The International Labour Organization has forecast that the pandemic could reduce global working hours by nearly 7 percent in the second quarter of 2020—equivalent to 195 million full-time jobs. McKinsey’s analysis suggests that, in regions as diverse as Africa, Europe, and the United States, up to a third of the workforce is vulnerable to reduced income, furloughs, or layoffs as a result of the crisis. Many millions of jobs could be lost permanently and many have already been lost.
But many experts also expect the global economy to slowly revive. In most countries lockdown is now lifted and even the worst hit sectors like aviation and hospitality are now opening up. Further like a silver lining in the black clouds, the pandemic has also bolstered demands for digital skills and talent in sectors like health, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, and e-commerce.
It has become absolutely critical that talent leaders now invest their time and effort in identifying the critical roles, mapping the skill requirements, and preparing the workforce for the now and the future of work. Talent leaders would have to work along with the other stakeholders like the employees, the government, and other associations. The process starts with building on the broad views of the sectors, functions, and occupations at risk. Most importantly, focusing on the skills that have become more relevant amid the pandemic.
Skills in demand
“The pandemic has accelerated the need for 21st century literacies. Tech skills such as AI, ML, XR and cloud computing will continue to be in demand in the next decade, however, being effective remote workers possessing creativity, influence, storytelling skills and the ability to synthesize digital content will become key differentiators for young talent,” says Sumeet Moghe, Principal Consultant, ThoughtWorks.
The coming years will be quite interesting for the job market. One one hand, we’ll welcome the digital natives born in this century. On the other hand, as we emerge from this downturn, low skill jobs will give way to higher skill jobs in a highly distributed environment. And, that’s going to drive a massive mismatch in demand-supply.
New entrants to the job market, only familiar with commodity skills, could become obsolete at a very early stage in their careers. For example, it's not enough to just be a full stack programmer.
“One needs exposure to multiple new technologies while demonstrating the ability to work collaboratively and remotely. To that end, industry, government and academia need to partner up to ensure the next generation has real world experience in relevant tech and soft skills, well before they hit the job market,” added Moghe.
Further from the perspective of package skills, “S4 Hana, SFDC and Adobe Experience Suite are gaining high traction,” added Balakrishnan.
At this juncture, it is critical for the youth venturing into the workforce to stay ahead of the curve by educating themselves and sharpening their skills across a plethora of technologies.
"Careers journeys are no longer looked at as climbing up a ladder, but rather exploring a web, therefore learning agility backed with cognitive ability and skills sharpened by continuous exposure to learning will give one an edge above the rest," said Shraddhanjali Rao, Vice President and Head- HR, SAP India.
Skill building: Top talent priority for COVID-19 & Beyond
The importance of skilling has been even before the COVID-19 crisis; with the pandemic it has only increased. The context has changed but the purpose has remained intact: securing a better future for the young workforce and making them more employable, bridging the skill demand-supply gap.
Ramananda SG, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Pearson India, shared with People Matters, “Preceding current crisis, skill development was essential for young learners to secure jobs, however, in the post-COVID-19 scenario with job losses and increasing unemployment, the requirement for skill development has become crucial and requisite.”
As per the Global Learner Survey by Pearson, 81% people in India believe that workers will need to improve uniquely human skills like creative thinking, reasoning and collaboration among others to thrive in the new economy. At least 78% of students agree that they need to develop their soft skills alongside the knowledge of STEM to prepare for tomorrow’s job market. 73% of people say that academic institutions should do more to use their expertise and increase their soft skills offerings for learners.
Not only traditional hard skills, but the stress over soft skills have equally become important as communication becomes key through online platforms. For example, teachers training to impart online lectures has become extremely critical since education has gone virtual, this requires very different skills which schools and institutions did not foresee. “Similarly, many other industries have their own challenges which are being addressed through upskilling,” said Ramananda.
The era of digital education
"With virtual options becoming available, it is more feasible than ever to access learning opportunities," said University of Michigan's Barnett. "The key, as always, is to ensure you are being effective with your reskilling/upskilling dollars, by engaging in high quality learning experiences that are designed with your outcomes in mind."
On the bright side, the young workforce of today has access to a plethora of free or less expensive courses on various platforms from Google to LinkedIn to Genpact. Many companies, universities, and government associations are making these deliberate decisions to take their courses free and enable the young workforce future proof themselves.
Recently, Microsoft has collaborated with NSDC’s eSkill India portal to provide free access to learning resources and conduct digital skilling awareness drives, equipping the next generation of learners with the skills they need to thrive in a digital economy.
Microsoft also launched a global skills initiative aimed at bringing more digital skills to 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year. This initiative has brought together existing and new resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft. And while this is being referred to as one of the largest skills initiatives in Microsoft’s history, Brad Smith - President, Microsoft acknowledges that that no company can come close to closing the skills gap alone.
Sustained progress in skilling will require a renewed partnership between stakeholders across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.
Who owns the skilling agenda?
The pandemic has ironically brought everyone in the world of work closer. Ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, organizations, academic institutions, governments, and world associations have united, partnered for various reasons to battle the challenges of COVID-19. Even to lead the skilling initiative, companies across the globe are coming together and partnering to prepare the workforce for the new reality of work.
For instance, in India, Amazon has launched a skilling program under the National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS), across its Fulfilment Centres in India. The company aims at training youth whose learning journey or placement was impacted due to COVID-19 pandemic. Apprentices will be identified through various sources including NSDC-accredited training centers (DDU-GKY Centers) and the NSDC Skilling Database. This program will enable Amazon India to contribute to the government’s commitment towards skilling and increasing employability of the apprentices.
As Ranganath NK, Grundfos Water Ambassador, Grundfos India said, “Companies can partner with their relevant sector specific council to work together in helping to meet the growing skill demand of the sector.”
Some companies are in fact actively working with learning institutions to train their employees in the skills they need.
For example, Amanda Gervay, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Mastercard in Asia Pacific, shared that Mastercard has recently partnered with the National University of Singapore to expand its global tuition assistance program in the region. The idea is to let employees access subsidized courses in important functional areas such as data analytics and data science, machine learning, and cybersecurity. "For our early career talent in particular, we will continue to focus more on soft skills development in categories such as higher order cognitive thinking, emotional intelligence and social skills which are essential for preparing this group for the future of work," she added.
“Apprenticeship programs should also be promoted to help the youth get on the job training and to help in boosting the skill development mission further. All degree and diploma courses should become sandwiched courses with at least one semester at work for all students,” suggested Ranganath.
SAP India is also supporting government initiatives and has been contributing to the same with the help of innovative technology solutions as well as digital skill building and promotion of tech-entrepreneurship. We have initiated several programs like Code Unnati, Bharat ERP, Global Bharat aimed to promote nation building with the help of digital literacy. Similarly, Britannia Industries Ltd is also supporting 10,000 homemakers on entrepreneurial skills through a customized training program in partnership with NSDC.
Ultimately, skilling in the post COVID-19 environment remains every bit as important, if not more important, given the gaps that the upheaval of the last few months has exposed. Skill development has always been one of the priority areas for the government as well as corporates, even before the pandemic. It is one of the key factors to achieve exponential economic growth. And for a V-shaped recovery of the economy, ‘skilling’ will be absolutely critical. To address the skilling challenge, all the stakeholders in the world of work, including employers, government, and working professionals themselves have to unite and work together.