A 2019 UNICEF report on the widening skill gap in South Asia sent shockwaves worldwide, revealing that over half the students in the subcontinent lack the skills to get 21st-century jobs. The problem has been brewing ever since emerging technologies like AI, automation, and other disruptive forces like the gig economy created a dent in the employment market by changing the nature of jobs. On top of that, the pandemic only worsened the gap by exposing structural weaknesses and policy gaps across economies.
Now, about half of all employees worldwide need to reskill themselves to face the double disruption caused by pandemic and digital transformation — and that doesn't even include recent graduates about to enter the workforce. The problem is much more complex for a young country like India, where 15 million people enter the job market every year, of which 75% aren't job-ready. The most worrying part is that the skill gap will only worsen with the greater adoption of digital technologies and the creation of new jobs demanding unique digital skills. The glaring imbalance points towards the urgent requirement to make an inclusive economy that supports continuous learning and reskilling to catch up with the digital disruption. There's a need for a paradigm shift to develop solutions needed to survive the rapidly transforming world.
Prioritising continuous learning
Albert Einstein's words 'Once you stop learning, you start dying' couldn't be more relevant and essential than now. It is now clearly established that learning will occupy the centre stage in the future of work. And employers play a crucial role in developing a skilling system that promotes a culture of learning and development for employees at all levels. Such a learning culture isn't limited to one-day workshops or virtual webinars; instead, it requires a blend of traditional and digital ways of learning rigorous processes involving classroom training, performance management, and experiential learning.
Several companies recognise the need to invest in skill development strategies to prove their workforces from economic uncertainty. However, the condition of the hour is to prioritize skill development and focus on democratised learning that drives curiosity and innovation. For example, CGI, an IT and business consulting major, took a range of steps like migrating to an improved learning experience platform, 'CGI Academia', and partnering with NASSCOM to accelerate skill development.
Moreover, employers should create learning opportunities by allowing departmental rotations, geographic rotations and offering work assignments on relevant skills, exposure, and experience to keep up with the changing environment.
Shaping the future workforce through apprenticeship
Companies can leverage an old fashioned-method, Apprenticeship, to counter-challenge the shortage of skilled workforce. An apprenticeship allows companies to cultivate new skills and shape the future of the workforce. For recent graduates, it is a golden opportunity to get on-the-job training by working with some of the industry experts in the company. Apprenticeships can help businesses in many ways.
For instance, engineering college graduates who enroll in an apprenticeship program at SE2 have to go through a comprehensive multi-week induction program before they join. The program has become an essential part of future hiring and growth and has allowed the recruitment of the right talent at the right position. Some companies like IBM have apprenticeship programmes that empower people without an advanced degree. IBM looks for talent with soft skills like creative problem-solving ability, empathy, accountability, and a passion for what they want to do.
A connected learner’s community
Investing in skill development isn't as easy as it sounds. One of the most challenging parts of skill development is uncertainty. The skills, which are relevant today might be less relevant tomorrow. The most effective way to address this problem is by leveraging digital tools to create a community of perpetual learning who can enhance their skills with the changing job market. HR can provide a conducive learning environment through policies that encourage skills identification, employee motivation, and learning solutions. Several digital tools and big data analytics solutions can help companies predict the skill needs based on the demand and growth of emerging technologies.
Humans are the most important asset any business can have, and the widening skill gap is hampering economies, companies, and individuals in ways we can't imagine. Companies should start investing in their employees by prioritising their careers, experiences, and learning curve. Businesses should also rope in educators and policymakers as their partners in shaping the future of the workforce by striking a balance to correct the mismatched skill gap. We need a collaborative effort today to fill the massive skill gap that has been worsening for years.
This article was first published in October 2021.