Upskilling & Reskilling for the Future

It would be almost cliched to say that the Covid-19 induced global lockdown has shaken up the global job market. Millions around the world, across industries and geographies have lost their employment due to an uncertain short-term future. While most of us agree that global economy will bounce back but no one is sure by when. This has led to a turmoil in the job market and global unemployment, which stood at 5.4% in 2019, has peaked. International Labour Organisation (ILO) forecasts that unemployment will rise by about 2.5 million in 2020.

The question, therefore arises, is when the global economy gets back on track would would be the skill sets needed by the employers. Would they be the same as they are today or they are expected to change as a reflection of the new demands of production, sales and service driven platforms. My belief is that when we are out of the current pandemic, the job market would have changed quite in a significant way. Although I admit the change would be not uniform across all economies, rather certain skill sets might be more in vogue in particular geographies while in other markets different skills could be in demand. I definitely do not think that in 4-5 years from now (yes, that’s the time it would take for us to reach 2017-18 GDP levels, in my opinion) that the same educational qualifications and job skills would fit the bill as they did prior to lockdown.

So, what are those skills sets that would shape the job seeking generation’s future in India going forward. Actually, the answer partially lies in the trends that have been observed in recent times prior to lockdown. The past two years have seen a clear acceleration in the adoption of new technologies among the companies across a range of industries. Cloud computing, big data and e-commerce remain high priorities. However, there has also been a significant rise in interest in encryption, reflecting the new vulnerabilities of our digital age, and a significant increase in the number of firms expecting to adopt nonhumanoid robots and artificial intelligence (AI), with both technologies slowly becoming a mainstay of work across industries.

These patterns of technological adoption vary according to industry. Artificial Intelligence will find the most broad adaptation among the Digital Information and Communications, Financial Services, Healthcare, and Transportation industries. Big Data, the Internet of Things (IOT) and Non-Humanoid Robotics will find adoption in Mining and Metals, while the Government and the Public Sector industry shows a distinctive focus on encryption.

These new technologies are set to drive future growth across industries, as well as to increase the demand for new job roles and skill sets. Such positive effects may be counter-balanced by workforce disruptions. A substantial amount of literature has indicated that technological adoption will impact workers’ jobs by displacing some tasks performed by humans into the realm of work performed by machines. The extent of disruption will vary depending on a worker’s occupation and skill set.

The 2020 version of the Future of Jobs Survey, a publication of World Economic Forum (WEF), also reveals similarities across industries when looking at increasingly strategic and increasingly redundant job roles. The leading positions in growing demand are roles such as Data Analysts and Scientists, AI and Machine Learning Specialists, Robotics Engineers, Software and Application developers as well as Digital Transformation Specialists. However, job roles such as Process Automation Specialists, Information Security Analysts and Internet of Things Specialists are newly emerging among a cohort of roles which are seeing growing demand from employers. The emergence of these roles reflects the acceleration of automation as well as the resurgence of cybersecurity risks.

In addition, a set of roles shall emerge within specific industries. This includes Materials Engineers in the Automotive Sector, Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists in the Consumer sector, Renewable Energy Engineers in the Energy Sector, FinTech Engineers in Financial Services, Biologists and Geneticists in Health and Healthcare as well as Remote Sensing Scientists and Technicians in Mining and Metals.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the roles which are set to be increasingly redundant by 2025 are those which will be displaced by new technologies: Data Entry Clerks, Administrative and Executive Secretaries, Accounting and Bookkeeping and Payroll Clerks, Accountant and Auditors, Assembly and Factory Workers, as well as Business Services and Administrative Managers. Such job churn shall be counter-balanced by job creation in new fields, the ‘jobs of tomorrow’. These new jobs will require a different set of skills. In my opinion, the top skills would be complex problem-solving; technology design and programming; active learning; emotional intelligence; service orientation; analytical thinking and leadership & social influence.

There is already a strong awareness amongst individuals seeking out opportunities for learning online through their own initiative & money. Those in employment are placing larger emphasis on personal development courses. Those who are unemployed have placed greater emphasis on learning digital skills such as data analysis, computer science and information technology.

Going forward, I believe that two very important events must take place in order for an average worker or employee to upskill himself/herself in order not to become redundant. First, employers should volunteer to offer reskilling and upskilling to their staff by creating a budget for the same. Second, Currently, the public sector will need to create incentives for investments in the markets and jobs of tomorrow and provide stronger safety nets for displaced workers in the midst of job transitions Additionally, it will be important for governments to consider the longer-term labour market implications of maintaining, withdrawing or partly continuing the strong COVID-19 crisis support they are providing to support wages and maintain jobs in most economies.

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