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How online skill development is paving way for SMBs to transform digitally

Skill, labour, talent for MSMEs: With the government deepening its focus on Digital India, initiatives like the Digital MSME scheme offer SMBs the support they need to modernize digitally. Yet most SMBs falter at the very first step–identifying the skills needed to deliver on digitization plans.

Data and ML powered-recommendations now make it possible to drive personalized learning at a granular level. (Image: pixabay)

By Raghav Gupta 

Skill, labour, talent for MSMEs: Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) digitally transforming their operations are all hitting a common roadblock. The ‘shortage of digital skills and talent,’ is the top challenge for SMBs in India, according to CISCO’s Asia Pacific SMB Digital Maturity Study. There’s a lot at stake, with the study estimating digitalization of SMBs could add $216 Billion to India’s GDP by 2024. While small businesses create millions of jobs, they are often left behind in the talent race, without the resources to recruit top digital hires.  

However now, SMBs have the means to close the talent gap by scaling digital skills in-house through online training. By enabling employees to flexibly learn online while they work, smaller companies can integrate skill development without expensive study sabbaticals or disruptions to their business. Here are three key advantages SMBs are reporting from online talent transformation programs.  

Identifying the right skills  

With the government deepening its focus on Digital India, initiatives like the Digital MSME scheme offer SMBs the support they need to modernize digitally. Yet most SMBs falter at the very first step–identifying the skills needed to deliver on digitization plans. They struggle to accurately assess skill gaps and identify the digital skills that employees need to develop. Customizable online learning solutions can address this problem. Leading online learning platforms offer access to a catalogue of high-quality content taught by experts in their fields, from where SMBs can affordably curate and tailor programs to meet their specific skill development needs. Data and Machine Learning (ML) powered recommendations now make it possible to drive personalized learning at a granular level. 

Data and ML powered-recommendations now make it possible to drive personalized learning at a granular level. This means smaller enterprises can chart tailored learning plans for each employee through dynamic, data-driven course recommendations. These can be created to match a learner’s role to the skills and course content they need for their job. New online tools are also enabling learners to gauge their proficiency level in key business, technology and data skills to determine the level at which their training should begin. As importantly, SMBs can measure and benchmark each employee’s learning, to track and fine-tune the training program for maximum impact.   

Unlocking the benefits of upskilling and reskilling  

Digitalization has been a “key coping mechanism” for MSMEs to survive and grow during the pandemic, according to a survey by the India Council for Research on International Economic Relations. These enterprises have varyingly adopted digital technologies to change their business models, go after new opportunities, increase their customer base and improve operational efficiency.  

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Depending on their digital priorities, smaller companies can benefit from both upskilling and reskilling employees to realize the full value of their technology investments.  

Upskilling can help team members level up by building new technology and data capabilities. With their newfound skills and knowledge of the business, employees are often able to demonstrate early business impact–from identifying new revenue streams to innovating on products or finding new ways to save costs. In the longer run, upskilling online can create a path to continuous skill development, making SMB organizations more resilient, agile and responsive to market shifts.  

It is also possible for SMBs to fill entirely new roles by reskilling talent. In the current job market, hiring skilled professionals who can apply Artificial Intelligence or ML to solve business problems is an expensive proposition. SMBs can, however, look to high-performing employees and retrain them to fill in-demand positions like that of a data analyst or data scientist.  

Upskilling and reskilling don’t just work to boost productivity. They can be a powerful incentive to retain talent, and as a bonus, attract high-quality talent. Since they open up new growth opportunities within the organization, employees are motivated to both learn and grow their contribution, leading to higher levels of commitment and engagement.  

Enabling comprehensive skill development 

Smaller organizations can affordably adopt a holistic approach to skill development through online training. SMBs can enable employees to build the transferable skills they need to work more effectively, without restricting learning to just one area or domain. An employee could simultaneously build data science capabilities, while taking a course on problem-solving or strategy, for example. Without a one-size-fits-all approach, skill development can be varied for every level and function–business leaders may require a new set of leadership skills to champion and steer digital transformation. A particular function may need to build basic digital literacy among all team members. Since learning can be ‘stacked’ online, SMBs can empower team members to build both the breadth and depth of skills they need, learning one course at a time, in line with their interests and the enterprise’s overarching digital strategy.  

By enabling meaningful skill development, SMBs can knock down a major barrier to digital transformation to adapt and innovate faster. With greater choice, flexibility and convenience, SMBs can create online training plans that narrow the digital skill gap. This will be crucial to unlock the potential of India’s SMBs in India’s digital economy and amplify their contribution to inclusive, economic development.  

Raghav Gupta is the Managing Director, India and APAC at Coursera. Views expressed are the author’s own. 

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