To understand technology’s impact on the Indian job market, a panel of three experts from the field championed the need for improving skill development and economic productivity at the IEThinc discussion — Is tech opening up the Indian job market?— here on Tuesday in association with Facebook.
“Unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment,” said Manish Sabharwal, co-founder and executive chairman, TeamLease. “India’s problem is jobs, not wages. Largely, India’s problem is informality.”
The panel continuously championed the importance of soft skills in the changing job market. Urvashi Singh, senior vice president, HR, Genpact, emphasised the importance of “agility and curiosity” as key constants for any successful employee. The variables that change throughout time, she said, are the domain skills. Now, she sees employees matching their technical skills to new domains, such as pharmaceuticals.
“Fundamentally, it’s about how we are inculcating digital literacy in our education system. Not just as a choice, but as a fundamental, like English or Math,” she said. In addition, she said industry should contribute to moulding college curriculums.
Sabharwal agreed that the expectations of employers have grown over time, stressing the importance of learning how to learn rather than simply knowing facts.
“The soft skill is where the wage premium is heading, instead of the hard skills.”
Dilip Chenoy, secretary general of FICCI, added that not only are the expectations of the employer changing, but so are those of employees.
While skill development and changes to the informal economy are a must, all panellists were in agreement that technology will be an unquestionable boon for the Indian economy.
Sabharwal stated that this debate will have to be unique for India. “In the US, they are trying to stop people from falling into poverty. We are trying to pull them out. We need technology and technology will be good for us.” One of the audience members asked how to address the social taboos that prevent females access to technology in both rural and poor urban settings.
“I don’t see a gap of equality,” Singh said. “I’ve never faced it personally — any taboos of access. If anything, technology is helping give access … to more segments of society, including women.” Sabharwal’s view was that it is still a mystery why women labour force has fallen over the years, but he hypothesised that it may be the lack of formal jobs where women are more comfortable.
Answering another question from the audience, Singh stated that the most important focus of her team is how to reskill your existing workforce to link those who might lose their jobs to the jobs that are created by technological change. This process has to be both predictive and reactive, she said.
Sabharwal slightly differed in stating that we cannot predict where jobs will be in India but that we can make India more fertile for job creation. To answer another audience question regarding the growing protectionism in India, Chenoy said the industry will have to adapt.
“Firms should go after products and services that people want at any cost,” he said.
In answering why India is still slow to adopt technology, Sabharwal was quick to say that the answer is not cultural, not a political decision. “It was the 1955 Avadi resolution. The second plan of India kneecapped competition, it kneecapped the private sector, it kneecapped capital markets … It’s the reason why we are today.”
The discussion was moderated by P Vaidyanathan Iyer, Executive Editor (National Affairs) of The Indian Express.
By Karishma Mehrotra