A crisis brings out the best of a leader. And the leaders who will lead the way today will be remembered throughout history as heroes of COVID-19. Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer of National Skill Development Council (NSDC), Manish Kumar has been leading the organization for the last five years. He is responsible for providing a strategic vision to NSDC in ensuring that the team moves cohesively towards the achievement of Skill India Mission. In an interaction with People Matters, he shares his thoughts on managing crises as a leader, how COVID-19 has impacted NSDC and the leadership lessons that have guided him in the current times. Read the edited excerpts here-
This is a tough time for every leader. What are some of the leadership lessons that have guided you in the current times of crisis?
The current COVID-19 pandemic is quite unprecedented and is expected to redefine what we consider normal. In times of crisis, one of the learnings for us has been that while resolving difficult situations, it is important to empower teams and encourage them to do the best they can. Managers must possess clarity of purpose and intent and this means that their leaders must be clear themselves. Here, defining priorities and empowering managers plays a very critical role. This helps speed up the decision-making process and adapt to the changing circumstances, especially during a crisis.
Another critical lesson emanates from the entire organization working from home. This significantly impacts the flow of information within an organization and can potentially lead to disruption in workflow. It is much easier to communicate within an organization when everyone is occupying the same office space. But challenges arise when people are spread across an entire city, as we can see is happening now. As a leader, one needs to ensure that the lines of communication remain open and that there is no miscommunication, especially concerning critical work.
As a leader, do you measure performances during the crisis? If yes, what are the key parameters that are considered while measuring performances?
I think that in a crisis, the focus must be on enabling individuals to perform to their best. Therefore, motivating teams and defining expectations assume greater importance in these times. By doing this, we can keep the optimism up and inspire performance, which of course can be measured through key outcomes. At NSDC, we encourage each staff member to upskill themselves through online courses and relevant training so that the current crisis can be turned into an opportunity wherein we emerge stronger and more productive once business is back to normal.
With COVID-19 boosting remote working, how will the workforce and workplace will transform post this crisis?
We will certainly see changes in the way we work. Some companies are already looking at making work-from-home the new norm for many roles. However, there will always be other roles that will require in-person interaction. I also expect that many industries that have taken a huge financial hit due to the crisis will take some time to recover and will explore new, cost-controlled models to reach their targets. It is also expected that various roles that suit a blended style of working which involves remote working would emerge post this crisis. Here adoption of technology plays a highly critical role which enables individuals to improve their productivity while requiring lesser in-person interaction.
This would not just change the way we work but also change the way we learn and embed our learning into work.
NSDC plays an important role in upskilling people and giving them a better career. How has COVID-19 impacted NSDC?
Although training operations have been put on hold during the lockdown, teams at NSDC are working remotely to ensure that operations resume successfully once the lockdown period ends. Our training partners are also expected to resume training programs post the lockdown. Although the current situation poses numerous challenges, at the same time, it creates potential for newer kinds of opportunities. At NSDC, we constantly aim to identify innovative models of design and delivery. For example, during the current lockdown, we leveraged technology to conduct a live online orientation session for our trainers across more than 15 states in India. The session aimed at enabling the trainers to conduct online classes from home for students, including how the students would be able to access classes from anywhere using internet-enabled devices.
What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing in upskilling people and how are you navigating through these challenges?
Currently, all our training activities on the ground have been put on hold to comply with the ongoing lockdown. However, we are anticipating certain challenges when operations resume. For instance, there may be an increased sense of worry associated with the risk of infection during in-person training. To address this issue, centers may train fewer number of candidates per batch, leading to a reduction in the capacity utilization of our training centers. Some centers, such as the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras possess the infrastructure to train up to 300 students at a time but may only be able to train fewer students.
Further, due to the practical nature of vocational courses, the conventional brick and mortar model of training may need to evolve. Training providers may need to embed online components into existing training programs. Further, they may need to develop systems wherein some students can come to class, while others can study remotely.
You are completing five years as the MD & CEO of NSDC. What would you say were your achievements and what is your agenda for NSDC five years from now?
NSDC has played a pivotal role in creating skill training capacity, incentivizing and funding skilling initiatives, fostering private sector participation, and facilitating skills delivery across a variety of sectors. Our focus has been on improving the quality of training and matching the right skill to the right demand. Our skilling model and systems are being continuously improved, and this is shown in the increased interest of other developed countries in the Indian skilling ecosystem.
One noteworthy mechanism using which NSDC has catalyzed private sector participation is in the creation of a network of 657 private training providers that operate over 11,000 training centers pan India, with the capacity to skill 5 million youth annually. This has been achieved through NSDC’s intervention on the lines of a development financing institution, with over $200 Mn in loans made as patient capital to these private organizations. Going forward, NSDC will continue to focus on improving the accessibility and quality of our interventions, increasing the aspirational value of skills, and strengthening private sector participation.