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Pranjal Sharma

Pranjal Sharma has been analysing, commenting and writing on economic and development policy in India for 25 years. He has worked in print, TV and digital media in leadership positions and guided teams to interpret economic change and India’s engagement with the world

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Competing With Competence

India's talent ranking is as important as ease of doing business. Online education is stepping up to improve competencies

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India's talent needs are shifting rapidly, faster than our ability to cope with it. The increasing use of fourth industrial revolution technologies like artificial intelligence, data science and internet of things means that degrees and experience of the past are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

A few years ago when MOOCs (massive online open courses) took the world by storm, it created a new way for speedy improvement in education for university students.

A study done by KPMG and Google did earlier this year indicates that India's online education market will US$1.96 billion by 2021 from just US$ 247 million in 2016. The number of users will grow from 1.6 million to 9.6 million over the same period. In this, the biggest category is reskilling and online certifications.

Take a look at how online education firm Coursera has changed its course over the last few months. When it began it 2012, it took the world by storm with its new model of online learning modules that combined videos, exercises and direct interface with students. It allowed students to do quick courses for almost instant learning at zero fees.

Coursera has over 26 million registered users, over 2000 courses and 180 specialisations. The rapid change in technology and requirement for the almost instant upgrading of skills has led Coursera to move beyond college courses. Coursera is now shifting its growth focus to creating competencies and credentials from being an educator. "We are building competencies for careers now. We want to help professionals become more relevant for enterprise needs," the new CEO of Coursera, Jeff Maggioncalda told me in a conversation at Web Summit in Lisbon. This shift is important as much for Coursera as for professionals trying to maintain their relevance in an environment of redundancy.

The biggest need for professionals is now to be prepared for competencies that they didn't anticipate. With increasing use of automation for basic roles, enterprises are laying off those whose work involves repetitive activity. Consumer-facing and HR roles are being automated with AI run chatbots. With digital media, the old approach to marketing is irrelevant. "We have a role to play in developing skills, knowledge and its applications to help create competencies," Maggioncalda told me. "Without these, the professionals will not be able to cope with technology led changes."

In India, the most popular courses for Coursera include a data science and neuroscience. Popular courses include ones of machine learning by Stanford University and the data scientists' toolbox by Johns Hopkins University. A significant category of applicants from India is applying for Online Masters in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from HEC, Paris, a top business school.

Coursera has 2.5 million learners in India and is its second largest market for individuals and institutional subscribers. It is increasingly working with enterprises to create tailor-made courses for specific competencies. Axis Bank, Infosys and Tata Communications are among its corporate partners.

Other MOOCs like EdEx and Udacity are responding to the new needs as well. Many other business schools and management institutions are increasing their focus on up-skilling for mid-career professionals.

Young, as well as experienced professionals in India, have a lot of catching up to do. Companies may be right-sizing, but the smarter among them are allowing their teams to re-skill and remain relevant. Even the start-ups who are being run out of co-working spaces are keen to ensure that their inexperienced teams are not short of theoretical inputs.

Speed is the key to improving skills. Online courses offer the best way ahead. India needs a sharp improvement in skills. On the talent front, India does poorly. India ranks pretty low in the World Talent Ranking done by eminent business school IMD at Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2016, India's ranking among 63 countries was 54. It has improved marginally to 51 for 2017, but it will still place India at a low level in the world. IMD assesses the methods used to attract and retain talent by companies. It also assesses education, training and apprenticeships. On this, IMD adds a layer of two decades of historical data to arrive at the final ranking. "India has the potential to thrive in the age of digital economy. The country's labour growth provides the necessary talent pool," says Christos Cabolis, Chief Economist and Head of Operations, IMD Switzerland. "However India needs to improve on developing its sizeable domestic talent by investing in all levels of education and job-related competence mastering."

The talent ranking by IMD should worry India as much as the East of Doing Business Ranking. In some ways, improving this will require a far bigger effort than reducing hurdles for entrepreneurs. Improved Ease of doing of doing business and India's competitiveness can be seriously undermined by the poor talent of professionals. India has to compete with higher competence.

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