Mumbaikars are often taken by surprise at the early morning scenes around their locality where they find about 50 to 100 workers, hanging together on the sidewalk for no apparent reason. On close investigation, one realizes that these workers are plumbers, electricians, masons, carpenters etc., skilled in their particular profession waiting for work. Soon enough, the contractors arrive and hire them for a fixed contract at the contractor’s site. The rates for the services rendered are generally pre-decided, usually on time-based remuneration. Every day, all but few are ‘hired’ and they leave for work. The contractor is free to hire anyone based upon the skills he needs while the worker is free to work for any contractor whose working conditions are better. The worker can work for more than one contractor at a time and yet not be bound by any organizational diktats.
Welcome to the world of Gig Economy where people work without a job.
The daily for-hire contract worker model is now being replicated across the board to all kinds of white collared jobs. Gig Economy is a win-win solution to the age-old problems of the inherent organizational inefficiencies on one side and employee dissatisfaction on the other. More and more organizations are reluctant to recruit full time employees due to rising salaries and overheads, complacency, internal conflicts and high training costs. Employers would gladly buy an IT system that costs lakhs of rupees than employ a person(s) to do the job. Hiring people is becoming the ‘last’ resort.
The demand from the industry is for deep learning instead of wide knowledge of generic subjects. If a student graduates with in-depth knowledge of, say, Analysis of Financial Statements, then this skill can be offered to multiple companies who need to analyse their own as well as competitor’s financial statements. Why does this resource need to be employed full-time in the finance department and expected to do uninteresting things for forty hours a week?
B-Schools ought to adapt to the new economy by altering the MBA curriculum to face the challenges of the gig economy. The industry is forcing them to re-look at their course curriculum which still reflects the old economy. The drastic changes have shaken the organization structure where employers are ready to ‘buy’ skills and not bring a bunch of people together in the hope that they may perform (that too as a team!). Gig economy demands continually updated skills and not a ‘manager of skills’, which B-Schools still take pride in producing.
Introducing specializations at a very early stage of MBA should be the first step in modifying the curriculum and this should be followed with super-specialization in later semesters. In terms of ‘other’ areas of management, only connectors with the subject should be taught. Taking the earlier example forward, the Financial Statement Expert should be able to know how does the contribution from other departments affects the Balance Sheet and vice versa.
Extending the above logic further, the entire course can be offered as a sectoral MBA and not a generalised version of management education that is in existence today. For instance, an MBA in Business Analytics has much more appeal to interested employers who want to analyse big data rather than an MBA who superficially knows about thirty two subjects, a majority of which will never be put to use.
Students in a B-School typically do projects and assignments for multiple subjects. Preparing the students for the gig economy will entail the student working on projects only in the chosen specialization. These projects will have to be completed for various industries in different sectors. This will ensure building expertise in their area of choice. They can then produce these projects as evidence of their skills in their bio.
An important aspect of MBA curriculum is the internship program. Current practice includes a student spending eight to twelve weeks in a corporate, understanding its entire structure, management, departments, strategies etc. The MBA of tomorrow will be hired for his/her ability to contribute to a process. The internship project should be guided by the in-house faculty and completed for cross-section of the companies.
Lastly, the soft skills to be taught should include dealing with failure (remember, few workers were left with no work). The MBA graduate has to believe in the adage that “Cream rises to the top”. Irrespective of short term setbacks, there will always be demand for imbibed skills. Along with this, they ought to be taught to have the patience and confidence of living through the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous times. It may bring in lots of insecurity but those of us who have spent time in corporates know fully well that job security is also a myth in so-called permanent jobs.