Skills is a subject that has gained a lot of currency lately with every state and the Centre focussing upon this as well...
Skills is a subject that has gained a lot of currency lately with every state and the Centre focussing upon this as well as the Prime Minister lending his weight to the mission of skilling India. However the status accorded to skills in the country by its citizens is far from satisfactory.
The importance and the potential value of skills is yet to be recognised by most people thus leaving skills largely to the ITIs, polytechnics and other vocational schools.
Although there is greater awareness today in the colleges and universities about the need for skills for employability, still acquiring skills is viewed as a passport to jobs rather than building capability that would lay the foundation for successful careers by most youngsters.
As a result, those in the ITIs and polytechnics too seldom take pride in their skills and aspire to compete with engineers and others in the formal higher education system and try to acquire such qualifications rather than focus on sharpening and developing the skills acquired as part of their initial training. Particularly when the mantra now is on ‘Make in India’, skills have to be accorded prime importance if manufacturing companies and others have to present the country as an attractive destination for investment and large scale production. Therefore in addition to honing on their skills, the youngsters and the society at large would have to realise the currency of skills.
Take a county like Poland. The country provides the maximum number of plumbers to UK and other European countries and their services are made available at a premium. These plumbers are respected for their diligence, quality work and above all their world class skills which have enabled them to occupy a niche in these markets. On the other hand, Philippines with its natural strength in hospitality and healthcare is looked upon to provide nursing and hospitality talent to the world at large.
Both these countries are fine examples of how the sizeable part of the population takes a religious approach to their respective professions and thus has carefully nurtured skills in these sectors. It can be stated that India too has occupied the ÍT niche’ and is able to provide IT skills across the world through its world class programmers and coders. It is also true that apart from being large companies to whom mega projects are outsourced, several professionals have understood the value of their IT skills and independently offer these services to customers across the world without having to travel to these locations. Recognising the need to remain relevant, several of them keep upgrading their skills by acquiring new capabilities from time to time and are able to offer cutting edge services.
However when compared to the size of our population, the number of skilled professionals in IT is a mere drop in the ocean accounting for a meagre one crore. Hence the need and urgency for skilling and upskilling youth in different trades, and making them recognise that these skills are in no way inferior to the white collared or grey collared workers is a vital area seeking attention. In the 21st century, general education would no longer be sufficient and skills and skills alone will be the currency for building careers. Recognising this trend, countries like the US which have made the Liberal Arts programmes popular have started introducing skills as part of the under graduate programmes and the existing community colleges and vocational schools have started adding skill oriented programmes focussed on jobs and sectors that are prominent in their areas of operations.
There are some exciting examples already at play in India which are signalling this transformational trend in skills. Content writers, social media experts, trainers and music artists for instance offer their knowledge based skills to firms and individuals requiring their services and transact with them on a one to one basis through the online medium. The new trend that is visible is that of taxi drivers and chauffeurs who offer their ‘driving services’ using their ‘driving skills’ on a flexible mode as and when required to their customers connecting via the internet medium and charge a premium for such services or earn extra incomes.
While there are several regional and local portals which provide information or connects with the service providers who could provide housekeeping, plumbing and electrical services locally, with the advent of digitisation, a paradigm shift is likely to happen to this sector as well which will benefit scores of skilled technicians. For instance, with Internet of Things (IoT), we are going to experience smart connected products or seamless systems instead of products being offered in the traditional ways and the digital media being used as a support for communicating with the customers. With the scarcity of supply of skilled professionals available to provide high quality after sales support and maintenance to their customers. products of every day use like refrigeration, electrical and plumbing systems would unlikely to be sold as standalone products but as smart connected systems which will track performance, adjust variables to provide superior experience to customers and also provide
preventive as well as breakdown support without the intervention of the customers.
We would continue to rely upon the services of plumbers and electricians but their services would be a part of the smart connected system that companies would be designing. This would mean we need to build superior skills and capabilities in such professionals who would have to learn to use digital systems to guide them, to upgrade their skills from time to time, to practise different scenarios using simulations techniques and trouble shoot from remote.
The next generation of pride of place is going to be with such skilled technicians and trade specialists who learn to put digital skills to smart use in continuously enhancing and complimenting their skills related to trades and technical domains and cope with the intelligent systems which will percolate into every aspect of our functioning. Now is the time to act for the industry and the academia to come together, envision the possibilities, rehaul the teaching and training methods and pave the pathway for the enlightened futures of our youth with the right skills as the foundation of their careers.
By Uma Ganesh
The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company