India’s country-wide lockdown in 2020 and early 2021 – implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19 – disrupted businesses across both informal and formal sectors. Many companies, facing constraints on capital and liquidity, had to cut costs. These measures impacted incumbent graduates, who faced a heightened risk of termination or reduction in salaries.
At the same time, there is an emergence of new and changing job roles across industries such as BFSI, IT, Healthcare, Retail and Construction. The skill training organisations had to also adapt to the absence of physical training, limited means to mobilize candidates, the readiness of the infrastructure and the trainers to the new reality while adapting to the changing market conditions.
At a time when the spotlight is on Aatmanirbhar Bharat, the youth of the country need skills that make them self-confident, self-reliant and also job-ready. The second biggest focus after healthcare in this year’s budget is on skill, research and innovation. According to a 2021 survey report by FICCI, at least 9% Indians will be in jobs that do not exist currently and 37% of the workforce will require radically changed skill sets to meet their employment demands. Therefore, skill development programmes by way of Corporate Social Responsibility have to be robust if we are to enhance the crashing economy.
COVID-19 boosts CSR-funded skill development ecosystem
“The impact of COVID-19 on the industry has been significant, resulting in job losses, reverse migration, shrinking of certain industries leading to increased demand on the overall vocational training space. Having said that, the pandemic has also acted as a catalyst for social transformation and allowed us to turn into a more responsive, agile, and innovative organisation in skilling,” writes Rakesh Soni in 2021 report ‘Understanding the Return on Skills Training Models in India’ published by Sattva. Soni is the Chief Operating Officer of the Enterprise Division and the Chief People Officer at Tech Mahindra.
A new Microsoft-IDC study titled ‘Culture of Innovation: Foundation for business resilience and economic recovery in Asia Pacific’ has found that 29% of Indian businesses are investing in intensifying enterprise-wide capabilities and skilling initiatives. The findings point out that 51% workers and 48% leaders acknowledge that in three years, workforce models should include reskilling and upskilling opportunities so that employees adapt with agility to changing requirements.
Innovation and digitalization need to be supported by the development of people that are digital-ready. Specifically, 36% of organizations in India indicated that they would invest in tech skills across the organization as tech-savvy employees are needed to support digital transformation. In the year 2021, businesses are looking to focus on Technology (45%) and People (19%) to remain resilient and recover faster.
New training academies
With the advent of COVID-19, the blended and pure online training models are here to stay. As learning solutions continue to mature, the capabilities to train candidates on complex concepts through technology will become possible. In addition, training providers will identify effective ways to leverage technology to complement their in-person training programmes in CSR projects for skill development.
Union Minister of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, Mahendra Nath Pandey L&T’s Skill Trainers Academy (STA) in March 2021 to address the skill gap in India. The academy aims to impart high impact training to trainers engaged in the skilling ecosystem in the country. It was inspired by the strong belief of philanthropist and Larsen & Toubro Group Chairman AM Naik that having high calibre trainers is the key to the success of skill training in India. The curriculum is developed by Singapore Polytechnic as part of MoU with NSDC.
Another centre aiming to address the existing skills gap in the industry was recently unveiled in Bengaluru by STT Global Data Centres (GDC) India, a majority-owned subsidiary of ST Telemedia Global Data Centres, in collaboration with Schneider Electric India Foundation. Schneider Electric and STT GDC will collaborate to address the existing skill shortage in the industry and reduce the demand-and-supply gap of entry-level skilled workforce in the data centre industry.
Skill development models for 2021 and beyond
Given the limitations of COVID-19, training partners shifted their mobilization, training and placement to digital modes. In order to achieve this, the training partners both customized and digitized their training content to be suitable for online training. The partners subsequently set up Training of Trainer (ToT) models combined with online tools for simulation training. In order to gather data at scale, the training partners established Learning Management Systems (LMS) and integrated candidate learning progress, attendance and evaluation data into the LMS platforms.
The shift to online models is not only during training but also during and post the placement of candidates. Many organizations have established online connections with employers and enabled digital placement processes. Call centres and LMS were established to provide guidance to trainees on employment offers, job delays and provision of advances. Post placement, organizations focused on strengthening the infrastructure at the candidates’ end to effectively ‘work from home’.
Gaps in the foreseeable future
In the future, the skilling ecosystem can prove to be the guiding force required for students to excel in their careers. The publicity of online courses has taken to the talent pool of India with new ideas and alternate career options. There’s no better access and time to prepare for the revolution at hand. It is important to realize that as and when the world shifts towards a knowledge-oriented economy, businesses increasingly adopt new technologies and the governments strive to make their industries and talent stronger. The skill development framework should reflect the national and international demands of 2021. The supply side must focus on contemporary skills development, in tandem with the demands of industries.
If CSR for skill development is not paced on par with the number of available jobs in the country, a skill gap would emerge to cripple the entire demand and supply of talent in the nation. This is already evident in various jobs roles related to AI, Machine Learning, Cloud infrastructure, Biotechnology and Energy. When India is emerging as a global leader in industry and scientific advancement, the skill gap should be addressed in every small town and village. In fact, the government should monitor every skill development initiative to enable operational efficiency and access to the vast talent pool of India’s youth.
Training institutes are required to carry on the impact of targeted education through specialized certifications and training programmes. The various government initiatives to upskill India’s talent has dominated the media, without having the required impact on urban and rural areas. In fact, the allocated funding is much higher than the positive impact of generating skilled resources for the country’s employability landscape. Awareness is fundamental, and specialized training is crucial to ensure superior quality and ease of access to skill development across cities, towns and suburbs.
The pandemic has inadvertently given rise to more CSR-funded skill development centres. This spells good news for the skilling, reskilling and upskilling projects that could lead India out of the dark economic tunnel it is in.