19 Jul 2018 21:12 IST

Bridging the skills-gap

To stay relevant, organisations need to re-define learning strategies and nurture in-house talent

Today, while ‘digital’ spells the new mantra of the fourth Industrial Revolution, an expanding millennial workforce — in tandem with numerous other micro-transitions — is painting the business canvas. Being a ‘young’ nation — with 62 per cent of the total population in the working age group and more than 54 per cent below 25 years of age — we are practically luxuriating in an incredible pool of potential talent.

India’s workforce is likely to increase to approximately 600 million, from the current 473 million, by 2022, according to some estimates.

As India grows into a mature knowledge economy, and needs to use state-of-the-art contemporary technology, it is imperative that organisations take stock of their learning reserves, and create environments and solutions that will ensure they play a leading role in the race to resolve the challenge of ‘disruption’.

All about skills

What is a skill gap?

A skill gap is the difference in the skills required to do a job and the actual skills possessed by the employees. Skill gaps present opportunities for an organisation and its workforce to identify the missing skills and take a proactive approach towards building and gaining them.

A report from 2016 suggests that 48 per cent of Indian employers report difficulties in filling job vacancies due to talent shortages. This trend becomes more pronounced as the need for new and evolved skills accelerates rapidly.

Consequently, Indian employers find it convenient to look within the organisation for solutions, with 36 per cent choosing to train and develop their own employees. For instance, businesses in the IT sector report the highest talent shortage. It is not only skill/talent shortage, but also the lack of soft skills (36 per cent of companies) and expectations of a higher remuneration than what can be offered (34 per cent), which account for the challenges Indian employers face while filling vacant positions.

How do you deal with a skill gap?

Companies now focus on using a two-pronged approach to deal with the issue:

~ The internal approach

Research indicates that the number of learning opportunities provided by companies is directly proportional to how attractive they are as employers in the job market. Many large and medium enterprises, across the growing sectors, are investing heavily in talent management, learning and development, and succession planning, to effectively utilise and develop existing talent while grooming both their soft and hard skills to fit future roles.

~ The external approach

The last decade has seen a huge increase in the number of organisations hiring right out of college campuses to bring in the right talent across skills and sectors. This approach has been fuelled by the competition for talent. Now, companies have gone a step further and built partnerships with educational institutions, thus engaging students right from the word go by running programmes that develop both soft and core competency skills. That the employer’s brand would also gain visibility is a welcome fringe benefit.

There are enough examples of both these approaches within many organisations, especially in the technology and services ecosystem, where building partnerships with finishing schools to bridge the gap in soft skills is seen as the answer. Tackling the ‘gap’ by adopting these approaches should not dissuade companies from looking at the bigger picture while solving this problem organically through scalable solutions.

Cultivating in-house talent

In the engineering and manufacturing space, a few organisations have built robust apprenticeship programmes. A diversified technology conglomerate, that is a known player in the telecom space, runs a two-year apprenticeship course which serves as a dual study programme. The programme educates participants in the theory and its applications on a real-time basis over two years. A certificate is awarded on completion of the course which allows the candidates to continue within the organisation or market their skills in across industry.

A bird’s eye view of the corporate scene reveals significant efforts designed to narrow the ‘gap’. Ninety four per cent of business leaders agree that internal learning and development programmes are crucial to any workforce development strategy. It is an important time for the drivers of corporate learning initiatives to take stock of their investments in learning and create conducive ecosystems and tangible solutions that can turn the age of disruption to their advantage.

Keeping up with tech

Surprisingly, the most important ‘re-skilling’ enabler in organisations is technology, something that was once seen as a barrier. Initiatives that promote employee learning through tailored or mass online courses, online forums, or even offline innovative training, have reverse-engineered and transformed the way learning happens.

Firms are thus heavily investing in technology to aid their efforts to bridge the skill gap, be it by marketing their programmes digitally or by using platforms that identify and develop talent to address the skill gaps internally — either locally, or through global mobility programmes.

A leading technology firm, for example, has built a network of senior AI developers and actively engages them, both virtually and through physical meet-ups, to discuss relevant topics in casual meet-and-greet sessions. These interactions keep the workforce engaged and help build pipelines for sourcing niche talent.

With such a volatile business environment and an ever-increasing demand for talent, niche skills will continue to be sought after, and organisations will continue to chase the goal of resolving these skill gaps internally.

While they do this, the need to build a long-term, robust mechanism to bridge the skills gap permanently and consistently will dominate less critical issues. The objective of shaping such a potent mechanism will require a concerted and coordinated effort involving the government, the education system and industry.