As a broader theme this year, the United Nations on World Youth Skills Day 2021 pays tribute to the resilience and creativity of youth through the crisis. The last 18 months have been tough for the entire world but the young workforce who were looking ahead towards a better tomorrow were suddenly dealing with lack of job opportunities, retrenchments, and witnessing an economic downturn. In most countries, the ambiguity and uncertainty regarding the future still persists. However, some industries see themselves emerging and moving towards recovery mode. As companies and countries look to bounce back, they look for talent and the right skills to enable their growth.
It is time for the young workforce to make most for this opportunity and keep an eye out on the in demand skills. As employers, the organizations, on the other hand, have to start investing in continuous growth and development of these young workforce and make them job-ready.
In the last one and a half year, the companies which have been able to show resilience to bounce back and creativity to adapt for the now of work, have been able to not only survive but thrive. The companies have to continue investing in these skills as they still operate in an ambiguous business environment.
Let’s explore how organizations should reimagine their skilling strategy for the young workforce and build a resilient & creative workforce of the future that helps them stay ahead of the curve:
Addressing the shifting skilling priorities
The pandemic brought to the fore certain key attributes which need to form the core of any skill set. These include strong digital and commercial acumen coupled with emotional and social intelligence in a world with hybrid styles of working and the inherent pressures of performance and productivity in an uncertain setup.
Tanu Srivastava, Head – Learning & Development, AirAsia India said, “The younger workforce needs to be able to adapt to change very quickly, innovate and find creative solutions to problems, stay steadfast on their ethics while at the same time manage their emotions and stress with high levels of maturity.”
The new world of work belongs to the skilled more than to university degree holders. Leading organisations globally including Tesla, Google, Deloitte, etc have already announced that a college degree is not necessary to apply for jobs. “More crucial are skills such as coding, communication, problem solving, creativity, critical thinking etc,” shared Sujatha Kshirsagar, Chief Sales Officer, Career Launcher Pvt Ltd.
"Skills like creative and critical thinking, adaptability, communication and collaboration skills, along with expertise in project and crisis management are what talent acquisition specialists are now looking for," added Suraj Chettri, Regional Director - Human Resources, Airbus India & South Asia.
But for HR and L&D leaders the journey to create a more skilled and future-ready workforce begins with identifying the most relevant skills in demand and then finding the most effective learning pathways which fuel both individual and business growth.
Amanda Puravankara, Director Provident Housing suggests, “The first step towards skilling in the new work-life paradigm is to assess the skill gaps in the organization through people analytics tools.”
While building skilling strategies for the young workforce, talent leaders can leverage data and business metrics to guide the talent decisions rather than depend on subjective assumptions. “The skilling strategy must address the overall organizational setbacks as well as individualized learning aspirations. Incorporating employee inputs and having a more democratized approach can make the program more effective,” added Amanda.
Reimagining the skilling strategy for the young workforce
To enable skill-building among the young workforce, several companies have started adopting the hire-train-deploy (HTD) model, wherein campus recruits can be trained by subject matter experts in the organizations or even staffing firms on the exact skill requirements before deploying them with the clients or specific products/projects within a company.
Vikrant Gupta, Vice President - HR, Global Markets and DTS, HARMAN said, “Such employer led initiatives can help bridge the gap and culminate to a niche talent pool.”
He further added how the technology disruptions are changing the demand-supply equations further and to counter that, organizations have to be creative in their ability to manage the changing needs in skills. “Companies need to think ahead and invest in areas by considering factors like- expansion of tier 2 cities, partnerships with government to further strengthen the skill repository and considering the gig economy into the mainstream more aggressively,” told Vikrant.
In the last one and half years, organizations have increasingly invested in skilling and introduced new initiatives to boost talent development For instance, Wells Fargo created internal learning Future Fluency, an employee upskilling initiative to provide courses across the spectrum of Emerging Technologies, Emerging Skills, and Business Acumen. “From the banking industry perspective, it was also about linking skilling opportunities to emerging customer digital journeys and the fast-evolving technologies that power these changes,” shared Ramesh Kumar, Senior Vice President & HR Site Leader - India, Wells Fargo.
Ever since the pandemic, there has also been a rise in self-paced learning. While the learners want to drive their own learning journeys, organizations have to support them with the right resources.
Shantanu Rooj, CEO and Founder of TeamLease Edtech suggests to focus more on experiential learning or learning in the flow of work, where employers create opportunities for the young workforce to develop emerging skills through the diverse projects they take up.
“At an organisational level, young workforce should be given opportunities to showcase their potential across job roles,” said Shantanu. He also highlighted the increased use of reward theory to nudge employees to be more driven to upskill themselves. AirAsia India’s Tanu also encourages more leaders to create a culture of recognition to drive motivation and opportunities to apply learnings. It is critical to ensure that learning gets embedded and the workforce remains enthused.
In addition, helping finance their further education, connecting them to industry dialogues and conferences, organizing internal training and promoting a culture of learning can be a great way to prepare the young employees for the roles of future leaders. It is also ideal for organizations to identify skill gaps of the workforce and assist them to get access to the right kind of training for bridging this skill gap.
With the rapid disruption and continued uncertainity the young workforce also needs more guidance and support from other experienced leaders and experts. The result of young people facing their second global crisis in a decade is, at best, temporary disruption and disillusionment and, at worst, permanent scarring and lost opportunity. Where can youth find hope? "As a start, youth can be taught resilience and self-efficacy through experiential learning and connections to mentors and role models," suggests Shalender Sharma, Director, Education and Skill Development, IPE Global.
For instance, Embassy Services Pvt Ltd has launched ‘Young Leaders Program’ where a talent pool goes through skill assessments and are guided by professional coaches. "This helps us identify and help them develop their personal strengths," shares Sreelakshmi Venugopal, Deputy General Manager, and HR Head- Embassy Services Pvt Ltd and TC Facilities Management.
Enabling career growth with dynamic & personalized skilling
The pandemic led to a surge in self-learning apps and virtually delivered programs. “Most models tend to be static and knowledge based and the future is about dynamic, personalized and relevant content,” shared Amit Chincholikar, Global CHRO, Tata Consumer Products Limited.
While the content needs to be more relevant, the learning modes have to become more engaging and inspiring for the learners. Subi Chaturvedi, Chief Corporate & Public Affairs Officer, Zupee said, "Organizations can contribute to career growth and development by moving out of classroom setting and traditional training programs, which most likely will not work in the new normal."
With gamified e-skilling programs, organisations should develop creative training solutions which are largely language agnostic and can be easily accessed for retraining or re-learning purposes. Organizations should promote horizontal and vertical training and find creative ways of incentivising training completion, with financial benefits, perks, recognitions, performance ratings, promotions, or through other means, rather than making it mandatory. This will keep the young workforce driven, motivated, and striving.
Krishna Kumar- Founder and CEO of Simplilearn shared with People Matters, “Over the past one year, we have seen a significant increase in corporate learner enrolments on the Simplilearn platform, demonstrating how the global skilling sector is on the rise, with a larger emphasis on tech-based skilling. In addition to corporates, we are also seeing increased interest from large private universities, who are supplementing what is required by the university with online skilling programs enabling students to acquire industry-relevant skills.”
Building and fostering a workforce of the future involves consistent planning and strategy. Employers need to be more invested in developing the young workforce and this requires embedding a culture of continuous learning into the very system of the organization.
Suraj said, "Recent experience has taught us that resilience and creativity to deal with the challenges will have to be developed at organization level and should not be limited to individuals."
Studies have shown that creativity at team or organization level can be built with systematic interventions like SIT (Systematic Innovation Technique or Systematic Inventive Thinking) or divergent thinking processes. The organization must provide a conducive environment to promote this culture, and encourage or reward employees for experimenting new ideas. Suraj proposes 'promoting a culture of intrapreneurship' as a solution.
Open channels of communication and transparency can help leaders create relevant and impactful learning experiences for the young workforce.
“The survival of youth in this competitive landscape completely depends on the vigor to gain more knowledge, focus on consistent upskilling sessions, leveraging cutting-edge technologies, and develop the ability to unlearn and relearn fresh information,” shared Surabhi Goel, CEO, Aditya Birla Education Academy. But it is impossible for the young force of employees to propel this journey in an ambiguous business without the support of employers, institutions and government.
Suchita Dutta, Executive Director, Indian Staffing Federation suggests, "Companies should take the lead in closing the global skill gap and preparing employees for the future of work. Some of which can be done by scouting employee potential, assessing gaps, and reviewing readiness and applying skilling strategies accordingly."
While the young generation of employees takes the driving seat to ensure a better future for themselves, the various other stakeholders should work together to support them with the right learning resources.