Article: As machines take over more tasks, humans with interpersonal skills will be in demand: nasscom’s Kirti Seth

Skilling

As machines take over more tasks, humans with interpersonal skills will be in demand: nasscom’s Kirti Seth

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Kirti Seth unveils the key challenges hindering India's journey towards becoming a digital talent hub.
As machines take over more tasks, humans with interpersonal skills will be in demand: nasscom’s Kirti Seth

The future is here. It is now.

In today's rapidly evolving landscape, every company, regardless of industry, needs a digitally fluent workforce to carry out its business. If India is to be the digital talent hub for the world – and that is the vision, there are many hurdles to be crossed. The good news is that these are well known and how to overcome them is an active topic of discussion in all stakeholder forums.

In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Kirti Seth, CEO for the IT-ITES Sector Skills Council at nasscom, shares insights on the key challenges faced by India in developing a skilled workforce for the digital future  and the crucial role learning, collaboration, and diversity in this endeavour. 

What are the key challenges India is facing in building a skilled workforce for the digital future, and how can they be overcome?

Educational institutions have used the policy shield for too long as an excuse to not change. Now, with the National Education Policy (NEP), that shield is gone but the mindset has not shifted and so implementation of the flexibility it offers is slow.  

We must also remember that there are almost 50,000 colleges in India. Many of them lack network infrastructure so their ability to access the plethora of digital resources is low. Even if hardware is available, bandwidth may be inadequate.  

The cost of devices is a serious concern – the digital divide is quite real.  

As machines do more and more human work, humans need to be more human.  

Those skills that set us apart from machines – communication, empathy, collaboration, creativity, reasoning – are not emphasised in schools and by the time the learner comes to college, they do not have the ability to think for themselves or express themselves.

More candidates get rejected from interviews for not having these skills than for the lack of technical skills.  This is a massive challenge because it needs a complete overhaul of pedagogy – how you teach is as important as what you teach.

And that brings me to the most important point of the availability of quality teachers.  

To quote a friend of mine, every parent wants their child to have an excellent teacher, but no parent wants their child to be a teacher. Until we offer our educators the respect and compensation their role deserves, we will continue to struggle, and we must be grateful to all those teachers out there who are following their passion and helping to build our youth in spite of so many challenges they face.  

What are the most important skills that will be needed in the digital future? How can education and training programmes be tailored to develop these skills?  

Young people need to work on their fundamentals. If your fundamentals are strong, you will be able to get your head around newer technologies as older technologies keep becoming obsolete. Online certificates and skills courses open new pathways to jobs.

Master your domain. Domain expertise will help you deepen your understanding of your customer pain points and challenges and design solutions accordingly.

As machines are enabled to do the task of humans, humans with innately human and interpersonal skills will be in demand. Creativity is one of the most valuable skills to have. Communication, collaboration, ability to work in a team, analytical thinking, problem solving skills are other skills in great demand.

With the rise of remote work and digital collaboration, how can India ensure that its workforce is prepared for new ways of working that will be required? 

The basic requirement is of course that everyone should be aware of digital skills, something we call Digital Fluency. This helps you to understand how technology is changing the world around you and how applications you use work. This goes not just for students but for teachers, company leaders, company management and government.  

If you know what technology can do, you can think about it and leverage it as part of your strategy.  

With Google search and now ChatGPT bursting onto the scene, there is no shortage of ready-made answers. What needs to be nurtured is the ability to reason and communicate and present with clarity and conviction. The teachers need to devise new ways of teaching where learners are asked to go and find out and then share and discuss. The pedagogy needs to inculcate professional skills along with technical skills and the lessons need to be interactive. Faculty should encourage students to work on projects to solve real life problems; the best way for learners to get their fundamentals crystal clear.

What role do you see the private sector playing in building a skilled workforce for India's digital future? How can they collaborate with the government and educational institutions to achieve this?

The industry academia gap is legendary. Years have gone by, but industry continues to believe that academia doesn’t understand what they need, and academia believes that industry can support them much more than they do. We try to be that bridge.

Faculty development is crucial for a future-ready digitally equipped workforce. Industry can step in to bring the latest skills to academia. To accelerate the existing academic efforts, industry can support faculty and Master Trainers to start their journey of learning and its application. Mentoring sessions also go a long way in sparking the curiosity of faculty and students alike in new technologies and skills.  

Industry can contribute by joining the Board of Studies and guiding academia on new trends, new jobs and new skills that improve employability and support them in updating their curricula.  

The explosion of digital technologies has increased the responsibility of industry because they need to work hand-in-hand to bring academia up to speed. There is a massive demand and supply gap of talent skilled in digital technologies.

The support industry provides academia leads to a win-win situation. Students get to learn new and relevant things and industry gets manpower that is empowered with skills and knowledge that they need. Once learners invest in getting themselves certified in these programmes, industry can give a clear signal on the power of being at the cutting edge by offering to employ those who have made the effort to do so.

Diversity and Inclusion is a key issue. What initiatives has nasscom undertaken to promote it in the tech industry?

Nasscom is committed to create a culture of diversity and inclusiveness in India.

At 1.8 million women employees – IT industry is the largest private-sector employer of women. To empower women techies, nasscom launched ‘The Women Wizards Rule Tech’ (W2RT) programme in June 2018 to support female coders to learn and acquire new skills.

Women MentHERship programme and Nasscom women product champions (NWPC) programme are other important programmes to encourage women in tech.

DSCI in partnership with Microsoft and MeitY, launched CyberShikshaa in September 2018, to train women engineering graduates from tier-II, tier-III cities and rural areas in cybersecurity and provide them placement assistance.

At FutureSkills Prime, we have 40 per cent women learners. On Republic Day, we launched #NariShaktiCertified, encouraging all Indian women, who want to rejoin the workforce, to enhance their careers.

Nasscom Foundation (NF) also provides skill-based training to women, men and youth from marginalised communities (from 22 per cent of beneficiaries being based in rural areas 2021-22, count increased to 75 per cent in 2022-23); also 58 per cent of the beneficiaries are women. NF’s Women Entrepreneurship Programme is reaching out to more than 1,00,000 women beneficiaries across the country.

Recently nasscom facilitated a collaboration between Nagarro and Action for Autism, a platform for employment of Persons with Disabilities (PwD) to train people with autism and similar challenges to become software testers.

We take diversity and inclusion very seriously and that shows in all the activity that takes place in nasscom and around it.

And finally, what advice do you have for young people in India who are interested in pursuing a career in the tech industry?

Only 35 per cent of STEM grads are employable in the tech sector owing to disconnect between university curriculum and market demand. Our objective is to increase that percentage but the responsibility for learning rests with the individual.  

There is no dearth of resources. Cost is also not a serious barrier.  If you don’t invest in your own learning, you have no one to blame for being left behind.

I have also heard conversations around ChatGPT and how it will do everything for you.  After all, if ChatGPTcan write code, why bother learning programming?  I want to assure people that you will still need to learn. It is those people who know the fundamentals AND the tools who will flourish.  So, there's no escape, but yes, do embrace the tools and get them to amplify your skills.

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Topics: Skilling, Technology, #Future of Work, #DigitalTransformation

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