Union Budget 2021: Skilling trends in 2021 and budget expectations of the sector

January 6, 2021 12:53 PM

Union Budget 2021 India: Upskilling, relearning and digital literacy will be business imperatives in 2021 that need to be backed by an overhaul in Budgetary outlays of skilling programmes.

Budget 2021-22, Union Budget 2021The 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report, Udemy for Business reveals that an estimated 14% of the workforce was upskilled in 2019 against 38% in 2020.

Indian Union Budget 2021-22: As companies embark on their 2021 journey with high hopes of adapting fully to the new normal, upskilling and relearning are catchwords. Although digital disruptions of the past decade had already made both terms buzzwords of the business world, pandemic-induced headwinds have seen them emerge as one of the differentiators between successful entities and the also-rans.

The 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report, Udemy for Business reveals that an estimated 14% of the workforce was upskilled in 2019 against 38% in 2020. The report notes that while robust mental health and strong productivity skills were quintessential traits of successful leaders, today, these are critical across the entire organisation.

It’s no surprise the World Health Organization had stated that anxiety disorders and depression had led to lost productivity of $1 trillion annually for the global economy. In May 2019, the WHO had even officially acknowledged burnout as an occupational hazard. Worldwide, business disruptions due to the coronavirus outbreak exacerbated stress levels of employees, making burnouts a grim reality for tens of thousands in industry after industry.

Reskilling, Relearning and Remote Working

Quickly recognising the impact on employee health, organisations held special learning sessions to help their workforce address these issues head-on. Learning and development programmes now focus on overall employee well-being, not just the development of technical or soft skills. The COVID-19 experience has led to a paradigm shift in promoting the holistic development of human resources for improving outcomes and raising productivity, rather than only boosting specific skill-sets.

The Udemy for Business report mentions that companies prioritizing employee wellness in 2021 can benefit immensely since every dollar invested in such programmes lowers healthcare costs by around $3.27.

Also read| Budget 2021 Expectations: It’s high time for Modi govt to double Union Budget allocation for Education sector

Another imperative in 2021 is the significance of collaboration due to remote work and the work-from-home regime. Such collaborations make data literacy vital for everyone. Employees adept at interpreting data, drawing relevant inferences and then communicating these insights to stakeholders will be cherished by all organisations. Therefore, honing data skills of the entire workforce will be crucial for companies to gain a competitive advantage in the days ahead.

As AI-enabled tools and machine learning are increasingly deployed in daily functions, data scientists and people with digital skills will be needed to extract massive mounds of data, including customer-centric material. In such a working environment, single domain expertise may no longer be as prized as multi-domain experts or those handling hybrid roles relevant to specific job functions.

Though remote working has been a saviour for driving BCPs (business continuity plans), the downside is that digital networks at home or in remote locations are not as secure as office setups. Accordingly, cybersecurity tools and basic training have become indispensable for every employee. As per PwC, besides financial loss, companies with subpar security protocols risk compromising customer and employee data, intellectual property as well as their carefully-crafted brand reputations. Moreover, a learning culture drives greater innovation from employees, enhancing overall company performance.

The other remote working advantage – it has expanded the talent catchment area across geographies. Thanks to digital tools such as Google Meet and MS Teams backed by 24×7 Internet connectivity, the best talent can be hired without necessarily being based in office locations. Also, virtual hiring has made recruiting easier, less expensive and quicker.

A year after the outbreak, companies have recognised that fears about employees underperforming while working from home were unfounded. Instead, most employees have raised the bar, offering more productive performances while working remotely. As thing stand, even when normalcy returns, many organisations are likely to have at least one-third of their staff working permanently from home due to manifold gains for both employers and employees.

Digital and Budgetary Outlays

Meanwhile, be it services or manufacturing, every sector has realised the importance that advanced technologies play in organisations retaining their relevance and competitive edge. With global supply chains severely impacted by pandemic-related restrictions, companies have turned to domestic suppliers and, in some cases, even begun the process of indigenous manufacturing. In all such efforts, technology has been the great driver, boosting productivity and maintaining cost efficiencies or even helping begin the steady march towards self-reliance or the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Needless to mention, the skills to drive digital technologies are vital.

At this juncture, the upcoming Union Budget is barely weeks away. As the Centre aims to achieve its objective of Atmanirbhar Bharat while emerging as a $5 trillion economy, upskilling and reskilling of the workforce is essential, particularly the youth. Whereas the Centre has introduced many skilling initiatives, collaborations between public and private sector companies can play a major role in skilling/reskilling programmes.

Apart from this, the academic curricula must be rebooted to remain in sync with the current realities of the post-pandemic era. While India is renowned for its large talent pool, employers rue that most graduates are unemployable, given the mismatch of their skillsets with industry requirements.

Budget 2021 is the ideal opportunity for the Ministries of Education as well as Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to work in unison to revise the university curricula and skilling programmes as per industry needs. If India seeks to join the comity of nations renowned as knowledge economies, its talent pool must be trained in the relevant digital age skills.

This objective is pivotal for a faster, sustained bounce back from the economic lows of 2020. With unemployment as high as 7.8% in November 2020 and youth unemployment surpassing 20%, Budget 2021 should ensure adequate allocations for meeting skilling/reskilling goals. But skilling programmes should go digital as physical classes stand suspended after the nationwide lockdown was announced last March. Consequently, the youth have lost most vocational courses and skilling opportunities during this pandemic period.

The focus on skilling/reskilling of youth is necessary as more than one-third of India’s population will be in the 10 to 34 age group this year. Significantly, official estimates indicate India must upskill more than 300 million youngsters for ensuring them gainful employment. But the average annual budget of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana falls far short at Rs3000 crore and was only aimed at skilling 10 million youth between 2016 and 2020. No doubt, the allocation for skilling programmes requires a manifold hike to meet national objectives.

The Union Budget 2021 presents an excellent opportunity for addressing educational and societal shortfalls to raise the skills of India’s youth. The country’s legendary demographic dividend will then begin paying ground-level dividends benefitting both its youthful talent pool and the industry at large.

(The Author is Mr. Nikunj Sanghi, Chairman Automotive Skills Development Council (ASDC). Views expressed are personal)

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