Devising a strategy to help close the digital skills gap should be a key focus for all businesses during the next decade and beyond, writes Partha Pratim Mitra for South Asia Monitor
The lockdown has implications for labour and the workplace. It seems technology and, more specifically, the digital divide, will worsen with people using more digital modes for working from home. But this section of society working from home constitutes a small minority of the workforce. The vast majority which is digitally not empowered will take the immediate brunt of loss of jobs and livelihoods. Food and financial relief for them is the need of the hour. But as the lockdown gradually opens up, it may not be business as usual. For the unskilled, which otherwise mostly have mobile telephony, workplace information about jobs, skill training, livelihood, safety, health and social security could be given access on the mobile platform, to gradually make them adjust to the post-COVID-19 world. Technology has an important role to play here.
Along with technology, mobility and population-age profiles are also going to be key elements in understanding changes in the world of work. What is off-line today may not be so tomorrow due to technological changes. Such changes could, in turn, affect mobility as most of the work could become online which could be delivered sitting at home with no necessity to travel long distances to workplaces. Age profiles of regions have also a role in the future of work. As the working population of regions become aged, regions with younger population are likely to gain from the technological upsurge post-COVID-19. Skills and employability will, therefore, need to be studied carefully taking into consideration these factors.
What implications have lockdown for technology in education, which is the key resource to build a future-ready workforce? The lockdown has speeded up the adoption of digital technology. Business houses, educational institutes, analytics, data management methods and online education solutions are getting re-invented to adjust to situations which could become the new normal during and after COVID-19. With colleges and schools being shut, the government of India, as well as state governments and private players, are also trying to furnish information on various initiatives are undertaken by ministries like the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, Department of Technical Education, NCERT and others to support and benefit youth/students.
A few such initiatives are SWAYAM online courses for teachers, UG/PG MOOCs for non-technology courses, e-PG Pathshala or e-content containing modules on social science, arts, fine arts, natural and mathematical science, CEC-UGC YouTube channel, Vidwan – a database of experts who provide information to peers and prospective collaborators, NEAT – an initiative by AICTE based on the PPP model to enhance the employability skill among students in collaboration with Education Technology Companies and National Digital Library (NDL), with a single-window facility. Other important initiatives which have been taken are, Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE), e-Yantra, Google Classroom.
National Knowledge Network (NKN), National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL),etc [i].
Business and industry need to carry governmental efforts forward.
Devising a strategy to help close the digital skills gap should be a key focus for all businesses during the next decade and beyond. Collaboration ventures between industry and academia will have to play a significant role. The industry must work with universities to develop a curriculum that will be directly relevant to the workforce of the future. Ensuring that the most suitable learning strategy is in place would mean that future workers can develop the skills, which will enable them to build a successful career.
The dynamics of technological change also implies that the skillsets required by the workforce will continue to change. Tech workers of the next decade will need a strong educational grounding in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, combined with hands-on technical skills. The ability to embrace continuous learning will become the norm. It’s important for employers to provide the infrastructure to support lifelong learning so that employees can be continually re-skilled as needed.
Multigenerational workforce gap is an important reality which the industry would face. At any given point, companies will have a workforce comprising five generations which could be broadly described as traditionalists, boomers, millennial, Generations Y and Z who have different aspirations, expectations and ideas of working from each other. New generation workers, for example, look for a sense of purpose at work over and above their core job content and value the social impact of their organisation much more than just financials. To what extent technology and organisational forms of business will bridge the aspirations of the new workforce will remain a challenge of the future.
The growing gig economy will also play a major role in the evolution of jobs in the next decade. Crowd-sourcing expertise, both within the organisation and outside, would increasingly become the norm. Some well-known companies have already started tapping into this talent pool by accessing crowd-sourcing talent pool platforms, which also provides collaborative learning tools through case study learning assignments using cloud-based technology for skill up-gradation and adaptation.
Recruiting a workforce with the necessary technical skills is a pre-requisite for driving digital transformation. Currently, this is a major challenge as the demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) skills exceed the supply of experienced and trained talent. The challenge will be to create and recruit a digitally skilled workforce which is deeply embedded with Stem skills.[ii]
At the global level In an increasingly data-driven future - the European Commission estimates that there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European ICT sector by 2020 - this difference will become even more acute.
So, what options do business leaders have now as they prepare for such a rapidly changing future?
To address the problem, companies must invest more in enabling their workforce to reskill - starting now. The World Economic Forum estimates that more than half (54%) of all employees will require significant reskilling by 2022, but the problem is likely to be even more acute in some regions. European Commission figures show that around 37% of workers in Europe don’t have the basic digital skills, not to mention the more advanced and specialized skills companies need to successfully adopt digital technologies[iii]
The Indian dilemma is the very large proportion of poorly-trained workers in the informal sector—the largest employment generator (about 93 percent of the total workforce) in India. The large majority of skill training in India is carried out through self-taught practices, observation or a transfer of skills from a master craftsperson to an apprentice. The proportion of formally skilled workers in India is extremely low, at 4.69 percent of total workforce, compared to 24 percent in China, 52 percent in the US, 68 percent in the UK, 75 percent in Germany, 80 percent in Japan and 96 percent in South Korea.
The mismatch between skill, academic training and employment has widened to such an extent where, on the one hand, employers are unable to discover suitably trained people, and on the other, the youth is unable to get jobs they aspire for. According to the latest India Skill Report (2019), only 45.6 percent of the youth graduating from educational institutions are employable.
In the Indian context, many studies estimate return on education at the national level using NSSO data, India Human Development Surveys I and II (IHDS), National Data Survey on Savings Patterns of India, etc. But there are hardly any studies that investigate the labour market return on Skills (ROS) due to the absence of skill-based earning data. To bridge this gap, data generated from India’s Citizen Environment and Consumer Economy (ICE) 360° survey, conducted in 2016, of 60,360 households and 2,50,720 individuals was utilised. Geographically, the sample was drawn from across 216 districts, 1,217 villages and 487 towns spread across 25 major states which corresponded to 62.4 percent of the total population in the working-age group of 15-65 years who are eligible for work. The survey excluded students and those unable to work. The skill levels have been classified as levels 1to4 given in the table.
It was found in the survey that little above half (56 percent) of the labour market were people who could be classified at skill level 2, while 30 percent skill level 1. About 11 percent of the population could be classified at skill level 3, while the rest that of skill level 4. Slightly more than over half of skill level 1 person were in the 15-35 years age group, which constituted about 40 percent of the total population covered in the survey. Over one-third of those falling in skill level 4 were in the 36-45 years age group, which was higher than that for other skill levels and mostly resided in urban areas and mere 26 percent of skill level 2 individuals reside in urban areas. Only 13 percent of skill level 1 worker report that they were paid a regular salary. In contrast, 60 percent of workers classified as skill level 4 earn regular salaries. Skill level 1 workers, on the other hand, receive 75 percent of their earnings from non-agriculture wage labour as daily wages.
More then three-fourths of skill level 4 workforce resided in pucca (concrete) houses, while only 35 percent of skill level 1 worker did so. Household amenities like tap water, a separate kitchen, an in-house toilet, and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves were mostly to be found in the houses of skill level, 4 workers. However, access to electricity connections is a common feature across all skill level type households.
Skills and ICT (information and communications technology) usage showed a positive relationship, with the higher the skill levels, the higher being the usage. The data revealed that ICT users earned more than non-ICT users.[iv].
The above classification of the workforce in India not only brings out the skill disparities that exist in the Indian labour market but more significantly is reflective of the disparities that exist in access to education and skill development opportunities among the various sections of the society. Public policy would need to address this fundamental issue of disparities in access to education and skills and the role of government, industry and civil society become extremely important here.
(The writer is a retired Indian Economic Service officer who worked in the labour ministry. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
 April 15, 2020, 8:14 PM IST Economic Times in ET Commentary | India | ET
By Dr Ashwini Kumar Sharma
2Saurabh Goyal, 17 January 2020 issue of Forbes India. The Digital Skills Gap is Widening Fast. Here’s How to Bridge It,www.forbesindia.com
3BY MIGUEL MILANO, PRESIDENT OF EMEA, APAC AND LACA SALES, SALESFORCE Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the World Economic Forum site Return to Skills in India: The Role of Digital Access and Usage
4P. Geetha Rani, Megha Shree, Rajesh Shukla
Indian Journal of Human Development, December 30, 2019https://doi.org/10.1177/0973703019892215
 April 15, 2020, 8:14 PM IST Economic Times in ET Commentary | India | ET
By Dr Ashwini Kumar Sharma
 Saurabh Goyal, 17 January, 2020 issue of Forbes India.)
 The Digital Skills Gap is Widening Fast. Here’s How to Bridge It
BY MIGUEL MILANO, PRESIDENT OF EMEA, APAC AND LACA SALES, SALESFORCE Editor's Note: This article was originally published on the World Economic Forum site
 Return to Skills in India: The Role of Digital Access and Usage
P. Geetha Rani, Megha Shree, Rajesh Suhkla
Indian Journal of Human development, December 30, 2019https://doi.org/10.1177/0973703019892215