Are You Upping Your Game?

Many industries are struggling to fill jobs on a global basis. In tough economic times with high unemployment and loss of jobs, it is challenging to focus on workforce skill development. But if we see things differently, there is no better time to focus on this serious issue of skill development than now. It is not just individual organizations or sectors that are feeling the consequences of skill gap, the entire nation pays a heavy price when they cannot find or equip their workforce with the right skills and prepare them for critical jobs.  

The Honorable President of India Mr. Pranab Mukherjee once aptly quoted; “Our strength in the next few decades lies in the availability of a vast youthful workforce. But we cannot simply rest with this advantage of demography. The youth have to be suitably skilled to help realize the demographic dividend.”

Our country will grow younger with a surplus of 4 crore to 5 crore (40 – 50 Million) of population by the next decade. On the national level, the state of unemployment continues to be a big factor in India. While the number of unemployed workers remains fairly high, employers continue struggling to find skilled talent to fill the growing number of job openings in the country.

At present we are witnessing layoffs in the IT sector by the giants like Cognizant, Infosys etc, and other service sectors like Telecom, BPO are also reeling under tremendous pressure. The technology companies in India are in the midst of a massive restructuring drive. Even worse, this string of layoffs is expected to continue for the next two years. On the contrary, there are vacancies for the position of designers, web developers, data scientists etc. If we try and interpret this trend, we will realize that one of the factors that seems as an obvious contributor is ‘skill gap’. 

The companies are responding to an increasingly digital market environment by adding roles with a digital focus, and even changing traditional roles to have a digital orientation. Clearly, in the IT sector in India, there appears to be greater automation and a shift from more mundane programming jobs to jobs that require higher levels of proficiency in skills like artificial intelligence, internet of things and cloud computing. Furthermore, industries across the globe are anticipated to be disrupted by the digital trends to a great extent, but only few organizations are adequately prepared to handle this upcoming disruption. It is important for us to remember that the times we are operating in, going digital is not an option, but a necessity to realize the growth potential.

But, why is there a capability gap? As the environment in which businesses operate becomes more complex, skills evolve and become obsolete more rapidly. As corporates, we have not made significant efforts in building development programs that create capabilities in a continuous way. Resting on traditional learning and development interventions with few training programs across the organization will no longer serve the purpose. Companies have the opportunity to build more integrated development strategies by carefully designing their learning mix depending upon the nature of their business, requirements and the aspirations of their workforce.

From my experience at Uflex, I would like to share experiential learning with the readers. My organization is a $ 1 billion manufacturing company providing flexible packaging solutions across the globe. It is a fully backward integrated business and we have six varied business units responsible for contributing different components of packaging as an end product. We are rapidly entering into new markets with a strong focus on innovation and R&D. Recently, during the HR plan progress review in one of our businesses, the business head mentioned that “just a few years back, the talent crisis has never been a challenge but now we sometimes struggle to find the right talent especially for specialized roles”.  As a solution to the issue of capability building, we have conducted a detailed gap assessment exercise across the businesses to determine the various skill gaps and the future requirements of our businesses. Thereafter, we categorized the challenge areas into various segments as feasible and have come up with various learning interventions to address the gaps. 

The packaging industry, like many other manufacturing companies relies heavily on OJT (On  Job Trainings) as a means of skill development. There are few institutes that provide a structured vocation for skilling in packaging. For all other general categories of vocational training we are very well aware of the quality of skills provided by our existing ITIs, while the efforts being made by NSDC are going to take time to yield results. So, as of now, the real challenge of the packaging industry is to skill new people or reskill/ upskill the existing people.

We consider our learning and development as a critical function because it plays a very important role in addressing the skill challenge we face in our industry. For a specialized role, we need to train our people from scratch. Further, the packaging industry is witnessing a huge upsurge of new technologies like robotics, laser etc. In such a scenario, skilling the new workforce and reskilling the old ones is another challenge. At our global locations, the challenge varies from country to country. Like for our facilities in US and Europe, we have very structured vocational facilities but on the contrary for Mexico, this advantage is limited.

Our learning interventions are designed business wise, department wise, level wise and need based. We have a multiple set of programs, to cater to the needs of our employees from the operator level to the leadership level. Further, we are measuring the post intervention knowledge delta, our penetration and the overall impact. Our programs are systematic and continuous in nature and post achieving 100 percent  penetration in a particular program, we launch the next level program for the category applying the ‘supply chain’ approach to the learning interventions. This approach has helped us tackle the skill challenge to a great extent and is well accepted by the leadership team of Uflex. Most of the companies are doing something or the other in the direction of capability building; and to start with, considering the following points can be helpful:

1.     Understand the present and future skill gap of your business.

2.     Investigating and exploring the new skills pool must be a mandatory part of the HR function.

3.     Extend your reach for the talent globally.

4.     Foster continuous skill development through your learning interventions.

5.     Measure in order to manage.

Our Prime Minister shares the dream and aspirations of a billion plus people of India, which is “to make India a global economic leader”.  Skill development is critical for economic growth and social development.  The Ministry of Labor & Employment is running various schemes and has set up industrial training institutions across the country. Other ministries such as the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Ministry of Rural Development etc. have also launched their skill upgrading programs and self-employment schemes.

As HR professionals and Corporates, we must own this vision equally and contribute our bit towards syncing jobs and skills together. Given the complexities and continuous disruptions in the global economy, it is no surprise that building the global workforce capability is not going to be a cakewalk. We need to build a deeper understanding of our capability gaps and build a supply chain to address the critical needs. This supply chain can be filled by tapping into the new skills pool in new locations, leveraging diversity and developing skills across the workforce right from Millennials to the leadership teams across geographies.

Finally, I keep telling my team that as professionals we come with an expiry date. To stay relevant, it is important to keep yourself abreast with the latest skills and knowledge to add value to oneself and the organizations we are working for.  Taking charge of your personal growth and skill development is another way to contribute to bridging the skill gap. In today’s marketplace, it’s tough to stand out. The skills we possess, the reputation we carry decides our personal brand. It’s about bringing who you are to what you do and how you do it. It’s high time to get in action; to deal with the most cribbed about subject of ‘skill gap’. Stepping up to stand out will open doors to new opportunities irrespective of disruptions around. So, get bold and ask yourself- Am I upping my game?

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Amazing read and very apt sir.

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