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How to Plug Skill Gap in a Digital World Enterprises will need a clear vision of what skills are required based on customer demands, business goals, objectives and innovations planned

By Srividya Kannan

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In the past few quarters, we've seen all kinds of facts and figures around job losses and how digital is changing the human resources landscape. In a recent research that was published by Peoplestrong, a human resources firm, it was reported that by 2021, one in four job cuts may be from India.

Digital Skill Gap Huge Concern

It was also reported that IT, IT-enabled services and security services, followed by banking, will be the first sectors to feel the heat. On the other hand, the widening digital skill gap is a huge concern — in fact, it is estimated that close to 77% of jobs may be unfulfilled and the problem will only get worse in the next five years with demand far outstripping supply.

There is clearly a huge mismatch between what companies in most countries need vs. availability of relevant resources.

Employee Retention a Challenge

Reskilling is a buzzword for millions of employees in the technology (IT) sector. Several enterprises have already started putting an action plan in place to reskill their employees. While on the one hand this requires significant investment and retention of such an employee becomes a challenge after a few years, given the rising demand for such skills.

Gone are the days where employees would stay in a job for decades and rise through the ranks. The average lifespan of any employee with hot skills is not more than two to three years. Justifying a decent return on investment from such an employee becomes a huge challenge. In the case of SME's, these challenges are only compounded, and if not addressed effectively, can lead to a huge loss of productivity. Skill building therefore is a continuous process.

Here are some ways in which enterprises can best manage this conundrum and manage the growing skill-gap:

1. Define specific skills required for success: Enterprises will need a clear vision ofwhat skills are required based on customer demand, business goals and objectives and innovations planned. The more granular definition of these skills would mean not only determining technical skills but also functional skills, domain understanding, soft skills and specific competencies that needs to be on board.

2. Defining the skill gap: An inventory of the "current skills" and an honest self-assessment need to be done to determine the current levels of proficiency. This should have business involvement in association with HR. A clear view of the type of employees and their digital persona will be identified at this stage.

3. Plugging the gap: There are several ways how the gaps can be addressed. The more conventional methods include effectivetrainings and partnering with niche digital technology firms. More unconventional routes include employee exchange programmes between a set of enterprises to cross pollinate knowledge.

Other examples include making tweaks in the business processes entailing gamification or mobile applications, where digital skills are mandatory to execute the process. Some enterprises are also trying to reduce the impact by turning to a new kind of diversity in the workplace where they hire a fair share of freelancers to work aside full-time employees.

Again, in an increasingly connected world with digital, visibility with respect to opportunities for offshoring has only increased. The gig economy has seen a huge rise recently with skilled workers become agents to offer their services for a stated duration within enterprises. Innovation possibilities that exist in the next ten years with working models, platforms and marketplaces are clearly immense. It would be interesting to see how policy makers try to institutionalize and treat such freelancers with laws and guidelines.

4. Measuring and evaluating progress: Like any strategic initiative, this too needs continuous monitoring and assessment of the progress. This is also required to keep track of the ongoing changes in the digital landscape combined with the internal dynamics of the enterprise.

One of the most overstated, but very underleveraged imperatives is that of top management buy-in and involvement. Senior management passion and commitment to drive this program requires for them to be completely convinced that their growth and innovation depends on addressing skill gaps effectively.

We're in the midst of unprecedented technology change that has a huge impact on the workforce. According to a recent World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, 65% of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new job types. It will be interesting to see how and when governments, educational institutions, enterprises and employees will come together to create a balance to meet the demand supply skill gap.

Until then, at least employees and enterprises will continue to be on the edge, where short to mid-term tactical action plans will take precedence to meet immediate requirements rather than focusing on a long term strategic direction. While it could turn out either way, the only winning strategy in a fast- changing world is to perhaps to ensure that enterprises build digital skills and importantly use them to build a perceivable competitive advantage.

Srividya Kannan

Founder, Director – Avaali Solutions Pvt Ltd.

Srividya Kannan is the Founder, Director – Avaali Solutions Pvt Ltd.
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