Industry Transitions: What make them possible and how you can join the party!


jumping the chasm


M. Rajagopal

Mid-career ennui is common and if the industry you are in is no longer in vogue, there is always some new game in town that sounds way more exciting and remunerative. Can you make this switch, what are the risks and how should you go about it. These are questions I am sure many of you have asked yourself.

Take the recent boom of the e-commerce industry. This is not a new phenomenon, only the industry with its attendant dynamics is different. The IT industry, KPO/BPO industry and others have been in the past the flavors of the times. People like you have made successful transitions to these as well. What were the attributes and paradigms which allowed some of these industries to emerge and for people from other industries to make successful transitions?

  1. Change in technology, costs and habits

Take the erstwhile boom in the off-shoring phenomenon of IT and then ITES. CEO’s overseas saw potential savings in costs of operations provided this was delivered with the adequate quality they needed. Cheaper and easier access to high bandwidth connectivity made this feasible and the ability of service providers to scale up to requirements of their overseas clients completed the do-ability of these services at much lower costs. Costs were brought down, processes were run efficiently 24×7 and these industries became main-stream. The recent e-commerce boom is another example where changing habits viz. people’s willingness to trust online seller’s credibility and to do financial transactions without fear of loss; changing technology landscape viz. faster, cheaper internet connectivity and better online security made it possible to do this conveniently and reliably from your home or mobile device. The full story of this industry is yet to unfold to see what the final shape and form will be.

  1. The demand-supply situation

New industries by their nature grow exponentially as group think takes over. Many entrepreneurs and companies enter this new found arena. Investors flock to the next big thing. The demand for people is massive but there is no existing talent pool with direct experience in this industry. Opportunities abound and while initial ventures, who could afford it wooed global talent from economies with prior experience in this area, the long term growth still needed indigenous talent to sustain it. People from hospitality and other industries joined the KPO/BPO industry in large numbers – customer service experience and people management being the transferable skills. Processes could be learnt and refined. Massive training exercises made even fresh grads become productive fast for such services. The e-commerce industry and other related internet/mobile plays are seeing similar transitions. Once you get past building the technology piece, the rest of it is operational excellence – error free order capture, secure payment, speedy logistics, useful analytics, ability to source cheap etc. Not much different from the brick and mortar world, is it?

  1. Transferability of skills and experience

If you have spent a significant amount of your work life in another industry, it’s important to assess whether you want to shift or grow in the space you know so well. After all, you have mastered the trade and have tremendous contacts and goodwill in your industry. Most of these may not be reusable by you after your transition. You need to earn your laundry stripes again. There is no right answer as this is an individual decision and choice.

If you decide that you don’t see a future where you are, either to reach the corner office or the industry itself is stagnant, then you need to assess your skills which are transferable and valuable in the new industry. From the previous examples of hospitality managers making a transition to the ITES industry or supply chain & logistics people to the e-commerce / retail industry, this exercise is something you must do to best position your strengths to potential new employers. You don’t want to restart at ground zero, as being a 30 or 40 something intern is no fun.

Picking the right companies is the next step in this process. Don’t forget that for all the excitement around a new industry, the mortality rates are usually higher than in established businesses and industries, possibly where you are now. An abortive shift mid career can be damaging to your CV and psyche. So look before you leap but never look back! Learn new tricks quickly, so even if the new company you join goes belly up, you can transition to another likely winner in that space. New industries are far more forgiving of failure than traditional businesses and any experience in that industry makes you better than the next newbie who comes along.

We have probably already talked in earlier blogs about writing a great CV, importance of mentors and well wishers and deep research needed for making such transitions else I am happy to hear any queries on these.

Look forward to your critique and comments on this and earlier blogs and what else you would like to hear from me, if at all. Views expressed in my blogs are based on my personal experience and thoughts on careers and business and not from any other published material and they are open to debate.

You can connect with me here on Linkedin or on twitter @rexraj

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