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New skills, not your degree, are needed for a better future

By Ketul Acharya,

Automation and digitisation have resulted in a shift in the demand for skill sets from the workforce.

Embracing new technologies is extremely important for various industries like Robotic Process Automation, AI and Cybersecurity. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is often said that we are on the brink of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, a digital revolution that will change the way we live and work. We can now do several things remotely such as booking a cab, ordering food, paying our bills or watching a film! Automation and speed of digitisation in various walks of life, has resulted in a shift in the demand for skill sets of the workforce. Many jobs seem to be fast disappearing and new ones appearing. It is estimated that by 2022, certain job roles would go largely redundant, while some others would gain importance.

While a cluster of emerging roles will gain importance over the coming years, another cluster of job profiles is set to become redundant. Such a large-scale decline in some roles should ring alarm bells for people who are currently pursuing these roles or want to take them up in the future.

It is likely that routine and repetitive jobs in blue and grey collared roles will increasingly become obsolete. This will include mechanics and technicians, assembly and factory workers, data entry operators, accounting and pay clerks, cashiers, telemarketers, travel agents, librarians, door to door sales workers, administrative and secretaries, customer service workers, ticket clerks, insurance clerks. Unless and until they up skill themselves while aligning with latest advancements in technology and automation, their role and requirement will fade away.

The number of new evolving jobs and skills has already outnumbered the jobs of the past. Thus, in an era where skill sets become out-dated in just a few years, one needs to stay as current as possible while investing in acquiring new skill sets vis a vis the evolving industry needs. Skills-focused vocational programmes with industrial training will help upscale the skills ladder.

The evolving jobs include software and applications developers, data analysts and scientists, human resources specialists, sales and marketing professionals and specialized sales representatives. Adopting and embracing new technologies is extremely important for various industries like Robotic Process Automation, IoT edge computing, Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity. Their successful integration will only bring success to the workplace.

Skills that will be evolved more and need to be developed in the coming future are: interpersonal communication skills, analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, creativity, complex problem-solving, leadership, emotional intelligence, reasoning, ideation systems analysis, evaluation and social influence.

The aspiring youth needs to be more adaptive to the industry needs and must be able to anticipate the skills of the future across various occupations of the new economy.

The need of the hour, therefore, is a shift to NEW skills –New Economy Workforce (NEW) skills to stay relevant and productive in future jobs. So what are these NEW skills? We may largely categorise them as (a) Technology-linked core work skills (b) Higher-Order skills.

Let us look at the first category. When we speak of technology skills, the new-age skills of Data analysis, Machine learning skills, App development skills, AR/VR development skills, Information security analysis skills come to our minds. These are indeed going to be the top skills in the IT, ITeS sectors.

For those in the space of skilling blue/grey collared workforce, technology skills can be and must be, applied to the “traditional” job roles too. We’ve heard of ‘Smart’ homes - homes that have in-built technology to control the lighting, temperature of the rooms, remote-controlled and so on. The technology component could be integrated into the skilling curriculum and training of say a construction worker, welder, carpenter or electrician.

Likewise, if we were to top up the skills of, say, a 3D graphic artist with technology relevant to 3D Printing, we have a workforce ready with a new skill set for a new occupation. Besides the manufacturing sector, we have also had E-retail, E-commerce and Logistics sectors where the demand for on-line retail and courier services are growing. So, a good starting point would be to look at the skills sets that we are already familiar with (in the skilling ecosystem) and add relevant components of technology to the core work skills. This would enable the aspiring youth to be part of multiple industries and thereby enhance their employability manifold. The most vital skills which can be used in multiple industries are creativity, emotional intelligence (EQ), analytical and critical thinking, active learning with a growth mindset, judgment and decision making, interpersonal communication skills, leadership skills, diversity and cultural intelligence, technology skills, embracing change; these skills are extremely critically important and need to be mastered.

The top five and the most important skills under the category of Higher-Order skills would include problem-solving, decision making, analytical and critical thinking skills; so also ‘human’ skills such as customer service skills, people management skills, training and development skills. Being adaptive to NEW skills would be the key though. These skills are must-have ingredients particularly for entrepreneurs and start-up aspirants who have been and are going to be the trendsetters in 2020 upwards.

Another top skill is in the field of health care. While the majority of our country’s population is in its youth, there has been a significant increase in the number of nuclear families too in the past few decades, with the result that elderly care or geriatric care is emerging as a high-demand occupation even in India and more so in international markets with ageing populations. Skills for elderly care include human touch, compassion, empathy, patience, technology skills for remote monitoring of patient’s health, besides core work skills.

In conclusion, future jobs are going to integrate humans and automation technology. For this to happen successfully, all stakeholders who are drivers of employment and employability must contribute. Employers must define/re-define the various tasks and work components, and help understand human-machine collaboration to arrive at the exact competency requirements for the new economy job roles. This input, to the skilling ecosystem and institutions offering skill development, would be the key to building a workforce that is future proof and one that can smoothly and effectively transition into employment and stay employable.

(Author Ketul Acharya is Chief Operating Officer, IL&FS Skills Development Corporation Ltd. Views expressed here are personal.)

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