult to determine the long-term value of that invested time with the constant change in the Digital Age. 

So, the question is – what skills and competencies should a young professional focus on? In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, it is critical to focus on those skills that are enduring and do not change. Skills that are not replaced with changes in technology, that can apply across industries and roles, and in life.


Six Key Skills for Future-Proofing Your Career

There are 6 key skills for young professionals to focus on that will not only help them future-proof themselves but also give them innate advantages:

  1. Problem Solving – The ability to look at any situation and being able to distil it down to the real issues so that they can be comprehended and solved.
  2. Learnability – Deliberate learning, not just learning the basics but learning how to master a topic and know it in-depth and to be able to understand and build on that knowledge.
  3. Leadership – Your ability to connect and inspire others in a complex and ambiguous world and to provide direction and clarity to shape the future- much like shining a light in a dark room and leading the way.
  4. Communication – The ability to truly connect with others in an empathetic way, putting yourself in other's shoes, and conveying your ideas in impactful, meaningful ways.
  5. Creativity – Out of the box thinking and the ability to go beyond what is put before you, this is a close relative of Learnability, and often you must learn or know something so well that you can expand beyond it.
  6. Mindfulness – Connecting to our spiritual nature- since the Digital Age is so complex it’s critical to have this anchor (especially since India is the home of mindfulness with meditation and yoga, and the west is rapidly adopting it, we may be at risk of losing our heritage)

Most see these 6 skills as "soft skills" as opposed to "hard skills." There is a need to shift from a pure focus on hard skills, the "technical skills", to bolstering these critical 6 "soft skills." However, none of these 6 soft skills is a quick fix- these are not skills you develop or acquire in a 3-month class. These are fundamental skills that take time and long-term foundational effort to build and refine. 


Redefining the Education system for a Digital India

The challenge with the Indian academic system is that it has a long traditional history that has not evolved with the world. While it does do a reasonable job of teaching hard skills, the quality of education and teachers are highly variable. This requires a fundamental shift on multiple levels of the Indian Education System. 

The best approach is what I call Speed 1 and Speed 2- driving two courses of action with short term and long-term impact. Speed 1 is about immediate actions – corporates should step up and fill the gap in helping their employees develop soft skills. Speed 2 is fundamental shifts- Education at both school and university levels will need to rebuild with a focus on soft skills and with educators who also have incorporated the 6 key soft skills in their learning path- particularly Learnability and Creativity. 

When we think about India, its opportunity in the Digital Age and how we can emerge as a winner in the Digital Age, the aspect of reviving our approach to education becomes crucial. There is a need to focus on more of the “soft skills” to supplement the strong emphasis on mathematics, science and the traditional hard skills. If the young professionals of today acquire these 6 skills and leverage them along with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Digital Age there is little doubt that they and India will emerge as visionary 21st-century leaders.


The author, Nitin Seth is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Incedo Inc., a high-growth technology services firm focused on Digital, Data, and Analytics.  He can be reached at nitin.seth@incedoinc.com 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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