How COVID-19 has created ‘the great epiphany’ on skills
Sean Higgins, Assistant Professor of Finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, could not have said it better. The World Economic Forum (WEF) calls the post-COVID era a ‘great reset’. Businesses across the world have focused on the ‘what could be’, and have made huge changes in creating a new normal of opportunities. A recent research shows that 64 percent accelerated process automation, 60 percent adjusted their approach to change management, and 55 percent made permanent changes to organization strategy.
Amidst these sweeping changes, skills will play a reimagined role to become an integral part of business transformation. And herein lies the great epiphany for organizations. Skills must be developed as a holistic amalgamation of competencies to protect businesses and societies against future shocks and create better corporate citizens.
The business-society cohesion - the vital key for a sustainable normal
Let’s look at the trends that will rule the future of work - climate change, demographic shifts, rising role of technology, globalization of supply chain, etc. To be successful in this new era, one needs a comprehensive umbrella of discerning capabilities to enhance employability and productivity. They include:
- Cognitive skills, or the ability to understand complex ideas, adapt effectively to the environment and learn from experience and reason. This encompasses foundational literacy and numeracy as well as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
- Socio-emotional skills, or the ability to effectively navigate interpersonal and social situations. These include leadership, teamwork, self-control, and grit
- Technical skills, or the acquired knowledge, expertise, and interactions needed to perform a specific task and deploy the right resources, tools and technologies
- Digital skills, which are cross-cutting and draw on all of the above skills. They determine the ability to safely and appropriately access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate, and create information and insights.
The coming together of all these skills will provide the critical cohesion between business and society to weave the fabric of sustainable growth.
For the Indian economy, a dual challenge
According to ILO estimates, 75 percent of workers across the globe belong to the informal economy, which accounts for 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. India is home to a large informal sector, comprising about 80 per cent of the labour force and contributing 50 percent to its GDP. The country faces the double challenge of a shortage of workforce, plus non-employability of large sections of the youth due to lack of appropriate work skills. As per industry surveys, only about 10 percent of the 470 million working population in India receive training or access to skilled employment opportunities.
Indian organizations must therefore look at the development of competencies as a way to enable the Indian workforce to move from an informal economy to employment in the formal economy. Skilling systems and policies must reach and empower the huge bank of our informal workforce to create jobs of higher quality. This will lead to poverty reduction, social inclusion, competitiveness in international markets and respect for labour rights.
The future is digital, but it has to be human-centered
Undoubtedly, we are moving into a digital-first world. It was technology that enabled organizations to step ahead with confidence and success during the thick of the pandemic, and business leaders today trust technology to deliver faster and better impact. AI, IoT, blockchain, and cloud are attracting higher investments – and naturally, technical skills in these areas will be in demand.
This said, Randstad India’s Future of Work 2021 Report provides a deep insight – employers value soft skills over technical skills. Upskilling to stay relevant will be vital as technology advances, and functional expertise will remain fundamental, but it will be soft skills that will determine how employees put technical and functional skills to use, and how they will lead their teams with resilience. In short, organizations need to ensure that their people are both upskilled and cross-skilled to be adept and adaptable to the rapid march of technology disruption.
COVID-19 has been a painful reality, but it has also presented us with lessons and opportunities to build better businesses for a better world. Organizations have discovered just how important it is to be adaptable and ready to respond to the unforeseen, the unanticipated and the unexpected. Acceleration, disruption and change are here to stay, and we must build newer skills and capabilities in crisis management, cost management, agility, resilience, and innovation. A reimagined approach to skilling, reskilling and upskilling must emerge. The diverse workforce must be treated as a flexible whole, rather than only seeing each employee in a set role. This will transform the workforce from within, and give organizations a proactive advantage to emerge stronger.