People have to be comfortable with the idea that they need to reskill and upskill over the course of their career: Mohan Lakhamraju, Great Learning

People have to be comfortable with the idea that they need to reskill and upskill over the course of their career: Mohan Lakhamraju, Great Learning
  • Upskilling is not about learning some new skills or tools, it is about how to use them to solve problems more efficiently.
  • If you feel that the prospects of the job are not good and there are chances of layoffs going ahead, then it makes sense to look around.
  • Just as you invest in your fitness and entertainment on a regular basis, you have to invest in keeping yourself up-to-date.
Over the past few months, news of layoffs, especially by large tech companies have made headlines. And very recently, with the arrival of ChatGPT, it seems that AI is closer than ever in taking over our jobs. In such a dynamic environment, staying agile and constantly upskilling oneself is the new normal. Mohan Lakhamraju, CEO & founder, Great Learning, shares his views with Business Insider India, on how one can navigate one’s career path.

Great Learning is an edtech company for professional and higher education offering programs in blended, classroom, and purely online modes across technology, data and business domains.

To cut costs, employers may want to replace high-paying jobs with low-paying ones. How do people at the middle levels stay relevant in their careers? How important is upskilling in this regard?

This is not something that is a new trend. This happens routinely in several industries. Many companies, particularly IT and consulting firms, have very flat pyramids which means that the number of positions at senior levels are much smaller than those at junior levels. So not everyone will be able to reach those senior levels, and they will have to leave and get replaced by those who are younger and whose compensation is lesser. It is possible that in the last four to five years, when money was flowing freely, and it was cheap, there were more people than necessary in senior ranks, but that is being trimmed right now.
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For those who are now at the middle levels, if they move into another job and the only competency they have is to manage other people, then it is not going to be as appealing. Instead, if they can bring in new ways of solving problems, bring in efficiency, and can use technological solutions to improve the value proposition to their customers, then it becomes much more compelling. And that is where upskilling becomes important. Upskilling is a word that is used very broadly, but it is not about learning some new skills or tools, it is about how to use them to solve problems more efficiently. If you go with these kinds of skills, then you will be much more attractive to potential employers.

People move from one job role to another. How should that be planned?


Earlier jobs were not as specialised as they are now. Increasingly jobs are getting more and more specialised, because for all kinds of jobs, we are using technology. And when we use technology, things tend to get more specialised. The solutions that are emerging, the tools that you are using to do various jobs, the data that is being viewed and reviewed and used to make decisions, are actually increasing over the last decade. You have much less generalist jobs anymore.

As things are getting more specialised, you cannot move from one role to the other without having the required competence for that job. Let us say you are doing product management. Today product management has many tools and technologies, and much specialised domain knowledge. If you want to shift in your role from an engineer to a product manager, and you do not have those skills, then it is a very hard transition to make and nobody is going to give you that job. In that situation, doing a course or a program teaches you all of those things, and gives you some practice in using those, and teaches you the language or the vocabulary that is used in the new job role. It also lets you do some projects and overall makes you familiar with what happens in that job role and equips you much better to make that transition. Similarly, if you want to make a shift from doing operations to marketing, both these have a separate set of tools, technologies and processes. If you want to do that without having that competence, nobody is going to give you that job. That is why upskilling becomes very important.

Layoffs are in the news now, especially in tech. What can employees do in such a situation in case they feel that their jobs are at risk?

I am not an advocate of career cushioning. If you are putting one foot in the door and one outside the door, then you are never going to be able to commit properly to your existing job and earn the trust of the people you are working with. There may be special situations when you are seeing the writing on the wall, when you are seeing the issues a company is facing, and you think that your future in the company is limited. Then it makes sense for you to look for something that is in your self-interest and that is what you should be doing. People have been doing that always, it is nothing new, just that there is now a word for it.

I believe if people have chosen a job and they like what they are doing, then they need to commit to it for a minimum period of time of at least a few years, because they can do something meaningful and impactful. I strongly discourage people from jumping around from jobs every few months.

If the environment that you are in is not good and you are not being able to do meaningful work, then it makes sense for you to look out for something else. But if the environment is good, then you should put your head down and do something for a reasonable amount of time so that there is a clear value add that you have done, or a clear contribution you have made and a clear set of skills and experience you have gained. And if you are continuing to learn and grow, continue there, there is nothing special or unique to be gained from just jumping around. In fact, there is a statistic that says that 80% of people who changed jobs during the great resignation regret their decision and some 60-65% of them have apparently tried to get back to their previous job.

Only if the environment is not good, it makes sense to look out. Also, if you feel that prospects of the business are not good and then there are chances of layoff going ahead, then also it makes sense to look around and engage in what is being called as career cushioning.

When laid off, or when one wants to make a move, how does one make themselves more employable?

If you have a good idea of what you want to do, you have the knowhow of the processes and problems that are associated with the job and you can produce any kind of body of work - projects that you have done in your own time, projects that you have done as a part of a structured learning experience, any courses you have done that have given you practice, all of those things are very powerful signals that this is something that you are really interesting in doing. It also shows that this is something where you have put in the effort to get familiar with and you can actually engage with it. Then it makes it much easier for your employer to make a bet on you. Only at the entry level can one be hired based on talent and attitude, but once you are senior, everybody will want to know what you can bring to the table.

There is a fear that AI will take over many jobs. How does one secure their job in such a scenario? Are there some jobs that are more susceptible to being taken over by AI?

If you think about the present moment and what has come about through tools like ChatGPT, we all knew that such a moment was about to come, it was only a matter of time. We all knew that AI was going to get better and so we should not be surprised. Now, the table stakes have increased, meaning that any job that was just a mundane process that involved data manipulating, where one was just looking and following the workflow, all such jobs have got automated or are getting automated at a very rapid pace. That has already been happening, which we call robotic process automation. Now, it is not just numbers and workflows that are getting automated, it is things that are more language-oriented, things that involve writing and some amount of conceptual knowledge. In all of those things, AI has gotten good enough to match human-level quality.

What that means is that you need to be able to do better than AI. The bar has been raised. Whether you are a content writer, whether you are a marketing ad copywriter, or whether you are a journalist writing articles, what AI can now do is the bare minimum. However, AI does not know what is right or wrong. So you need to be able to use these technologies and have enough knowledge, judgment, and awareness of your area that you are able to validate whether what it is saying is correct or wrong and where it is making mistakes. Second, you should be able to use what AI is doing as the base case and see how you can improve beyond that. And third, now that AI is saving time, how can you utilize the time and add more value.

You have to be able to do all those things if you want to stay relevant. I think a lot of people in professions like marketing and content writing are under threat right now. They should use AI as a tool that is available and see how they can perform better using such tools. The same applies to people who are in academics. Even teachers have to change how they assess their students, for example, they cannot ask a student to write a paragraph on a certain subject as ChatGPT can do it better than most students. However, ChatGPT can never understand the requirements of your clients or of your internal stakeholders. So that is the role you can play, that is translating what the stakeholders want into something that the machine can produce a solution to, by acting as the interface between the client/ stakeholder and what the machine can do. That is the role that people have to play now.

What are some of the other key macroeconomic job trends one should be aware of and how should they adapt themselves to those?

In the entire history of humans, whenever new technologies came, there were fears that people would be out of jobs and machines were going to take over. Exactly similar concerns were there when automobiles were invented. So many people were dependent on horses, they were worried about losing their jobs. Similarly, when locomotives were invented, when manufacturing started getting industrialized, or when computers came, or the Internet came, or analytics came, these concerns came up. But in each of these times, the nature of roles changed, and how humans added value changed. Yes, some roles did get eliminated, but new roles got created, new jobs got created, and people adapted. Today, the phase of that change is getting compressed. What earlier happened over a 20-year period, is now happening in a two to three-year period. We have to be more agile, but now all the tools that one needs to be more agile are now there. People have to be comfortable with the idea that they need to reskill and upskill over the course of their career, many many times, and that is the new normal. Just like you go and get your health checkups done, just as you invest in your fitness on a regular basis, or invest in entertainment platforms, you have to invest in keeping yourself up-to-date. You just have to embrace that.

You should always think about the things that you know and how you can leverage that. Think of the new role or position that can take advantage of what you already know and what new you can bring to the table. For example, if you have a background in marketing, now you learn how to apply that in the digital domain. Look at the strengths that you have and learn new things that you can take to the next role. If what you have does not add much value at all, then you have to invest in a more involved learning experience.