Fueling the workforce with the right set of skills
This article was originally published in People Matters - Nov 2019 - Source Link
The future of skills-From STEM to STEAM
The Indian IT industry continues to attract talent and is an employer of choice with net hiring of over 1.5 lakh people each year.

As technologies advance at an incredible pace, digital transformation is propelling businesses forward. Bots, Artificial Intelligence, deep learning, data science are no longer buzzwords but part of our everyday reality. From online shopping experiences that are able to "suggest" choices to the customized AI assistants that are making our homes smarter, technology is a part of our lives. India is expected to become the ‘Skill Capital of World’ and is set to be the youngest country by 2020. By extension, it will have the largest working population.

The Indian IT industry continues to attract talent and is an employer of choice with net hiring of over 1.5 lakh people each year. The industry is moving from a scale-based model to a skill-based model with niche skills in streams like data sciences, mobility solutions, cloud integrators, etc. Digital Transformation is changing the business landscape and impacting career and competency landscape of companies. "What got you here won’t get you there" is apt in today’s VUCA world and employees as well as employers are constantly trying to catch up with skills.

Hiring "Right"

In this new phase of digital transformation led growth, organizations contend with expansion of technologies and concurrent need for skilled talent. There is an increasing demand for deployment-ready new hires, and organizations are looking at increasing efficiencies of their talent pipelines. Finding people with right skillset and attitude is important to ensure faster time to deliver against business objectives. Niche skills in technology and industry domains continue to be available at a premium and are sourced through mature job portals and providers. In addition, the trend of consultants to kickstart or seed skills is gaining traction. Organizations choose experienced industry leaders to consult and establish processes, and platforms to upskill/ reskill the target employees.

Mainstream hiring practices are evolving. Screening practices of organizations have moved from personal interviews to processes that include skill verification assessments. Technical competence is gets evaluated through AI powered objective assessments, and simulations for varying degrees of expertise. We also see organizations using psychometric assessments to evaluate soft skills at the hiring level for leadership roles. These assessments help identify the right l fit for the organization in context of its growth roadmap

Widening the Talent Pipeline

As organizations become strict about hiring “right skills”, it leads to a shrinking talent pool. The need to widen the talent pipeline has become stronger, and skills-conscious organizations are working with professional colleges to collaborate for relevant employment skills. Talent outreach programs include organizations deploying their training functions for skill development. Many such partnerships include engaging colleges in a faculty development program to strengthen the skill source. It creates stronger relationships and commitment for both the organization and the educational institutes. Early movers are also planning to target high schools to start skill development early, and offset employment costs.

Skilling initiatives and programs are many – including government supported ones – hiring the "right skill" creates the right differentiator for an organization.

Reskilling the Workforce

While it is easier to shape incoming talent for desired skillsets, it is equally important to focus on reskilling existing employees. Skill obsolescence is a big challenge and increasing at the same speed as technology advancement. Organizations need to focus on developing skills for current business relevance, gearing up for cutting-edge technology, and fostering bleeding edge disruptions.

Many organizations foster a culture where employees engage in self-directed learning to keep their skills relevant is. In parallel, organizations embark on large-scale reskilling programs. Such programs lock arms with internal champions and leaders to make available a common minimum program to its employees. Many large IT services companies invest in e-learning platforms to scale-up their skilling strategy. The programs aim to create awareness and knowledge of skills, concepts and applications. In addition to events like hackathons, skill contests, external thought leaders are invited to discuss trending skills and applications. Fostering internal communities of interest of domain areas further support this. Companies invest in digital labs to provide employees platforms to play and experiment with technologies they are learning, create prototypes, and co-create POCs along with their strategic customers. These digital labs showcase and demonstrate digital capabilities to potential and new customers.

Companies are also tying up with premier technical and management institutes to offer virtual certification programs. These contribute as employee incentives and a retention strategy.

Over time such initiatives create an ecosystem of employees, leaders, partners and customers and collectively increases the intellectual capital of the organization.

Are Technical Skills programs enough?

With new technologies, organization systems, and global and distributed teams, sector-agnostic core and professional skills are fast gaining prominence.

As many organizations focus on technical skills development program, differentiators bring together this digital-savvy workforce to work collaboratively. Soft skills related to learning agility, collaboration, emotional intelligence and managing results in a virtually connected ecosystem become important for leadership success.

We see these skills being added to organization systems across hiring, development and career growth. It is no longer about what you do, but also about how you do it.

The learning ecosystem is evolving too

A multi-generation workforce demands a multi-faceted learning strategy. As digital natives co-exist, collaborate and co-create with baby boomer generation, they experience and imbibe an organization’s skilling requirements differently. While some continue to prefer traditional methods of instructor led classrooms, newer learning methods of mobile apps, just-in-time access to knowledge and bot based tools are gaining traction for the new-age learner. Along with knowledge, it is becoming important to accelerate experience. Programs that help participants hone skills and attitudes through immersive experiences are gaining prominence. These experiences are created through strategic projects, cross-geo mobility programs and giving access to external melting pots of knowledge like executive education programs, seminars and other industry bodies.

As the shelf life of technical skills reduce, organizations need to create an agile plan for fueling the skill needs of their workforce. Investing in increasing the quality of talent will create the right differentiator of an organization’s thought leadership in a competitive landscape. It is important to define key performance indicators of every dollar that companies invest in such initiatives. ROI is measured through higher billing rates, increased revenue from digital technologies, and quicker turnaround in ramping up projects with new skills. The balancing act required to keep a wide pipeline to hire right, and creating internal ecosystems that scale skills quickly will be important differentiators for an organization.

Samit Deb
Samit Deb
Global Chief People Officer, Birlasoft
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