India needs a digital mindset to tackle tech taking over jobs

India needs a digital mindset to tackle tech taking over jobs
India needs a digital mindset to tackle tech taking over jobs

Re-skilling and up-skilling must go hand-in-hand with tech advances in India, writes a digital expert.Last month, the lead singer of 70s band Talking Heads, David Byrne, wrote in the 'MIT Technology Review' about how tech is eliminating humans. With AI, autonomous vehicles, robots, automated self-service check-outs, and lots more, he says the art of human interaction will die away, since there will be no humans doing the traditional jobs of serving customers. But what does that mean for India, where there are over a billion people: if tech will replace all the manual jobs that give people a daily living, what will they do In some countries, there is debate about whether governments should consider providing a universal basic income. And some have said that big tech companies like Facebook, Google and Apple should be able to fund this since they are capable of doing so with their billions of dollars of cash reserves.In India's context, it's probably an issue of re-skilling, and this is going to be a vital part of the country's Digital India, Make in India, Start-up India and many other initiatives. As NASSCOM said in July this year: 'Technological shifts are the most profound and reshaping businesses, and how we live'. The pace of technological change is exponential, with new shifts such as data being the new oil, AI (artificial intelligence) being a disruptor, and the internet of everything connecting many objects.Change is indeed occurring in every sector - consumer, retail, industrial, government, healthcare, education, agriculture and government. Technology and IT is not only driving these changes, but is also itself being impacted by it - for example with the move to the '-as-a-service' (like software-as-a-service) economy being a key shift to transforming business models.While technology is eliminating jobs, it is also creating jobs - throughout history it has created many more jobs than it has eliminated. The US and UK are examples where, despite aggressive technology adoption, unemployment levels have not been significantly impacted - though many people are now in the 'gig' economy (on-demand, zero-hour contract jobs like those taken by Uber and Deliveroo drivers) rather than in the conventional full-time jobs that people might have been employed in the past.The shift to digital means new skills need to be developed around emerging functions that would be needed in this new era. Those skills might be in big data analytics, data science, cloud and cybersecurity, IoT (internet of things), service delivery automation, robotics, AI, machine learning and so on. It will also require more subject matter and domain expertise - for example in sociology, security and finance.At a large company level, where IT jobs are being affected most, a study from People Matters and Simplilearn, 'Skill acquisition for the digital age', found that in the face of the ongoing digital disruptions and the imminent automation wave, it is evident that re-skilling and up-skilling are going to be major responsibilities of learning and development teams in the immediate future.Respondents in the study identified the most important learning priorities as:

  • Instilling a digital mind-set at the leadership level, and
  • Benchmarking current skills levels within organisations to help in streamlining future job roles
The study concludes that the efficacy of online courses and certifications is currently challenged by low course completion percentages and to overcome this, these programs must be appealing to end-users and organisations alike. A majority of employees at entry to mid-level are amenable to online learning. It found that the major demand for skill enhancement is in areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics; and that online learning initiatives can provide the latest content related to these faster than traditional modes of training such as on-the-job and classroom training.Rachita Sahgal, head of learning and development at GE South Asia, says that making sense of data is key to drive business impact, and that it is also crucial for employees to understand data to support the organisation's digital strategy. She adds: “To address this challenge, our approach is to leverage both skill acquisition as well as talent acquisition. As far as skill acquisition is concerned, we are utilising an arsenal of delivery modes like MOOCs, podcasts, virtual instructor-led classrooms, videos, besides classroom sessions.”This is echoed by other heads interviewed in the study. In addition, Niranjan Harikumar, head of learning at Piramal Group, says: “In this new era of digitisation, the role of the learning function is no longer to create content but to curate the right content, 'just in time', 'just enough' and 'just for each individual learner'. The ability to create bite-size learning paths that can be consumed on the go, and the ability to integrate learning into everyday work are other important skills. Learning can no longer be outside of work, instead, it has to be embedded into work.”NASSCOM says this is an entire industry imperative, with structured digital skills programs needed with different training levels.But outside of industry, what happens to the many people who are not in large institutions but find themselves out of work due to automation Well it's going to be up to them as individuals to motivate themselves to re-train and re-skill. There are many online learning platforms that they can access, including the established Coursera and Udacity, but for basic digital skills there are also emerging India-grown players serving India-specific needs, like Clone Futura.India is considered a country where education is important. So those who find themselves out of a job due to automation or other efficiencies enabled by technology, as indicated by David Byrne, may want to consider how to prosper in the digital age, by learning even the most basic of digital and data skills.
Nitin Dahad is a journalist, entrepreneur, and advisor to the technology sector and government trade agencies, with over 30 years' experience across Europe, US, Asia and Latin America in corporates, start-ups, and media. He currently edits 'The Next Silicon Valley' and 'Go4Venture'.

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