Time for the future workforce to reskill, upskill and outskill

The speakers at The Great HR Debate — sponsored by Harappa Education and organized by HRKatha —drew attention to the fact that, knowledge of the latest technology in the market is essential in order to rightly upskill the workforce

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With time moving forward and newer technologies coming in, changes in skills become a necessity for the organisations. Given the rapid changes in the work culture and the altering trends in skills to meet the demand of the future workforce, it is high time that the organisations tighten their belts to initiate the process of reskilling, upskilling and outskilling.

Even though upskilling is talked about by everybody across industries, how much effort is being made to execute the process? Are the organisations initiating it at all? 

Shreyasi Singh, CEO, Harappa Education

“Even though the issue is being talked about by everybody across industries, the question remains as to how much effort is being made to execute the process. Are the organisations initiating it at all?” asks Shreyasi Singh, CEO, Harappa Education.

As the moderator of a session based on ‘Need for modification and improvisation of skills for the future workforce’, Singh posed this question to the speakers — Nitin Thakur, Indraneel Das, Rohit Iyer, Shivin Tikoo and Dileepan Moorkanat — at the Great HR Debate sponsored by Harappa Education and organised by HRKatha.

Technical upskilling is something we have always been talking about. However, the fact is that being up-to-date with technology is very challenging. What was hot last year becomes outmarket with a new innovation. So, we have to stay updated about the latest technology in the market in order to rightly upskill the workforce. 

Dileepan Moorkanat, head of learning, HPE India

Answering the question, Rohit Iyer, director of L&D, PWC, said, “People are indeed speaking about it, but for larger organisations, it takes time to make the required structural changes. However, a lot of things are changing and we are doing things which we haven’t done in the past. The fresh graduates we are hiring from various institutions are also very raw. It takes time for us to train them. The academic institutions are also not ready to deliver the skills for the immediate need of the hour.”

Iyer went on to point out the two big milestones — one being the switch from campus to corporate structure, and the other being a person’s promotion to team leader role from being an individual contributor. Shivin Tikoo, organisational development head, Mahindra, said, “We have a lot of manufacturing talent in the organisation in the average age group of 37 to 38. Therefore, we have set up academies to train the talents on different chapters, such as leadership, functional and others. For instance, HR is one such chapter that trains on the functional roles. Each of these chapters has its own agenda on which they keep on working with respect to the reskilling content.”

The products that were in high demand few years back are no longer in demand today. Similarly, the product of learning should also undergo changes to be relevant in accordance with time. We need to engage different L&D providers to rightly skill the people for the latest products.

Indraneel Das, global head of learning and development, Kohler

Throwing further light on the subject of upskilling, Dileepan Moorkanat, head of learning, HPE India, said, “Technical upskilling is something we have always been talking about. However, the fact is that being up-to-date with technology is very challenging. The technology that was hot last year becomes outmarket within a short time with a new innovation. So, we have to stay updated about the latest technology in the market in order to rightly upskill the workforce.”

Even though there has been a lot of discussion on learning and development, very less has been implemented due to lack of proper knowledge of its power. Taking this fact up for discussion, Shreyasi Singh asked Indraneel Das, global head of learning and development, Kohler, how companies are looking at it. Indraneel Das responded with, “I am a part of the industry in which the products have been changing but we are a 150-year old traditional manufacturing company. The products that were in high demand few years back are no longer in demand today. So, the product of learning should also undergo changes in order to look relevant in accordance with time. We need to engage different L&D providers to rightly skill the people for the latest products.” Analysing the need for making the process of learning trendier, he pointed out how the workforce is getting younger and getting more exposed to all the products on their smartphones. So, it is important to make the learning and development look more attractive and appealing to them. “The competition is not with companies within the industries, but with brands, such as Netflix, which the young crowd are already attracted to,” enunciates Das.

We don’t have to beat others in the industry. All we have to beat is ignorance. For instance, Visa will not look at Master, but it will look at cash. So, what we need to actually compete against is the ignorance about learning and development.

Nitin Thakur, head of L&D, Jindal Stainless

Commenting on Das’ statements, Nitin Thakur, head of L&D, Jindal Stainless, said, “We don’t have to beat others in the industry. All we have to beat is ignorance. For instance, Visa will not look at Master, but it will look at cash. So, what we need to actually compete against is the ignorance about learning and development. The problem seems to be very complex but the solution is simple. If we go through the interviews of the high-potential employees who have been promoted to higher positions, we will see that they had the quality to uplift themselves. So, all that we need to do is to provide the resources to all the employees and let them realise — like a high-potential person — who can rise by upskilling. People are very smart; they know what is good for them and what is not. So, all we need to do is insist on it in their career building. They are going to do the rest automatically.”

Carrying the discussion on skills forward, Shreyasi Singh went on to ask about the functional roles that need to be upskilled or reskilled the most. “In the automobile industry, we need to figure out what is core and what is non-core for us. In our industry, there is an active role of the chain of logistics and supplies. With time, the role has evolved into that of a relationship manager, to build the balance between the suppliers and buyers. The percentage of the automation can vary, but I think the supply chain function has to be upskilled,” opined Shivin Tikoo.

We are doing things which we haven’t done in the past. The fresh graduates we are hiring from various institutions are also very raw, and it takes time for us to train them. The academic institutions are also not ready to deliver the skills for the immediate need of the hour.

Rohit Iyer, director – L&D, PWC

Agreeing to Tikoo’s opinion, Moorkanat said, “Supply chains are critical parts of the organisations. When the global supply chain gets disrupted, the domestic one comes to the rescue to maintain the relation. In fact, another important function of the supply chain is to align the supplies correctly. It calls for backup plans when hurdles arise on the way. It also requires strategic thinking rather than just a cost benefit analysis to find out which is the cheapest vendor and whom to deal with.”

However, according to Thakur, every role needs upskilling today. Citing the example of the customer support function, he said, “The people working for the customer support need to be updated too. Today, they have to lead and we have to support them in order not to hinder the productivity at the end of the day. Every employee, every function and every role has to be upgraded according to the need of the hour. Only then will it be possible for the organisation as whole to meet the needs of the time. Otherwise, we are at a big risk”

Indraneel Das presented a different view. He pointed out that if a change has to be undergone, then the whole system and the culture has to change, and that change has to start from the top. The C-suite also has to be trained for the purpose. He added, “As a leader one needs to set an example which others will readily follow.”

In our industry, there is an active role of the chain of logistics and supplies. With time, the role has evolved into that of a relationship manager, to build the balance between the suppliers and buyers. The percentage of automation can vary, but I think the supply chain function has to be upskilled.

Shivin Tikoo, organisational development head, Mahindra

The concluding part of the discussion on skilling and learning was devoted to the ways of training people to unlearn. Shreyasi Singh sought an opinion on the same from Nitin Thakur who said, “Our brains are smart enough not to unlearn. All that happens is that new ideas and knowledge suppress certain earlier knowledge. Our brains are designed not to unlearn any skill. Therefore, learning new skills will eventually cover up the ideas and knowledge one has acquired earlier, and that is how the unlearning will happen. Our brains are smart enough to suppress something the moment something new is incorporated. The most critical thing here is that this process has to be initiated by every employee and from all ends of an organisation.”

The Great HR Debate was sponsored by Harappa Education and organised by HRKatha.

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