Need for skills standardisation in the current IT Industry

The pandemic has ensured that Tech is no longer restricted to tech companies; it has become the enabler for all verticals, leading to demand for tech talent across industrie

Standardisation reduces surprises and enables scale.
Standardisation reduces surprises and enables scale.

By Kirti Seth

Have you ever wondered how your Starbucks Cappuccino tastes the same, whether you have it in Gurgaon, Siliguri, Trivandrum or Mumbai? It is what you would expect when you buy a trusted brand. You know what you’re going to get. Meeting your expectations, wherever you buy from, requires a massive engine chugging along, invisible to you, that has standardized materials and processes that ensure this happens.  Standardization reduces surprises and enables scale.  

Technology is an enabler today

The pandemic has ensured that Tech is no longer restricted to tech companies; it has become the enabler for all verticals, leading to demand for tech talent across industries. The challenge however is a staggering 21% gap in demand and supply gap of Tech talent (in India). The gap for digital tech talent is expected to increase 3.5x+ by 2026 to 1.4M-1.8M. There is an urgent need to bridge this gap to achieve India’s five trillion-dollar dream and become the Digital talent hub of the world. But this gap can only be filled if there is a common understanding between what industry is demanding of talent and what the supply side is providing.  In order to match demand and supply, there needs to be a common vocabulary that enables the supplier to understand what the demand side wants.  This is the essence of standardization of skills – to create a common lexicon for all the stakeholders involved- educators, job seekers and companies and a way to measure the competency level in these skills.   When we say we want to buy a 90 in x 100 in, 300 thread count cotton sheet, everyone immediately understands that.  We know what an inch is, we know that 300 thread count is a standard way of measuring quality of cotton so there are no surprises when the product reaches us.  Similarly, when you way you want to hire someone who is good in programming, we need to have a common definition of what ‘programming’ as a skill means and how would we measure ‘good’.  That way suppliers of talent can prepare people in line with that definition as well as the unit of measurement.

How Standards Get Created

Sector Skills Council (SSC) for each industry were created by the Ministry of Skill Development (MSDE) and NSDC. SSCs define standard job roles and required competencies in consultation with industry practitioners. Since industry provides the jobs, it is only fitting that they define what skills they need for a job and at what level of proficiency.  It is the job of the SSCs to put these definitions and measurement criteria into a framework and define the ‘standard’.  Once this is done, assessments can be created in line with these definitions to measure who is ‘good’ and who is not.   Standard job roles and competencies exist for 37 sectors – IT, Automotive, BFSI, Agriculture, Mining, Electronics – pretty much any job you can think of.

Using the Standardized Job Role Framework

Not many people realise how useful these job standards are.  Visit the website of SSC NASSCOM ( and take a look at the job roles listed there for the IT industry.  You can visit any other SSC if you are not in the IT industry.  Open up the ‘Qualification Files’  which are nothing but the detailed description of the job role.  They have a wealth of information on the profile of person required for the job, the various competencies required for the job, the performance criteria you can use to measure the competency levels and a training curriculum you can use to train a person for this job.  This is usually something that companies pay consultants an arm and a leg to create – and it is all available in the public domain.  The qualifications are made up of National Occupational Standards (NOS) that are nothing but competency definitions.   NOS can be stacked to create job roles that do not meet the standard qualifications but since the competency definitions do not change, they stay true to their promise of standardization. Job standards provide the following four things: 

• Define the top Job roles in demand

• Activities to be performed for the job and

• the skills required for the Jobs

Measurement criteria to measure the proficiency level of the skill

Here is how an organisation can use this resource.  Assume you have a role for a Security Analyst in your company.  You can first check out the standardised role and the competencies associated with it.  You will also get the development path for this role.  You can then modify the standard, if required, for your own company but chances are that it will match 75-80% at a minimum.  Since there are standardized assessments associated with each job role, you can use them to assess the calibre of your employees and benchmark them.  Once you start using the standard lexicon, you will be able to match your demand to the supply from the skilling ecosystem.  In the best case, you can simply hire pre-certified candidates or ask candidates to come to you after certification.  The certifications are moderately priced (between Rs. 600 – 1200), are government approved and industry validated.  What’s not to like? 

Benefits of Skills Standardization

The challenge that we see in every forum that students attend is a lack of clarity on what they should study, how it will help them and whether industry will value these skills.  Standardization has the potential to provide predictability of opportunities, promote tech adoption and increase productivity.   To see the difficulty that students face, simply look at college curricula and industry job postings.  There is such a different between the vocabulary that the fresher finds it very hard to match what they’ve learnt to what is needed – even though they might fulfil the requirements!  Standardisation can create:

Greater clarity & predictability: It would give clarity and bring companies and academic institutions on the same page. Gaps would become easy to identify and academia could take steps to fill them.

Consistent quality: With standardized assessments, benchmarking becomes so much easier.  Candidates can be clearly evaluated against each other.  There is a clear understanding of what they know because the assessments are aligned to the standards.  

Government validation:  Resources from government schemes can be accessed by learners who get certified on standardized job roles.  This can be a game changer when hiring and training budgets are being planned.  This also works well for cross border mobility.

Increased productivity with cost saving: Imagine how much time, effort and cost it will save an organization if they access a certified talent pool.   Organisations would only need to train on customized requirements instead of starting from scratch.  

With the shelf life of skills, especially digital skills becoming shorter and shorter, companies are looking for ways to reduce their cost of onboarding and their time to productivity.  Using standardized job roles and assessments could just be the answer. 

The author is  CEO at IT ITeS Sector Skills Council. Views are personal.

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First published on: 24-10-2022 at 17:00 IST
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