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Solution: Government should take a graded approach to the new wage code. As much as India has a wage issue, we should implement the new wage code for large firms in the coming financial year and MSMEs in FY23.

A Budget poser: Will I be able to keep my job in 2021?

It would be safer to expect that jobs wouldn’t come flooding to a job seeker in the new year.

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That might sound like a negative thought to start a New Year with. Or is it sheer plain sight wisdom?

The clichéd “cautiously optimistic” best describes the general mood for 2021. A mood and mode learnt after a year of crash courses on agility and resilience. While 2020 toppled many enterprises, many have also emerged wiser, if not richer, through the crisis. Debatable? Yes. But you would agree that the one wise thing that 2020 has taught us all is to never take our jobs for granted. A facet of wisdom is to question one’s assumptions…so never too late to check if you and I will continue to be employed in 2021.

Jobs are back?

As lockdowns hit the pause button on business activity, job markets went into a frame-freeze. A quarter into the lockdowns, hiring funnels went cold, and job listings were taken off the boards. After plummeting to 132K in June 2020, active white-collar openings registered a V-shaped recovery thereafter. Hitting the 275K mark in October and sustaining it in November was encouraging. However, one can’t deny the caution sensed in September when numbers dipped to 175K. And now December looks no different than September.

Despite the overall recovery, the curve's deep troughs and sharp peaks are to be cautiously read. Going into 2021, will the job market retain its cheer or brace for a sharper moderation will have to be seen. It would hence be safer to expect that jobs wouldn’t come flooding to a job seeker. As for those currently employed – remember.. a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Now is not the right time to get adventurous.

Job Risk and Vulnerability
Job risks are not new to the world of work, nor is the sense of vulnerability linked to skills. However, events of 2020 have amplified and fastened the curve on risk and vulnerability. A recent State of Skills report by Degreed put the Indian workforce on top of the vulnerability list. A whopping 51% of Indian workers, managers, and business leaders feared their core job skills would be obsolete within 12 months. While in normal conditions, this could be read as a highly competitive skills market, the COVID shake-up adds an undeniable risk dimension. A workforce with shortened runways to excel operates under a heightened job risk and loss of livelihood.
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Job groups in the high vulnerability zone would be those that are:
  • Simple management jobs, as against highly skill laden
  • Easily replaceable / can be performed by many others
  • Leaning towards maintenance vis-a-vis creation or context changing

The emergence of the 40-45 age group as the new Apex of the pyramid in contemporary organizations, also implies a serious limitation in space. As enterprises continue to reconfigure for optimisation, the squeeze at the top would be comparatively intense.

The Relevance Factor
2020 saw enterprises revel in increased productivity post WFH switch. Detached from the office floor and colleagues' physical assurance, employee productivity was driven by the need to stay visible and relevant to the organisation. With remote working as the new normal, the focus in 2021 will shift from productivity to relevance of skillsets.

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With more activities going digital and virtual, newer skillsets would emerge in traditional functions like Marketing, Sales, HR, Finance, Quality, and more. The reduced face-to-face engagement has ushered in a higher experience-centric and customer personalized approach. The Skill Stack needed for 2021 is much more hybrid than ever before. An agile mix of people, process, and technology skillsets would be essential for employees across the pyramid. A Sales professional cannot ignore tech skills and a Programmer cannot skip people skills!

While no skillsets may become irrelevant, most skillsets would continue to revamp for relevance. Staying brilliantly relevant in the changing context of doing business will be most sought after in 2021.

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Bonus & Increment Kitty
While enterprises did not create a P&L magic in 2020, capacity building has been the focus. In preparation for a stronger 2021, investments in talent and technology for capacity has been strong. Despite slimmer P&Ls, a healthy bonus kitty of 8-13% average would be in store for performers this FY. Employee increments focused on the outcome rather than effort would be the popular norm. While 2 digit increments may not be all too common to come by, the budgets for increments would remain healthy.

Age or Experience?
While age is just a number, the experience is relative. As part of the org revamps, traditional employment may give way to Short-term Specialist engagements in certain sectors. Enterprises will hence seek a fine balance of age, experience, and expertise. Employees with this mix will pack a punch in 2021. Building and having multiple expertise will be the norm for longer Career Runways in adverse biz environments.

Resumes will be scanned for patterns of adopting and adapting quickly. Evidence of recent learnings and behavior realignments will be most frequently tested in interviews.

Life after Retrenchment
2020 saw 'retrenchment' returning as a mainstream word in India. Despite the V-shaped jobs recovery shown, we may not have left the worst behind yet. The return to normalcy will be slow, and many will be caught in the crossfire of recovery as we pass-thru the next 5 yrs. As we brace for the next 3-5 years of growth, retrenchment may not fade away anytime soon.

Life after Retrenchment will be a new skill for many. Learning to live with less while enjoying the little things and bracing for a sluggish recovery will help. After a pause of contemplation and repeated trials, the retrenched lot may see the light on the other end of the tunnel. For the employed, this is an opportune moment to re-strategize for the next phase of the career with the most relevant reskilling. The core understanding of underlying thought processes and behaviors shall be a property to build it upon.

Government’s Role

We all expect the government to take control of every crisis, and in the current context, the expectation is even higher. The popular sentiment is that the government should create more demand. The start has been provided by RBI announcing many measures around lending to SMBs. The next step has to be government spending on infrastructure projects; Unless this takes off, we won’t see the private sector committing to CAPEX. The government should also take a graded approach to the new wage code. As much as India has a wage issue, we should implement the new wage code for the large enterprises in the coming financial year and implement the same for MSMEs in the financial year 2023. This will allow the MSMEs to recover from the current crisis and prepare for the cost increase in wages, which is apparent as per the new wage code.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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