As times change, so do the skills and knowledge required for most jobs. With large numbers of fresh graduates looking to enter the workforce every year, it is important to improve the current skills and knowledge in order that they can be prepared for employment.

When the pandemic struck, it just took a few weeks to change the way businesses functioned and this laid the foundation for accelerated digital transformation.

The IT sector, especially, is undergoing a huge transition because of multiple technological advancements and other developments, forcing organisations across to adopt digital technologies faster, and retrain and reskill their employees to be able to survive and match the pace of others.

This also impacts the skills that will be required for college graduates to be able to effectively contribute in the workforce and not become obsolete.

As we celebrate World Youth Skills Day on July 15, People Matters gathered insights from industry leaders on initiatives they have undertaken for skilling of the youth and their future outlook, the most in-demand skills at present, the future scenario, the necessary skills sought by organisations apart from educational qualifications, importance of training programmes, and skills shortage issues prevailing within the industry.

Skills shortage issues within tech industry

Increasing employability of youth has always been important, but more so today, as we crawl back to normalcy after a global pandemic and the great resignation which has caused a shortage of skilled talent.

“Research from the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that young people find current education models lacking when it comes to helping them be employable – they wanted more on-the-job and holistic learning, balanced between technical and power skills,” says Ina Bajwa, Senior Director HR at Tata Communications.

Despite the fact that there is a high demand for digitally-driven businesses, there is a shortage of qualified individuals that can meet these requirements, says Protima Achaya, India HR Head & APAC Talent Acquisition at NetApp.

“… take cloud computing as an example. Today, nearly all meaningful consumer applications and services are cloud-based, prompting the need to upskill the workforce in this area as well as allied fields such as devops, big data, cloud native apps, etc.

“In a world where skills, particularly those related to technology are so dynamic, the youth need to possess an in-depth knowledge of their specialisation, as well as fundamentals of other disciplines to be competitive in the cut-throat job market. Skills such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, cloud fundamentals, real systems thinking, understanding of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) will continue to see a strong demand from employers, and will define the upskilling journey of our young workforce,” she adds.

Neetha Thomas, Vice President, Human Capital, LogiNext says after the first wave of IT services, the current boom in the tech industry involves new technologies and requires a different mindset. The new skills in tech have to do with building world class products and not services.

“This is where the gap is coming in. “Building global products, especially SaaS, requires a mindset which is new and will take some time to build,” says Thomas.

Role of organisations in youth skill development

Bajwa says organisations have a unique opportunity to contribute to the employability quotient and while the focus can continue on continuously upskilling their employees, enabling new joinees to become productive faster, they can also contribute significantly to bridging the skills gap by strengthening the talent pipeline by sponsoring role-based skilling in the universities or setting up universities themselves.

“Many enterprises have now established training programmes, where young people from diverse backgrounds can apply to receive industry-grade education – often from a bootcamp or a school — before being absorbed into the company’s workforce.

“This not only helps young people gain the latest relevant skills, but it also ensures those skills are well-represented across that company’s employee base on an ongoing basis,” adds Bajwa.

Tata Communications launched Talent Central, an intelligent AI-based platform that brings together rich insights from across all talent systems to provide rich inputs to employees for upskilling themselves on the roles they aspire for/new skills they are keen to adapt to prepare for critical roles.

Jhilmil Kochar, Managing Director, CrowdStrike India says organisations should provide opportunities to reskill, upskill, and retain the existing talent and onboard new employees to meet the future role requirements.

“The onus is upon the leadership to equip the workforce with coaching, training/mentoring programmes, certifications, and collaborative sessions towards experiential learning.”

Most in demand skills

The modern workforce is constantly changing and in order for today’s youth to be successful, first and foremost, they need to be able to easily adapt to changes as organisations need a workforce that can acclimatise and move with the changes quickly.

The rapid adoption of digital technologies has not only led to an increased demand for digital skills in areas such as cloud, cybersecurity, data, AI and automation, but also for talent who are acquainted with the new ways of working.

“Cybersecurity is a constantly evolving industry that requires regular upskilling of professionals operating in this space through sophisticated training programmes. Today, cybersecurity professionals may need to learn ethical hacking skills, programming skills, application development security skills, or cloud security skills. They also need to develop domain knowledge in areas of threat intelligence, risk assessment, incident response and identity management,” says Kochar.

“The technologies that are an integral part of the virtual and hybrid work environment have become the most sought-after in the IT industry. For instance, cloud plays a major role in ensuring seamlessness of the virtual workspaces. Hence, cloud skills have become one of the most lucrative skill sets. RPA and business process automation technologies that enable the creation of a smarter organisation by automating the rule-based and redundant tasks are also in great demand,” adds Lakshmi Mittra, VP and Head, Clover Academy.

Kochar adds the most crucial skill that technology professionals require today is the ability to continuously learn and adapt. A continuous learning mindset and continued investments are required to develop technical and functional skills.

“In addition to technical skills, soft skills such as communication, intellectual curiosity, empathy, creativity, innovation mindset, critical thinking, and decision making are vitally important. Employees who can be flexible, adaptable and who can embrace future trends and drive disruptive outcomes will play a crucial role in the growth of this sector,” she says.

Another important behavioural skill needed is flexibility – not just through in action but also how they think. “They should be able to look at a situation from many angles and formulate the best plan of action,” Rupali Kaul, Operational Head-West, Marching Sheep says.

As today’s youth will work with people from all over the world, Kaul says that they need to build an appreciation and understanding of other cultures and see themselves as global citizens.

“Apart from being adaptive and flexible, today’s youth needs to remain curious. Curious to learn, unlearn and relearn throughout their careers,” she adds.

Even employers, when hiring, look for those who are not only adept in functional skills but are also agile, resilient, empathetic, self-aware, high on work ethics and integrity. “These skills are imperative and should complement the professional skills. Having these skills would prepare today’s youth for the future and its dynamic requirements in a better way,” Kaul adds.

The importance of soft skills and industry relevant skills cannot be stressed upon enough.

“Be it a developer or a designer or a sales person, soft skills is one of the most important skills that a person should develop because at the end of the day, work is about building value for the customer by working with your team. And all the communications are going to be with people. So, it is critical to build soft skills along with your core skills,” says Thomas.

The other area is to be industry relevant as soon as the youth graduates. “Often, what is taught in colleges doesn’t match with what is required in the industry. For the youth, a good way around this is internships. Several technology startups like ours have paid internship programmes where students can learn while they’re studying and they get equipped with industry knowledge as soon as they graduate,” she adds.

These are two skills which will help the youth go a long way when they enter the workforce.

“The ever-changing and ever-challenging scenario requires the workforce to have a well-rounded portfolio where innovative thinking, challenger mindset, and business logic play as much importance as the core educational skills. In fact, for some roles these requirements are far more impactful than even the education qualifications,” says Ratnadeep Ray, VP, Head of HR India, Druva.

Why training/upskilling matters

With the growing demand for a technical workforce in India, upskilling and training the available resources in specific domains should remain an important aspect for any company as it helps realign the existing talent.

“It also helps in retaining these talents and allows for healthy competition as well as a learning culture within the organisation. Upskilling the talents helps an organisation reduce dependency on the market to backfill critical roles as a well-planned development plan will result in strong succession planning,” says Ray.

The nature of work is progressing each day, and job roles are evolving with time. The youth that apply for a job in today’s market are expected to have the required skill sets and possible industry knowledge, particularly in key areas like cloud, analytics, supply chain – that have become important since the pandemic.

“This is why reskilling is required. Not only does it make business sense, but also helps young talent stay relevant and build future proof careers. Our recent global study revealed that 84% of executives polled say they have upped spending on technology to increase learning and reskilling opportunities over the past two years.

“At Genpact, we use our online, on-demand learning platform, Genome, which builds on the company’s collective intelligence to offer employees dedicated learning journeys tailored to their roles and interests, based on machine learned recommendations. So far, we’ve delivered over 10M learning hours through Genome, and every month we have an average of 80,000 users on the platform,” says Piyush Mehta, CHRO, Genpact.

“With more Gen-Z graduates entering the workforce in today’s pandemic-struck world, businesses need to ensure that they are catering to their needs and expectations, as many companies are still operating a hybrid workforce. Skills to adopt the changing landscape of digital transformation such as learning to innovate, critical thinking, divergent ways of looking at problem solving and solution-centric mindset will be key to the new business models,” says Romita Mukherjee, Associate Vice President, Human Resources, Whatfix.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. The digital workplace of the future will require new skill sets as companies are returning to office in full strength.

“Companies need new business models, where a huge amount of focus is placed on digital operations to save time and efforts of employees. Talent development and mentoring programmes should be at the forefront to encourage employees to choose their mentors and develop skills/potential through structured 1:1 connects,” Mukherjee adds.

Mittra says employees need to be provided with avenues such as ‘short term skilling programmes’ for them to enhance their skillsets along with their current job role

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