How corporate India can solve the skilling puzzle

by Neelam Dhawan

The head of IBM’s advisory board shares her insights on how companies can recruit candidates with the right skillsets and equip their existing workforce to be future-ready.

A strange paradox grips the job market in India: there are thousands of open jobs across different industries but no matching skill sets, even as millions of graduates are unable to find employment. Incredulous as it sounds, it is the harsh reality. The reason for this poignant situation is – skills or rather the lack of it. The situation is not unique to India as the most developed and developing countries in the world face a similar situation.

It is incumbent upon corporates in India to solve this puzzle, as the world cannot afford the fastest growing economy to come to a standstill. So, what can corporate India do? Before narrowing down on the answers to the riddle, it is pertinent to understand the genesis of the problem.

The genesis: the role of emerging technologies

World over, business leaders unanimously agree that organisations need to adopt new-age technologies since every organisation in the world will ultimately become a technology company. They concur that artificial intelligence (AI) will affect 100 per cent of jobs, professions and industries. Business leaders consider AI as one of the most pressing workplace skills necessary for success in the coming years. A research report by IBM estimates that more than 120 million workers in the world’s twelve largest economies may need to be reskilled in the next three years because of AI-enabled automation.

Other emerging technologies like machine learning, internet of things, cloud computing, blockchain and data analytics also have an impact. The intersection of these technologies is opening up new use cases and employees at all levels need to possess these skills to meet the ever-changing market demands. The situation is such that skills, which were relevant a year ago, are not today. The bottom line is that change is going to be constant and re-skilling is now a hygiene factor. Thus, a profound transformation of the workforce is imminent over the next five to 10 years, as these technologies will change job roles at companies in all sectors. The World Economic Forum (WEF) calls this phase the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. It estimates the value of digital transformations in the Fourth Industrial Revolution across all sectors, industries and geographies at $100 trillion in the next 10 years.

Every industrial revolution thus far has witnessed the obsolescence of old technologies and skills leading workers to acquire new skills. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is no different and with so much profound material change, the traditional models of education are in dire need of an upgrade.

The rise of the new collar jobs

The gig economy has redefined the traditional contours of employment and opened new doors of opportunities. It has led to a scenario where students are not competing with their peers but with every knowledge athlete in the world. The conventional world wherein one had to attend school for more than 20 years no longer exists. Candidates with skills can command how they work. Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of IBM coined the phrase, ‘new collar jobs’ to denote the workers who have technology skills but not a four-year college degree. The idea is to foster the development of a new education and career model by investing in skills development and responding in real-time to the changing skills landscape. More importantly, companies have to break free from antiquated models of recruiting candidates with four-year and advanced degrees. The model propagates hiring candidates with the right skills irrespective of a college degree. Candidates can acquire these skills through vocational training, coding camps and certificate programs by technology companies. Companies have a role to play in ensuring the sustenance of the new collar jobs.

For its part, IBM has developed a new collar curriculum in partnership with the Union Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), Government of India, to build the requisite skills. A two-year Advanced Technical Diploma Programme is offered at the Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) across the country as part of the collaboration. IBM is also actively involved in curating the curricula in association with various universities in line with the industry demand so it can equip students with IT skills relevant for the present and the future. ‘The enterprise guide to closing the skills gap’ report indicates that hiring and training are no longer the only answers. The time taken to close a skills gap through traditional training models has increased by more than 10 times in the last four years – from three days to 36 days, the report said.

So, what tactics can companies employ to fuel new collar jobs and equip their existing workforce to be future-ready?

Bring in EX (employee experience)

Today, employees expect a curated experience at a workplace like consumers do from brands. Hence, companies should treat employees as consumers and create customised learning experiences for them. They should tailor upskilling, reskilling, learning and development as per employees’ experiences, goals and interests. Such a move will benefit the employers too, as it will help retain high-potential employees (HIPOs). However, to make an organisation-wide impact, companies must personalise at scale by understanding the current skills of every employee and identifying the areas they need to improve. To bring about such levels of personalisation, companies should consider leveraging the power of AI. They could consider internal job mobility, ad-hoc projects, peer-to-peer learning, job shadowing and coaching as well.

Be open and transparent

Often companies use AI and advanced analytics to get actionable and predictive insights at scale as part of their performance management initiatives but few share these insights with employees and business leaders. Companies can educate employees about the roles and skills that are growing in market demand and means to update themselves. This will aid employees in making their careers choices and step up their learning efforts.

Seek out the experts

In an era where talent is a big differentiator for organisations to remain competitive in the market, they cannot rely on internal mechanisms alone. In collaboration with partners, they can design their future skilling strategy across the employee lifecycle – recruitment, team formation, learning, career coaching, compensation and retention. They must embrace an open technology architecture and external partners to leverage the latest advancements. Further, they could exploit the power of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and industry expertise networks.

Above all, companies should have an ironclad policy on skilling and never lose sight of it. Employees and students, for their part, should adopt a protean career approach and align themselves to emerging technologies and the ever-changing dynamic of skills. Organisations and employees that take reskilling seriously will be able to solve the puzzle and avoid becoming obsolete.

Neelam Dhawan is the Head of Advisory Board, IBM India.

About the Author: Neelam Dhawan