Upskilling the Talent Pool

October 8, 2020

Upskilling the Talent Pool

The World Economic Forum has observed that “by 2022, no less than 54 percent of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling.” Skills and behaviors required on the job will change dramatically, with a new emphasis on analytic thinking, creativity, technology design, emotional intelligence and problem solving, among others. Unfortunately, companies aren’t yet rising to the challenge of upskilling their workforces: a majority of employees most in need of such training aren’t receiving it.

If your firm hasn’t embarked on a major upskilling initiative, you should bear in mind that you might have the skills and behaviors on hand to achieve your current business outcomes, but your business five to ten years from now will likely look much different than it does today. The sheer number of digital and agile-friendly employees you’ll need can make upskilling a more cost-effective option than replacing most of your workforce. Existing employees also afford an advantage on account of their familiarity with the organization’s mission, vision, values, and purpose. BCG research has found large majorities of workers profess an openness to learning new skills relevant to their jobs. 

Upskilling the Indian IT Industry

Such considerations, as well as the recognition that large numbers of existing employees will see their existing jobs rendered less relevant thanks to technology, are prompting leading-edge companies and even entire industries to embark on aggressive upskilling programs. In the Indian IT industry, analysts have projected that roughly 40 percent of the workforce will require new skills training as technology shifts toward areas like virtual reality, blockchain and cloud technologies, as regulation and globalization render work more complex, and as jobs become increasingly automated. 

Although in 2019 the industry counted about 800,000 digitally skilled professionals, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), the industry’s trade association, anticipated that by 2023 companies would need 2.7 million people. Given that only a portion of India’s engineering graduates every year possess the right skill mix, the industry foresees a skills shortage. To address it, companies will have no choice but to upskill large swaths of their workforces. 

NASSCOM has launched a massive upskilling program called FutureSkills with the goal of upskilling 4 million people in a number of key technological areas by 2025. Among many other elements, FutureSkills created a curriculum of courses linked to skills in dozens of specific job roles, making it accessible to leading IT firms in the form of an open marketplace platform. The course’s goal: “to enable discovery, continuous learning and deep skilling in 10 emerging technologies.” In 2018, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi formally launched NASSCOM at an event attended by IT industry leaders and delegates from around the world.

Wipro Workforce Upskilling

Among its peers, Wipro has been especially aggressive in pursuing upskilling, playing a high-profile role in NASSCOM’s FutureSkills initiative. Despite possessing state-of-the-art training programs, Wipro was unable to find sufficient digital talent to cater to the growing demand for rapidly evolving digital disruptions. Younger employees didn’t respond well to traditional classroom instruction; they wanted training experiences that were more flexible and that offered quick results. The organization launched an ambitious program to reskill its workforce across business units. However, business teams were looking for employees with relevant project experience on these new skills. While thousands of employees were learning new skills, an imbalance arose in which too many employees were trained in some skills and too few in others. Wipro’s business teams wanted a reliable pipeline of relevantly reskilled employees with good hands-on project experience. 

Wipro needed a new, more dynamic approach to find and match digital talent in a timely manner that would enable it to execute short-term projects while also building its talent base over the long term. The company reimagined its reskilling program with the goal of creating a workforce that possessed in-depth skills in multiple areas along with strong hands-on experience. The new program deployed a four-step methodology, providing training courses through multiple channels, enabling learning through hands-on assignments, certifying employees using assessments and coding challenges, and crystallizing learning by providing live project experience.

Map, Plan, Match, Train

In designing this new program, Wipro first mapped its anticipated skill needs for each role, creating an inventory of future skills. The company then identified which skills and behaviors the upskilling program should prioritize, focusing on training for those that were high value and also used in high volumes. Using AI algorithms, Wipro matched employees with skill needs. Recognizing that it also had to make upskilling attractive to employees, Wipro enabled them to build critical competencies through a gamified competency framework and immersive digital programs. Leveraging a crowdsourcing platform, the new program provided hands-on experience on live projects, motivating employees, fostering a growth mindset, and embedding employees in a broader learning ecosystem. The effort to arrive at a thoughtful and effective program design paid off. By March 2020, this program had played a significant role in helping the company fill 75 percent of its talent demands with internal candidates.

Leading the Way in Upskilling

Wipro is hardly alone in unveiling ambitious upskilling programs. Since creating a chief digital officer role in 2014, L’Oréal has launched a digital upskilling initiative designed to build grassroots digital expertise across functions. As of 2018, about 2,000 experts supported digital programs across the company, and more than 21,000 employees had received digital upskilling. 

AT&T has invested $1 billion in an initiative with the goal of retraining 100,000 employees in high-demand skills by 2020. The program includes an online platform that employees can use to browse various jobs, their salary levels and the skills required, as well as a tool that assesses their current skills and diagnoses which skills they need to work on to achieve their desired goals. In partnership with educational institutions, AT&T offers short online courses and certification programs. After one year, the program allowed AT&T to fill more than 40 percent of open job listings with existing employees. One former project manager became a senior scrum master via the program. Another transitioned from network operator to data scientist. 

Firms like Google, Accenture, and Cognizant have also developed leading-edge upskilling programs. In 2020, American manufacturing companies expected to spend upwards of $26 billion upskilling current and new employees.

These examples evoke some of the strategic best practices leading firms are following as they develop upskilling programs. But leading-edge companies are also considering the emotional dimensions of training in new-talent skills and behaviors. As companies embrace digital cultures and agile ways of working, the pace of learning increases. Employees often find themselves learning new skills and behaviors before they’ve had a chance to master existing ones. Realizing that this process can fluster and even frustrate employees, leading-edge companies develop cultures of learning, give employees safe spaces to learn on the job (for example, by giving them sufficient time off to learn), deliver knowledge in ways that employees find most comforting, and help employees to manage the emotions they experience. They also recognize that not every existing employee can morph into “new talent.”

Excerpted from Beyond Great: Nine Strategies for Thriving in an Era of Social Tension, Economic Nationalism, and Technological Revolution by Arindam Bhattacharya, Nikolaus Lang, and Jim Hemerling. Copyright © 2020. Available from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Authors: 

Arindam Bhattacharya, Ph.D., is Senior Partner in Boston Consulting Group’s New Delhi office, is the co-founder and Fellow of the BCG Henderson Institute. He has co-authored Globality: Competing with Everyone from Everywhere for Everything.

Nikolaus Lang, Ph.D., is Senior Partner in Boston Consulting Group’s Munich office and Global Leader of BCG’s Global Advantage practice. 

Jim Hemerling is Senior Partner in Boston Consulting Group’s San Francisco office and is a Fellow of the BCG Henderson Institute.