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Reskilling: The Lead Enabler

As India invests in emergent technologies and big-ticket projects such as Smart Cities, PLI scheme and NDCP lead to a rise in demand for new skill-based jobs, a whole generation of frontline workforce needs to be skilled, reskilled or upskilled to match demand.

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I feel this statement holds true now more than ever. Telecom has for long been an enabler for both business and social infrastructure. The telecom sector was severely affected during the pandemic last year. But unlike other sectors, it was still enabling 30-35 per cent of the GDP during the social distancing period, other than the present 6 per cent direct contribution to the GDP. 

Amidst the heavy commotion surrounding the current scenario, telecom is facing multiple issues including but not limited to liquidity, Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues, rationalisation of the regulatory levies, 5G spectrum pricing, Right of Way (RoW) rules, cell tower radiation concerns, equipment import restrictions and manpower migration. 

Wearing multiple hats is like second nature for this sector and its workers. One broadband connection might be supporting multiple forms of business necessary to keep our economy running. Now, under a new lens, people have started taking both their physical and mental health more seriously. Downtime, work from home and remote work have started becoming a norm in many organisations. This will only lead to an increase in distributed data usage. Where originally, business centres would experience high data volume during working hours, now we will start seeing a median increase in overall data usage.

This means both equipment upkeep and service and maintenance work will increase. Adding to that the launch of the 5G spectrum auction will only lead to faster networks and increased data and mobile usage. India is already the second-biggest smartphone market and the biggest consumer of mobile data in the world with 769.26 million users and average usage of 14.6 GB per month. 

A Skilling Need Gap  

As our nation invests in emergent technologies like IoT, blockchain, artificial inteligence, communication infrastructure will go through a significant transformation. Big-ticket projects such as Smart Cities, PLI scheme and NDCP will lead to a further rise in demand for new skillbased jobs with some old jobs becoming redundant. This means a whole generation of frontline workforce needs to be skilled/ reskilled/upskilled to match the demand. Moreover, just skilling will not ensure jobs for these candidates. 

As a young nation, India can formulate a successful model to generate supply where demand exists. This means incorporating data from states which aggregates the demand of that state and skilling locally to ensure lower rates of attrition due to migration. This will also enable local ecosystems to flourish by creating business centres and engaging the local populous. We are in uncharted territory in terms of adequately predicting demand and supply of manpower. 

The current total workforce strength of the telecom sector is around 4.2 million strong. Estimates in 2016 suggested we would need another 4 million jobs by 2021. This has now increased with the rapid evolution of the ICT sector over the past few years. We should not only limit ourselves to skilling but also look at re-skilling of unorganised labour and up-skilling of our current workforce. Only through a combination of these can we effectively create value across all.

industries. India already has a robust system of developing a skilled workforce through its various flagship schemes like PMKVY, DDUGKY, NULM and various state schemes and skill missions. 

Bridging The Gap 

Intelligently We need to identify the areas which require manpower and create supply where the demand exists. The best solution to accomplish this is to make use of e-learning. The ability of the Internet to connect remote areas possesses a great advantage to cut down costs of localised skill development. The need for highly trained trainers to physically visit the training centres is eliminated. Additionally, a higher volume of students can be trained conveniently.

Apprenticeship is also a key aspect of the holistic growth of the sector. Time and again, it has been shown that hands-on training is a must for optimum understanding of the roles and responsibilities in a skill-based job. The government’s flagship scheme National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme (NAPS) has been instrumental in promoting this culture in India. Under this scheme, a minimum 2.5 per cent of a company’s workforce must be apprentices and the government provide benefits to both the employee and the employer. 

An Overall Responsibility

Having said all this, it is not just the onus of the government but also of those in positions of influence to steer the youth of this nation in an informed and constructive manner. Companies that qualify for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) should create livelihood enhancement training programs for the underserved sections of society. This collective effort is imperative to transform the manpower landscape of our nation. 

Throughout my career, I have seen that low skills perpetuate poverty and inequality. If done correctly, skills development can drastically reduce unemployment, increase efficiency, and improve the overall standards of living. 

It makes economic sense to help people develop and update their skills. New trends such as the rising role of technology, climate consciousness, local skill-building, urbanisation, and the digitisation of value chains are changing the nature of work and skills demands. Skill building is the most sought-after tool to close the gaps in demand and supply of the frontline workforce we must double down on our efforts to skill, reskill and upskill our society.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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reskilling Lead Enabler technocrats magazine 14 Nov 2021

Arvind Bali

CEO, Telecom Sector Skill Council

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