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Home >Opinion >Views >The war for digital talent: India can emerge as a global hub for it

The war for digital talent: India can emerge as a global hub for it

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Tech skills are in short supply globally but here are five measures we should take that will help us lead efforts to close the gap

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Over the last few months, every single conversation I have had with industry leaders has been about one thing: talent. Not just about a widening gap between the demand for and supply of digital talent, but the cost of not having the right talent at the right time.

Over the last few months, every single conversation I have had with industry leaders has been about one thing: talent. Not just about a widening gap between the demand for and supply of digital talent, but the cost of not having the right talent at the right time.

Rising attrition at companies and a shortage of talent is a global phenomenon. A recent report by McKinsey & Co highlights that almost 15 million US workers have quit their jobs since April 2021. The scenario for digital talent is even more dramatic. There is an estimated gap of 6 million between demand and supply of digital talent across eight countries including the US, China, India and parts of Europe.

Rising attrition at companies and a shortage of talent is a global phenomenon. A recent report by McKinsey & Co highlights that almost 15 million US workers have quit their jobs since April 2021. The scenario for digital talent is even more dramatic. There is an estimated gap of 6 million between demand and supply of digital talent across eight countries including the US, China, India and parts of Europe.

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The shortage of digital talent in India is leading to high attrition rates and increased wages, but is this a crisis that spells another doomsday scenario for the industry? Or should this be an opportunity for us to take some bold steps and become a digital talent hub for the world? As per a Salesforce study, 14 G-20 countries could miss out on $11.5 trillion worth of cumulative growth in gross domestic product (GDP) if the digital-skill gap remains unfilled.

The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of enterprises, creating enormous opportunities for all organizations. Given the customer-centricity of the tech industry in India, the demand environment is extremely positive, and many companies have announced aspirations to grow in double digits this fiscal year. The last time that the industry grew in double digits was in 2015-16. Its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the period from then till 2020-21 was 7% and its headcount growth was 5%.

This sudden acceleration in demand has led to a war for digital talent. One may ask why the industry did not prepare for this scenario, but it would be good to remember that nobody globally understood what the pandemic meant for lives and livelihoods; 2020 was the year of resilience.

To deal with these talent wars, companies are adopting a multipronged approach—step up fresh hiring so that the supply pool increases, enhance re-skilling programmes through online learning, deploy adjacent-talent skills for on-the-job learning, and, above all, offer employees a holistic employment experience, one that spans career development, learning and wellness.

For India to retain its lead in the digital era, we need to disrupt the traditional approach to talent development. The race to becoming and being seen as a talent hub is warming up across the world. For example, the UAE just announced plans to roll out green visas, expand eligibility for golden visas and attract top tech workers for the country to become the preferred investment hub for technology companies. Several other countries like the UK, US and Australia are rethinking efforts to attract high-skill talent, including fast-tracking visas for at-risk sectors and promoting visas for highly accomplished applicants.

Also, skilling is no longer a unidimensional exercise. Digital talent is not equal to education in the classic STEM disciplines: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Rather, digital talent stems from a digital-first mindset, which as per a survey by CapGemini, comprises hard digital skills such as data analytics and soft digital skills like storytelling, comfort with ambiguity, etc. Gone are the days when an engineer only sat in a room and wrote code. Today, the most important skill for a data scientist is storytelling.

Let me share my five-point agenda on how we can emerge as the world’s talent hub for digital skills. These are not by any means exhaustive, but we need to act, and act now. Imagine the possibilities if we are successful.

One, implement the National Education Policy on steroids: It is important to have a long-term focus and we need to inculcate the right attitudes. Continuous learning, skill credits, world-class academic innovation, experiential learning, faculty training, all need to focus on excellence and outcomes.

Two, build alternate talent pools: Engineers have been at the core of our talent strategy, but all tech skills don’t require a four-year degree. Can we build digital capabilities in smaller towns, get more women to join the work-stream with hybrid work norms, revamp vocational education from industrial training institutes and polytechnics? We can leverage corporate-social-responsibility funding from industry for these programmes.

Three, incentivize skilling: In the early days of the tech sector, tax incentives played a key role in building a global footprint of multinational corporations in India. We must now create schemes that incentivize skilling for corporates, not just for their own needs, but across the ecosystem.

Four, explore innovative learning models: Use apprenticeship programmes at scale, not just for a certificate, but coupled with assessments. Invest in building world-class free content that can be leveraged by anyone and aligned with a credible system of certification.

Five, democratize training: We must remove all hurdles for people to get skilled. Unnecessary entry qualifications and eligibility criteria should be dropped. Let’s have no barrier to entry, but a quality-controlled exit process.

India must not only look at strategies aimed at increasing home-grown talent, but also work on attracting the best global talent to catalyse the next decade of growth and innovation. This requires constant investments in re-skilling and embracing a culture that promotes skill development. Creating a robust digital talent ecosystem would further enable us to be future- ready and leverage the opportunities of a digital future.

Debjani Ghosh is president of NASSCOM

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