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Upskilling for the digital and rapidly changing industry needs, but it is not back to school

By Ajay Kela

Digital transformation has been hanging over the heads of most workers like the Sword of Damocles. Sooner or later, everyone would have to upskill to keep pace with change. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated that change dramatically. A recent McKinsey Global Survey found that companies have accelerated digitizing of their customer and supply-chain interactions and internal operations by three to four years. The share of digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by seven years. 1 The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs Report 2020 says that 84 percent of employers will digitize working processes rapidly. 2 These assessments and forecasts point to a new era of work. In the absence of digital skills, people may not retain their current jobs or deal with substantially reduced pay. Many traditional jobs will vanish, and without digital skills, new employment will become impossible.

No one can wait for tomorrow to acquire digital skills. Tomorrow is here.

There is yet another remarkable aspect to the urgency to acquiring more relevant skills. Labor markets, business environments, and technologies are changing so rapidly that upskilling cycles are becoming shorter, adding substantially to the risk of becoming redundant. The Future of Jobs Report 2020 says that for “those workers who stay in their roles, the share of core skills that will change by 2025 is 40 percent, and 50 percent of all employees will need reskilling.” People will not go back to college to reskill or upskill. They must “learn to learn”. The 21 st Century evergreen skills of critical thinking and problem-solving enable learning to learn. As manufacturing gets automated, service-based economies are thriving, and customer-centricity skills are slated to earn a premium. Finally, in an increasingly global economy, English being the most common language of communication, acquiring robust written and verbal English skills will enhance employment opportunities.

Learning English online isn’t difficult. There are scores of websites, many free, that help learn the language using flash cards and visuals, around topics of the student’s interest, through typing, speaking and listening, along with motivational prompts, self-paced learning and progress trackers. 3 Today, it is possible to pick up skills of almost any type on the internet, ranging from digital design and online marketing to service-centric soft skills, customer relationship management, and even how to use basic CRM software, spreadsheets and word processors.

Digital literacy is an important professional skill – using a smartphone to get work done is now the new normal. An example of this is the army of health care workers across India who use mobile phone apps in Primary Health Care (PHC) centers that do not have computers and broadband, to complete the Covid-19 vaccination process and update government records.

Another example is that of Ecommerce delivery agents who must learn to use mobile devices to locate addresses, make deliveries, and complete delivery records. These skills are not as simple as they sound. They require the student to use technology, find information and evaluate data. The Wadhwani Foundation has 21st-Century core employability skills with over 700 hours of mobile and video content on cloud that is specially designed to improve an individual’s chances of getting a job. 4 The skills are closely aligned with the qualities that employers look for: communication and listening skills, digital skills, problem-solving and critical thinking capabilities, a propensity for teamwork, workplace awareness and an entrepreneurial mindset. In addition, the foundation offers sectoral skills for those interested in healthcare, retail and hospitality and IT jobs.

The road to employment-focused skills is bumpy. There are challenges. Besides motivating and finding time to upskill constantly, many will struggle with the required hardware and broadband to access prolific online education programs that are the norm in reskilling now. But progress is being made in ?the area of online skilling with the government’s National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) 5 that encourages online learning. The government’s Digital India 6 initiative promises to provide high-speed internet in rural parts of the country. The ecosystem to support digital skilling at scale is falling in place. It needs to accelerate its progress in keeping with the pace of digitalization and upskilling needs.

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