What Does New Age Work Culture Entail?

The trend of embracing new age skills raises an important question, what does this entail for the education sector in order to equip students with these skills?

In a conference on tuberculosis (TB) that I attended recently, the participants comprised the following: a medical doctor actively involved in TB, a social scientist who was working on social and psychological impact of TB, an economist (yours truly) who was estimating the economic burden of TB to the society, a production engineer who was in the process of developing an electronic pillbox, a public health researcher working on communicable diseases, a communication expert who is devising messaging about TB, etc. All of us were looking at the same problem of TB from several different angles, and were hoping that a solution to mitigate the problem, even if marginally. This simple example really captures the essence of the emerging work culture across organizations – disciplines have to come together and analyse problems from multiple perspectives in order to find creative solutions. In other words, if there is a single phrase that captures the new age skills, it is multi-disciplinary. In order for one to survive in this environment, it is necessary that the person develops certain tolerance for different ideas, which may be radically different from one’s own background. This is not to say that everyone needs to learn everything, and become a, ‘Jack of all trades and master of none’; instead, it means people need to be appreciative of different thought processes. Ability to work in a multidisciplinary environment, and learning from thought processes of other disciplines is where creative solutions are likely to emerge. 

A second aspect of new age skills is flexibility. With the emergence of gig economy, the rigid boundaries of office environment – physical infrastructure, time of work, place of work etc. –  which are, to some extent, considered sacrosanct today, are getting dimmed. Getting work done is gaining greater currency than following a rigid process. People are increasingly preferring flexibility in employment to be a major feature. Therefore, enterprises which would be successful, and can attract the best of talent, will have to evolve into organizations that embrace this new thinking surrounding flexibility. Co-working spaces, informal dress codes, flexible office hours, etc. are already becoming important features in the emerging work cultures across organizations. Further, akin to the point I made in the earlier paragraph, rigid boundaries across various departments within the office confines, even in large organizations, are also dimming. As competition increases, various business units within a large organization are increasingly coming together in order to provide more cutting edge solutions to the consumers in order to retain them. While, traditionally, the senior management has always been expected to be experts in general management, the requirement is seeping into lower levels of management too. This observation is based on the corporate training assignments that I have been a part of in the recent past. A final aspect of new age skills is adaptability. Increasingly, terms like artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, internet of things, etc. are ceasing to be buzzwords alone! Given that the technology is rapidly evolving, and hence changing at a fast pace, adaptability to the changing landscape are going to be highly valued. In some sense, the point I made earlier regarding flexibility applies here as well.

In sum, the three new age skills required are: understanding multi-disciplinary approach, flexibility and adaptability. This trend of embracing these skills is not restricted to the corporate sector alone. Public administration, public policy, academia, etc. too has seen a significant increase in this. We are seeing research contributions cutting across disciplines and people working across departments. This raises an important question: what does this entail for the education sector in order to equip students with these skills? It is imperative that the education institutions come up with courses that are interdisciplinary in nature. For example, it is imperative that an engineer is well equipped to understand philosophy of social sciences, a doctor needs to appreciate in-built logic of mathematics, etc. Specialized institutions in India like the IITs, IIMs, ISI, etc. in India will have to either decide opening up new departments or come up with joint collaborations that would enable such innovative coursework. Courses where fundamental philosophies and skills are fungible across disciplines need to be evolved. Off late, while both these trends seem to be happening across major institutions in India, it has to be encouraged further. Gone are the days where engineers study only technology, doctors study only medicine and management students study only, well, management.

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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