Post-Covid world: Agility, adaptability key to success of individuals, businesses

skilling of youth key to prosperity
The Covid-19 crisis saw businesses ignoring skilling of youth because of the strict lockdown measures announced by governments to curb the spread of the pandemic.

By Satyam Priyadarshy

When we talk about the post-Covid world, one question everyone asks is how to survive amid economic crisis and fast technological changes. I would say a safety net is always an individual’s responsibility. With the emergence of gig economy, there has been a transformative change in the workplace. People need to be agile enough to traverse between skills to be valuable to the employer.

The post-Covid world belongs to what I call AVATAR talent – Always Versatile, Adaptable, Transformative, Agile and Resilient. These are the qualities that will help people survive and thrive in the times of fast changing technological changes. In olden days, if you did a chemistry degree, you did chemistry throughout your life. This is not the case now.

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Disruption is the beginning of transformation

Leadership in the post-Covid world has to be associated with disruptive forces as managing complex transitions is the most important test for a leader. As I am from the energy industry, let me talk about the challenges in that specific sector. Though we talk a lot about carbon neutral or zero carbon growth, it is not an easy target to achieve. When you look at energy transition, you will see the complexity and the domino effect that affect the industry.

Energy transition needs maturity in digital transformation, and its foundation lies in what I call a ‘big data revolution’. It is all about creating exponential value and can only be done when the industry, the company, or the people disrupt themselves. That requires everybody to be really agile. If I stayed with what I did 20 years ago, I could not be where I am today. If you look at the people who are into the gig economy, they are building startups in the Silicon Valley or in Bangalore and other places. They do so by disrupting themselves and this requires a new kind of thinking. This thinking is what actually makes the whole talent concept work.

For the 55 years of my life, I followed words from Hanuman Chalisa, which tells me that I can transform yourself and remove the hurdles on my path. It gave me the concept of talent, and helped me mentor a lot of people. I expand my center in Bangalore for a new generation of workforce in the energy industry. I am not looking at the degree that they hold. I’m looking at if they can adapt. Can they work on carbon capture the day after tomorrow? Can they build augmented reality solutions? These technologies have to be tapped by any industry in the world.

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Navigating the post-Covid world of uncertainty

Take the communication technology for example, the workforce should be able to navigate the 5G revolution. If you are talking about the energy sector, then employees should be able to work on net zero future. The energy industry has been talking about digital oil fields for the last 35 years. There are still no digital oil fields today because nobody actually integrated things. But today with communication technologies evolving into 5G and 6G, where do you find the talent? The universities are not teaching these, which means the people will need to learn and adapt.

It is simple to leverage the talent in the post-Covid world that will see deep disruption era. But this should all be about future sustainability. It’s not about the current as the current is already messy and we need to plan for future sustainability. For that we must transform talent, technology and inspire.

If you just look at the energy industry, there is sharp talent. Look at geophysicists or engineers. The industry has used them on a particular domain for the last three-four decades. Now, suddenly there is this need to adopt computing technology. I bring on all the computing technology that exists, whether it is cloud computing, high-performance computing or anything.

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Businesses must eye long-term sustainability

On the one side, the industry has been talking about solar energy, wind energy, and train them on those kinds of concepts. But when it comes to digital technologies, the industry lacked in terms of training their talent. And as a result, they’re expecting that the talent really evolves from where — from the universities that haven’t actually kept the promise of bringing the latest technology because they don’t have the resources. The industry hasn’t provided them with the right kind of inputs as to what is the kind of talent and skills they need.

Eventually, the training responsibility falls on the workforce — to be a leader, to learn these things, and move on. Look at the case of cybersecurity that’s emerging. The challenge is data breaches since the AOL data breach. We still are facing a number of data breaches and what have we done for that? What protection have we created? How much talent have we trained? So, leadership comes from all these things — not just looking at the short-term gains of an industry, but also the long-term sustainability.

The other complexity comes in is the use of emerging technologies. This is very confusing for people when we talk about AI, and machine learning. Unfortunately, AI is not something that comes in a box that you can just deploy it. AI is just a subject, but the application is what we are looking at. The old leadership is confused as to how to implement this.

I spent the last five years traveling around the world, meeting the top leadership in the energy sector. And the question is what is AI to them. The translating complexity is very high right now. I would say there are some good things that have happened even among the old guard. In the post-Covid world, they will take advantage of the exponential technologies and have actually accelerated the adoption after the pandemic broke out. However, it is a long challenge to reach the sustainability point.

(Satyam Priyadarshy is Managing Director – IC, Technology Fellow, and Chief Data Scientist at Halliburton. This article is a reproduction of his presentation at a webinar organised by Policy Circle.)