Bridging the Skills Gap in Post-Pandemic India

Global HR

​Companies in India have long grappled with a shortage of skilled workers, and now they must also focus on constantly reskilling their existing workforce given the fast-changing business environment.

“The needs are even not known, because a lot of them are evolving,” said Richa Sethi, head of learning and organizational development at Coforge, an information technology company in Delhi, while speaking at the SHRM India Annual Conference & Expo 2022, held Nov. 23-24, 2022, in Delhi. “The need for today does not need to be the need for tomorrow,” Sethi said.

So how can HR plan for reskilling in such an environment? Here are some tips and challenges shared by experts at the SHRM India Annual Conference & Expo 2022.

Continuous Evolution

At Coforge, the strategy for reskilling is to be extremely nimble, Sethi said.

She said HR needs to continuously look at what’s next for the business and plan on how to keep employees ready for that.

She gave the example of Metaverse, an online space where people interact or experience things via an avatar. Until a few years ago, Sethi said her staff had no experience in Metaverse, but they are now getting trained in it because clients are asking for that.

“So, when you look at the workforce, [reskilling is] a continuous evolution,” she said. 

Disrupt and Reconstruct Mindset

For business leaders, HR experts said its imperative to have a growth mindset and the ability to disrupt a business and build it back.

“That is the biggest skill gap,” said Regina Roberts, global head of learning and organizational development at Jubilant Life Sciences, a manufacturer of pharmaceutical and life science products in Delhi.

At Jubilant, for instance, Roberts said one part of the business is growing rapidly while another is on a muted growth path. Roberts said that leaders should be able to adjust quickly to changing realities.

“We wanted to shift the orbit and think whether our leaders are ready to take on the new challenge that we are faced with,” Roberts said.

In partnership with an academic institution, Jubilant created a nine-month program for its top 50 leaders that simulates a business environment. The simulation “helps them to disrupt the business, think of the new business model, and … bring back the business to life,” Roberts said.

Leaders are expected to draw upon this experience in their current roles.

In-House Certifications

As companies in India grow rapidly and diversify into new businesses, they need to train many people, sometimes in niche skills for which there isn’t any training available in the market.

The result: They’ve set up their own training academies.

At Reliance Retail, a retailer of everything from groceries to electronics in the Mumbai area, staff strength has doubled to 400,000 since the pandemic, said Jeeva Balakrishnan, senior vice president and chief talent officer for the company. The company has several in-house academies to prepare employees for more than 900 roles that require certifications, he said.

For instance, one academy prepares staff for “buying and merchandising,” a role that involves deciding what products to sell and how to package and display them. “There are no courses available in India on buying and merchandising,” Balakrishnan said.

Tapping Business Leaders to Build Courses

Outsourcing company WNS Global Services has a university that draws on the expertise of business leaders in creating content for their employees, along with academic and other partners, said Rajnish Borah, global head of learning, organization effectiveness and DNI for WNS Global Services in Pune.

The company’s business leaders created a board that reviews the curriculum and decides what needs to go into the classroom, Borah said.

They “essentially decide what kind of curriculum, what kind of course, what kind of capability-building that we need to take the … employees through,” he said. “That is helping us primarily because of the fact that they are closer to the markets,” Borah said.

Training a Diverse Workforce

One of the challenges when creating training programs is to make them suitable for a wide range of workers at the company.

“The biggest challenge that we have is the diversity of [the] workforce that we manage,” Roberts said. She said her staff ranges from young people right out of college to older workers to scholars with Ph.D.’s. “It requires a different approach for all,” she said.

In the post-pandemic world, she said they are also getting some pushback from workers at manufacturing plants on digital training. Workers want to go back to in-person training programs. “That is throwing [us] another challenge,” Roberts said.

Technology Skills for All

Ankur Gupta, senior director of marketing at educational technology company Skillsoft in Hyderabad, India, said even nontechnology companies should provide their employees a basic understanding of various digital technologies. “You need to understand … how it will make your future role better,” Gupta said. He said they’ve seen a lot of demand for such courses.

However, getting management to agree to such training for all may not always be easy.

At Reliance Retail, when Balakrishnan proposed the idea of providing training in artificial intelligence (AI) to staff as part of a future skills development plan, his manager asked whether he planned to make AI software developers out of retail employees.

“I said certainly not,” Balakrishnan said. “But I want my retail workforce to understand the application of AI in retail.”

Shefali Anand is a New Delhi-based journalist and former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. You can follow her on Twitter.

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