Article: nasscom's Kirti Seth on closing the AI skills gap in India


nasscom's Kirti Seth on closing the AI skills gap in India

The pressing demand for hundreds of thousands of AI professionals in India underscores the critical need to enhance the skills of the workforce, says Kirti Seth of nasscom.
nasscom's Kirti Seth on closing the AI skills gap in India

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making inroads into businesses across industries. Kirti Seth, CEO of SSC nasscom, a non-profit organisation, emphasises this growing impact. With three decades of experience in entrepreneurship and management, Seth finds herself at the forefront of the AI revolution, leading nasscom’s Sector Skills Council. She describes her role as both challenging and exhilarating, particularly as she spearheads initiatives like Future Skills Prime and the National Technology Skilling Platform in collaboration with the Ministry of IT. 

In this exclusive interview, Seth delves into the critical issue of skilling and upskilling in the age of generative AI, offering insights into the challenges and opportunities facing India's workforce.

What is the current state of India's AI talent shortage? How does it compare globally?

India faces a critical shortage of AI talent, with an estimated 200,000-300,000 professionals needed this year alone. This shortage necessitates a focus on upskilling both new and existing workers to meet the growing demand for AI expertise across all sectors.

Nasscom, as an industry body and Sector Skills Council, is leading the charge to address this gap through a comprehensive national AI skilling framework and a learning platform offering diverse courses in emerging technologies. Collaborating with industry and academia, nasscom is developing AI-focused certifications and curricula to equip learners with the technical knowledge and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in India's digital economy.

Beyond specific technical skills, what are the critical thinking and adaptability skills vital for success in an AI-driven workplace?

It is important to blend critical thinking and problem-solving skills in today's technology-driven industries. Similarly, communication is crucial because it allows team members and customers to understand and value the solutions being offered. Effective communication can often be a decisive factor in business success, even more so than the technical sophistication of a product.

As work environments become increasingly hybrid, the ability to function effectively in diverse and dispersed teams is more important than ever. In the transition to hybrid work models where physical location becomes irrelevant, there is a need for strong virtual communication skills to manage teams effectively.

Moreover, as technology evolves, particularly with the rise of generative AI, the focus shifts from mere coding to devising innovative solutions. The real differentiator in the future will be the ability to apply technology creatively to solve problems and deliver value, rather than just technical ability alone.

How can companies, educational institutions, and government bodies best work together to accelerate AI skill development?

There is an urgency for collective action to address the skill gap in India.  A key strategy is the redesign of incentive programs, drawing a parallel with the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, which effectively aligns incentives with desired outcomes.  

The crucial role of industry in shaping skill development programs cannot be ruled out. The government is increasingly ensuring that skilling initiatives are driven by industry demands, enhancing the relevance and employability of the skills taught.  

What are the unique challenges in upskilling the Indian workforce?

First is the logistical issue of reaching a massive, geographically dispersed population. Urban-centric companies face difficulties in accessing potential learners from remote or less developed areas.

Secondly, while platforms like Future Skills Prime and programs like Skill India are pivotal in distributing educational resources widely, ensuring that learners have the prerequisite knowledge, such as Mathematics or Statistics for courses in AI or Big Data, remains a challenge. 

Moreover, there's an information asymmetry problem. Many potential learners are unaware of the available resources that could help them upskill. Bridging this gap in awareness is crucial.

How can we specifically address gender disparities in the AI field and encourage more women to enter and thrive in this space?

The issue of increasing women's participation in the workforce, especially in tech and AI, is multifaceted. On one hand, there's a push to have more women enter these fields, while on the other, it's crucial to ensure that women are ready and able to join. Hybrid work models are proving beneficial in this regard, providing flexible opportunities that help women balance work with other responsibilities, leading to more women feeling fulfilled and empowered in their careers.

Additionally, returnship programmes across major IT companies help women re-enter the workforce after breaks, reinforcing the industry's commitment to supporting women's careers. NASSCOM’s Nari Shakti campaign and partnerships like "Code Without Barriers" with Microsoft aim to skill a million women in AI, signaling a strong drive to remove barriers for women in tech.

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Topics: Skilling, Business, Skills Assessments

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