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Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Opinion | Why India can’t afford to waste time creating a future-ready workforce

The crux of the challenge is about the quality of the Indian workforce we should be creating

The Future of Jobs Report 2018 released by the World Economic Forum suggested the Indian workforce will need between a month and a year of reskilling to stay relevant in the fast-changing global workplace. The same report also placed India fifth in the list of 30-odd countries and regions that needed to spend the most number of days in reskilling its workforce. Along with France, the Philippines, Singapore and Germany, the report estimated that the Indian workforce will need close to 100 days spent on reskilling its vast workforce to prepare itself for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The need to reskill our workforce to face the future with greater confidence has only become more relevant and even urgent as we went on to recalibrate our mid-term economic goal to become a $5 trillion economy by 2025 from around $2.8 trillion today. Failing to address the challenge of creating a workforce that is future-ready would simply mean that we will end up with a situation of “jobless growth" and, to put it mildly, a socio-economic disaster that no country can afford.

Drivers of change

The World Economic Forum report talks about four specific technological advances that will be the drivers of change—ubiquitous high-speed mobile Internet, artificial intelligence, widespread adoption of big data analytics and cloud technology. These are set to dominate the 2018-22 period as drivers positively affecting business growth.

The crux of the challenge that we are facing in the Indian job market is all about the quality of the workforce we should be creating. To understand this a little better, let us just look at the Indian software industry.

According to Nasscom, which speaks for the $180 billion Indian IT sector, the number of people who need reskilling is around 1.5 million or 40% of the workforce in this sector.

Large Indian IT companies have already made it amply clear that sizeable layoffs will be a painful necessity in the coming quarters to stay profitable. The phase of assured and comfortable growth is over for this sector that contributes around 8% of the national GDP. For its part, Nasscom has launched an online platform that is aimed at upskilling over two million technology professionals and skilling another two million potential employees and students.

The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is also heralding a whole new set of job skills such as business analytics, data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT).

While the software industry represents a big chunk of the workforce in the organized sector, the challenge of staying relevant in the future job markets goes much beyond. All major industries, including auto, banking, telecom, e-commerce/retail and healthcare, are already going through a churn in terms of creating the right kind of workforce that is future-ready.

Automation and digital technologies are becoming an integral part of every major sector. Just to cite a simple case in point, welding, a basic skill needed in automobile factories, has been completely robotized.

Similarly, the future of medical professionals, from diagnosticians and surgeons, will be determined by their ability to integrate what they learn in medical colleges with digital and technological skills. For example, today, the use of high-precision robots in surgeries is more commonplace than one would imagine.

The pay-off in creating a highly-skilled workforce is pretty big. We are already seeing a substantial jump in salaries of young professionals who are investing money and time in upskilling and reskilling themselves on the job. The opportunities and rewards in constantly upgrading one’s skills are not just for young professionals. An increasing number of mid and senior-level professionals across all trades are also feeling the pressure to keep up with their younger colleagues.

For example, marketing professionals across the board are now keen to learn digital skills that will not only help them stay relevant on the job but also improve their ability to get work done by younger team members.

With a population of over 1.3 billion and well on its way to becoming the world’s most populous country in the coming decade or so, India is at a crucial crossroads in ensuring that the current and growing skill gap is addressed both quantitively and qualitatively.

A little over half of this or around 700 million are youth and is likely to increase to 900 million in the next decade or so. Missing this historic opportunity to creating a world-beating workforce is not something we can afford to take lightly.

Ronnie Screwvala is the co-founder and chairperson, Upgrad

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