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India's business leaders must build the workforce of the future, now

The new leadership imperative is clear: create the future workforce, now

Rekha Menon 

India's business leaders must build the workforce of the future, now

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is creating winners and losers at both an organisational and individual level. Such seismic shifts will affect several sectors of the economy and may even contribute to social unrest. Society is now faced with an unprecedented situation: a huge swathe of the population runs the risk of being rendered irrelevant and unemployable.

The very concept of work is being redefined as different generations enter and exit the workforce amidst a rapidly changing technological landscape. Responsive and responsible leaders at the very highest levels of our organizations must act to harness the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for long-term advantage and shareholder value.

These leaders must put their people first and ensure their employees are relevant and adaptable. The stakes are high for businesses, workers and society. The new leadership imperative is clear: create the future workforce, now.

Research by Accenture to help leaders understand the situation and their options includes a survey exploring the impact of technological advances on work today and in the future. The responses from workers in India are as follows:

  • 98 per cent of workers are optimistic about the changes technology will bring to work in next five years;
     
  • 91 per cent of workers have a positive attitude about the impact of automation on the work experience in next five years;
     
  • 98 per cent of workers expect part of their job to be automated in the next five years;
     
  • 97 per cent of workers would invest free time to learn new skills to stay relevant;

Workers say the top skills needed to stay relevant at work in next five years are: technical skills, an ability to change and learn and an ability to work with intelligent machines.

From this research, a picture has emerged of the actions required of business leaders in India to shape and prepare the workforce along the entire talent supply chain. Chief among them are:

  • Speed up retraining people
     
  • Redesign work to unlock human potential
     
  • Strengthen the talent pipeline from its source

Expedite the retraining process

New jobs are being created that require skills which don’t yet exist at scale. Companies need to increase the speed of retraining and position their organisation, and people, as winners in this newest revolution; or risk leaving entire generations of workers without work or the skills to acquire it, destabilising the lives of individuals and society at large.

The skills gap is becoming an ever-widening chasm and businesses complain of a talent shortage. Business leaders need to act as they have a fundamental obligation when it comes to retraining the workforce. This needs to be managed carefully, transparently and collaboratively by business, government and stakeholders. IT-ITES Sector Skills Council NASSCOM (SSC NASSCOM) was set up in 2012 by industry association NASSCOM in partnership with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a public-private partnership to develop a skilled workforce for the industry. An important mission of SSC NASSCOM is to build a high-quality, standards-based system for the assessment and certification of all stakeholders involved in retraining activities.

Redesigning work to unlock human potential

The demographics, attitudes and physical composition of the workforce have changed in the digital age. Workers and workplaces need to become more relevant, more adaptive. Leaders need to harness these shifting dynamics in order to win the latest revolution. Rigid, formal job structures do not support the speed and agility demanded by digital innovation. Redefining and co-creating employment opportunities through more responsive role-based and gig-like work is a reality. These opportunities need to be available to both full-timers and freelancers.

Savvy organisations are creating physical and virtual networks to facilitate community building, deliver access to valuable skills training, generate feedback and create access to potential new roles and projects. Putting in place systems to help employees retrain and become lifelong learners helps to improve the employability of talent and enhances the capacity of the organization to deal with change. Retraining ultimately allows companies to rapidly tap into new sources of talent when needed.

Strengthen the talent pipeline from its source

Changes wrought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution are widening the talent shortage. A gap that will only worsen as advances in technology further increase talent mismatches. While businesses complain about a lack of availability of skilled talent, the new entrants to the workforce are not able to find matching roles. This skill mismatch is due to a disconnection between what the businesses need and what the education system provides.

Technical jobs at all skill levels require more than purely technical skills. Consider software engineers: this is a role that requires creativity, collaboration and business savvy – the so-called “human skills”. As per a survey conducted by SSC NASSCOM, more than 60% of organizations related to IT services observed a need to improve the communication and problem-solving skills of the workforce.

All of this should be a concern for leaders and an opportunity for those who are responsive and responsible. After all, the root cause of skills gaps reaches far back to include primary and higher education. Even vocational training programmes produce workers with inadequate skills at worst, and at best skills that become irrelevant before retraining can even happen.

There are many reasons for this: from silos that exist among talent pipeline participants; to the inflexibility of the education system to change what and how it teaches. Workers start from behind and have to play catch-up. In its Three-Year Action Agenda 2017-18 to 2019-20 released in August 2017, NITI Aayog, the Indian government’s policy think tank, has rightly suggested several measures which focus on improving the learning outcomes of the education system as that has a direct impact on the supply of skilled talent.

Businesses may not be the cause of the talent pipeline problem, but like workers themselves, they experience the brunt of its effects. Although retraining within their own organisations and systems is critical, leaders need to do more to influence change at the source.
Author is Chairman and Senior Managing Director, Accenture in India

This article is published in collaboration with the in the run-up to the 2017- more information about the summit at wef.ch/ies17

First Published: Thu, October 05 2017. 14:09 IST
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