For some reason, I remembered a conversation I had with a friend in college. This was way back when we both were in our final year of Engineering. I was lucky enough to land a minor job in IT whereas this friend of mine was going to join a manufacturing unit as a junior engineer. The pay was about the same.
We were taking a walk in the hot sun mid-afternoon to get something to eat since our hostel mess was closed for the day. Suddenly, for no particular reason, he remarked about our futures. He pointed out that in a few months time, I would be happily sitting in front of a PC in a posh air-conditioned office whereas he would be slogging away in the heat on the workshop floor.
Now, why that struck me was that the level of responsibilities was the same in both jobs, the pay was same, the qualifications of the candidates were the same. So, why the difference in the working conditions ?
Way back, when the IT industry was still taking its baby steps in India, computers were fragile. We were told that we needed to have air-conditioning, humidity control, dirt-free environments etc to keep our PCs safe. This could have been a good reason for housing them in posh, clean air-conditioned offices.
These days, PCs are much more rugged. They are weather-proof, dirt-proof, humidity-proof and have better self-cooling mechanisms. Why, then, do we still have posh offices for the IT industry while most manufacturing units are the same. (I do understand that the working conditions in various industries have improved a lot…but still there is a gap) ?
This might have something to do with the status-factor attached to the IT industry. IT-ians are well-paid (as compared to similar positions in other industries), are much better-looked after by the society (dowry rates are always a good indicator of the value of different career streams)
But this is on the wane. There was a time when the IT career option was open only to Engineering graduates. The big four of IT (TCS, Satyam, Infosys and Wipro) never asked what type of skills were required. They just assumed that only engineers would fit the bill. That was when IT was new to India. The outsourcing freak had just started. Then came the BPO storm and blew away in its winds all other industries. Now, you need not aspire for that Engineering/Medical seat. You can complete your graduation from any college/university that is ready to offer you a seat (these days even a 12th class is a good enough qualification) and you had a very good chance of landing yourself a call-center job. All you needed was to learn how to roll your “R”s and stretch your “A”s in true American fashion.
As more and more IT and ITES work is outsourced to our companies, the quality of work we do has gone down (by quality, I am not implying the quality of the output, rather the nature of the work itself). As more and more of us are required to lend a helping hand, more and more folks from smaller towns and freshers with humbler educational credits are taking up these jobs.
Let us also look at another angle. The primary reason why work was being outsourced to India was the cost-effectiveness. With increasing salaries in India and the rate at which the cost of living is growing, this cost-effectiveness will take a definite hit. There will be more viable options in other countries. That could lead to one of two things: The Indian IT & ITES industry will slow down or the salaries will have to come down. Under both scenarios, we can forsee a future where the halo around this industry will start to diminish. What then ? What turn will the social status of IT-ians take ? Will they still be the stars of our country ? Will an alternate and more attractive career stream take over as the numero uno ?
These are questions whose answers will unravel inthe next 10-15 years. But does India have the ability and promise to create another such storm ?
We will look at this in future posts.