Sanjay Bahl is the CEO and MD of Centum Learning which is a leading global skill training organization. It forayed into Africa in the year 2011 and has a presence in 15 countries globally. Before Centum Learning, Bahl was President and Director of NIIT’s Skills Initiative Joint Venture and the National Channel Head of their Skills and Career group. He was also part of CII - National Committee on Skills Development in 2016. Here is an edited excerpt of his interview with People Matters. He shares his thoughts on skilling and automation.
Tell us about your journey.
I have over 30 years of experience in different industry sectors, with extensive involvement in education and skilling space. During this period, I avidly nurtured government and industry body relations for influencing policy changes which are helping re-energize the country’s workforce today and preparing youth for entry-level jobs and growth opportunities in the domestic and international markets.
The current government is being criticized on the back of the failure of the PMKVY scheme. How do you think the government should fill the gap in skill development?
The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana has entered the second year and there are several learnings which the government, vocational training partners, and industry are together carrying forward.
One of the important stakeholders in the skilling space is the ‘industry as the skilled workforce’ is ultimately placed in the industry. So the industry also needs to pitch in for fulfilling skill requirements. Also, they can demarcate between skilled and unskilled workforce. For example: a skilled person who is awarded a government certificate may be given a percentage of extra wages. This will motivate others to join the skills wagon. In return, the industry will also get benefited with a more productive workforce. This may require a government intervention in bringing change in the minimum wages policy.
What are your thoughts on the Indian Education System?
As Malcolm X has rightly put, 'Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.'
Indian education system is very unique. After multiple decades of research, the course content has been designed in such a way that it gives equal thrust to all subjects in the foundation years of a child’s education. Inclusions of technology and continuous advancements have completely reformed the education system in India. While the cost of education has definitely increased as compared to the early years, the quality of education is also improving at the same time.
Skill-based education is being made an integral part of the education system. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve the desired outcomes, one very positive step in this direction is the introduction of vocational education from Class 9 level instead of waiting for a person to drop out of college or school.
Corporates through their CSR initiatives are helping the Indian society in a big way. According to you, are there any steps that they need to be taking when it comes to skill development?
To harness the country’s 2020 demographic dividend and move a step closer towards making India ‘the human resource capital of the world,’ a concerted effort is required from multiple stakeholders across the livelihood ecosystem –including the corporates, which are required to play an integral part, and corporates need to consider skilling as a key initiative under CSR.
Given that the corporates determine industry demand and trends, they therefore have a greater understanding of the requirements across various sectors. The government requires inputs as well as financial commitments from corporates in shaping up the future course of action. Given that publicly funded initiatives are not enough to create a significant impact, the CSR investment in innovative skilling solutions can go a long way in supporting the Skill India drive.
What would be the impact of the emerging technologies like AI on employment?
Emerging technologies like industrial robots, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are advancing at a rapid pace, but there has been little attention to their impact on employment and public policy.
While emerging technologies can improve the speed, quality and cost of available goods and services, they may also displace large numbers of workers as the skill set requirements will change and newer jobs would come in.
The impact of automation is already being felt throughout the world. The number of industrial robots has increased rapidly over the past few years and it’s a continuing trend. However, there is a disagreement on the size of the impact that automation technologies will have on the workforce. There might be initial hiccups but the technological advancements are expected to create new job categories.
What according to you should be the model that the government should create in order to ensure a long-term and sustainable economic growth considering the impact of automation?
Losing jobs to automation might be a concern across the world but India’s case is unique. Automation is impacting the job market by taking away few roles but at the same time adding few more which never existed. If automation is taking jobs of basic programmers then at the same time it is creating jobs in areas like cybersecurity, cloud, big data, machine learning and AI. The era of digitization and automation will create newer career choices for working professionals.
The need of the hour is to plan for the future by skilling the youth on future trends and technologies. Given the enormity of this task, it requires concerted efforts from the government, corporates and the youth themselves.
Today, with the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, which is characterized by artificial intelligence, it is unlikely that the skilling landscape will remain the same. How do you see it as changing?
Disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, augmented reality are changing the way companies work and are increasingly going to play a very critical role in the survival of organizations. This is leading to a requirement of newer skill sets and hence the requirement of upskilling the existing employees on these technologies.
The war for talent will continue, as there will be a huge requirement of high-end skills in areas like robotics, biotechnology, machine learning, artificial intelligence, design thinking, and a constant short supply. This conflict is expected to lead the organizations towards re-imagining their current workplace learning practices and focus on building skills in-house through reskilling and upskilling their existing talent base to remain relevant. Continuous learning shall evolve as a fundamental part of the organization’s DNA.
In the corporate scenario, the challenges that men and women face are very different. Are their learning and development needs also different?
Explicit gender bias in corporates has been regularly addressed through women-friendly policies and increased emphasis on ensuring diversity at the workplace.
The multitude of priorities in terms of managing family and work priorities still continue to clash fiercely with a lot of women. Training women on techniques to strike a balance between the two to lead a stress-free life is another area where more focused training is required for women.
But if we see the larger picture, the gender bias is gradually diminishing and there are very few select jobs left where learning and development requirements are different for both genders.