What should MSMEs focus on: Upskilling, reskilling, learning or unlearning?

Updated: Aug 23, 2020 3:41 PM

Skilling, Labour, Talent for MSMEs: One of the several factors that will significantly address the unemployment challenge among MSMEs is upskilling, reskilling, learning, and unlearning. Surprisingly, this realization has yet to hit the MSMEs hard.

Depressed MSMEs need to focus on unlearning and reskilling more than upskilling and learning.
  • By Samir Sathe

Skilling, Labour, Talent for MSMEs: Three-fourths of 65 million MSMEs will end 2020 with a revenue contraction of between 17-25 per cent and in some cases even up to 75 per cent. One-fourth of them will face extinction. The impending danger of over 30 million being rendered unemployed anew due to closures and demand contraction of businesses is perilous to India’s tall ambitions of achieving economic and social development goals by 2030.

Life support, not mere ideas

One of the several factors that will significantly address the unemployment challenge among MSMEs is upskilling, reskilling, learning and unlearning. Surprisingly, this realization has yet to hit the MSMEs hard. In our conversations with most of them, these words remain as ideas, and we would urge the MSMEs to think of them as medicines in trauma, nothing short of life support. If not taken, the risk of death is heightened by a third and risk of unprofitable survival by a half!

The exhibit above indicates the Learning-Skilling Geoid © where we depict the bottom red half of the geoid as the depressed MSME sectors, while the top whitish half as the coping MSME sectors. Our study suggests that the depressed MSMEs need to focus on unlearning and reskilling more than the upskilling and learning while the coping MSMEs need to focus on upskilling and learning. In many cases, these are transitionary strategies and not optional in nature. The Geoid is an emerging pattern, and the line of action may need to be contextualized to the case of each MSME.

Depressed MSMEs

Let us take the examples of travel, hospitality, outdoor entertainment, restaurants, construction, commoditized goods-manufacturing sectors, aftermarket, large scale retail formats, trading, traditional recruitment agencies, etc. What should we do? With over 730,000 deaths and close to 20 million cases due to COVID-19 and with global GDP expected to contract 8 per cent, the greatest since Great Depression, these industries need a rapid overhaul of what their employees knew as the face of their businesses.

The travel and hospitality industries need to reset their cost structures and be sharply focus on virtual and contactless technologies finding their way across the customer journeys including the experience inside the vehicles of travel, whether in air or on the road or on sea. Outdoor entertainment companies need to build skills in creating revenue streams from virtual and augmented reality skills and not the traditional skills of buying land smartly as locations matter(ed).

Also read: How big is Apple? At Rs 14,98,58,60,00,00,000 mcap, it’s bigger than these countries, 2/3rd of India’s GDP

The restaurants need a rethinking of the traditional skills needed in planning their seating capacity configurations, which is the heart of their profits, health and hygiene strategies inside and outside their kitchens, traceability of their food from farm to fork balancing health with profitability. Construction, commodity goods manufacturing, trading all need to search for new ‘value’ drivers and reorient themselves to learn new skills. Several of the new skills would render the previous paradigms outdated and therefore unlearning becomes a critical skill for most of these industries.

I expect that their fortunes may witness more like a ‘W’ shape of recovery with a skewed pattern of stability and growth.

Coping MSMEs

Let us take the examples of medical devices, chronic, CVD, vitamin segments of pharma, electronic indoor media and entertainment, telecom, certain segments of packaged foods, diagnostic healthcare chains, non-commoditized manufacturing segments, several professional products and practice-led service segments, the technology sector, etc. These are coping better than many depressed ones. What should they do? Our research indicates they would perform better should they focus on upskilling and learning in addition to what they know already.

By definition, they are demonstrating better resilience, better preparedness (see my previous three articles carried by this publication on ‘Securing Cash Flows’ and ‘Three Critical Lessons’ and ‘Revenue Vs Profit’). The MSMEs, which are coping better, should use this period to adopt flexibility in their strategies and focus on their stars who show aptitude and willingness to upgrade their skills to continue to add ‘value’. Their talent management strategies need to be oriented towards skill-enhancement in the same roles that the talent is expected to play.

I expect that the winners in this segment of MSMEs could expect a ‘tick’ or ‘swoosh’ shaped recovery while contenders and laggards in this segment could expect a ‘U’ shaped recovery if they were to be strong challengers to the leaders.

Common Skills

Data science, robotics, artificial intelligence, digitalization, and reimagining or redefinition of the real-life customer journey experiences are common and much-needed skills for both halves of the Geoid, the depressed and coping industries. The difference is that these skills become lifesavers and therefore ‘added’ in case of depressed MSMEs while they become up-gradation to existing skills or ‘value-added’ skills to the coping MSMEs.

Samir Sathe is Executive Vice President of Wadhwani Advantage at Wadhwani Foundation. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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