The lockdown due to coronavirus has given us quite a few ‘jargons’, and one of them is ‘upskilling’. It is common for pundits to say that people should utilise the downtime by upskilling themselves, without giving a thought to the fact that upskilling isn’t for everyone, and certainly not when they are locked down at home.
In many functions or roles, the learning or upskilling can only happen on-the-job or the experiential way. This is because it is not just about learning the concept, the application of that concept is equally important.
For instance, in the manufacturing sector, there are employees who work in the plants, on the shop floor, and are engaged in performing multiple tasks. For them, to upskill while at home will be difficult, as they need equipment to learn. Let’s take the case of the tire manufacturing industry. For every task on the floor, there is a training manual available and workers need to go through a classroom training session before they are ready to work on the floor. “Converting a classroom training session to a virtual one will provide the knowledge, but the application of that knowledge will not be possible,” says Rajeev Singh, CHRO, ATG Tires (Yokohama Group).
Online platforms lack the capacity to provide learning for job roles that require dexterity. However, there is potential to resolve this with the right content and through technology, such as virtual reality (VR)
A worker whose job is welding, may be able to learn the basics about welding online but will not be able to apply the same. Moreover, it will be difficult to fathom the exact kind of upskilling they would be able to do. Another example is a task called curing, which gives a tire its final shape and tread pattern. To do this job, there are specialists in the factory who have learned this through on-the-job training. Online learning will not be able to provide an employee any expertise in this area, other than theoretical knowledge.
The same is true for employees in many other industries as well. In the hotel industry, there is a special position for an engineer called a boiler operator, whose job is to maintain the heating system throughout the building. It is a licensed job and requires a certification.
Even if an operator sitting at home wanted to learn about upgrades in the equipment, she or he may not be able to. “Aside from a lack of content, there is a lack of demand for it as well,” adds Rishi Tiwari, cluster director-HR, Hilton.
Similarly, there are horticulturists and garden specialists who are responsible for maintaining the aesthetic appearances in and around a hotel. These jobs require a lot of training and on-the-job learning, which would be difficult acquire online.
Despite all claims that this is the best time to upskill, the fact remains that not every employee is in a position to learn new skills.
The issue is the lack of application, despite acquiring the knowledge required. One can learn the basics of hedge trimming or the basics of gardening, but output may be lacking because of the inability to apply that knowledge to fruition. In steel plants, handling melted ore is a hazardous job and no amount of online training will be remotely equivalent to learning through experience. In these cases, experiential learning is the only avenue to learn.
However, not being able to upgrade themselves in their function may leave space for other activities.
“Job performance is dependent on health as well and this is the time to de-stress and focus on health and family,” advises Tiwari.
However, what these people can learn is soft skills. People, irrespective of their job role, need a career upgrade and the same holds true for workers in hardcore technical jobs.
“These workers can use the time to learn softer aspects, such as management skills, so that they become better people managers and team leaders,” suggests Singh.
Converting a classroom training session to a virtual one will provide the knowledge, but the application of that knowledge will not be possible
Many of the online platforms have begun to offer free courses during this time, which can be another reason why upskilling has been over-hyped. Harvard University has offered 67 courses for free on its website, for those at home during this lockdown.
Online learning has begun to take root in the country, and our conservative culture has begun to take notice of it and even embrace it. As Tiwari puts it, online platforms are not yet equipped to provide training to all types of workers. A strong advocate of digital learning, he believes that almost anything can be learnt online, provided the right content is available. “Online platforms lack the capacity to provide learning for job roles that require dexterity. However, there is potential to resolve this with the right content and through technology, such as virtual reality (VR),” he explains.
While it is true that not all job roles may have digital accessibility in terms of learning, there may be a possibility to incorporate a few existing ones into the digital realm. After all, even pilots learn how to man an aircraft through simulation.