Upskilling in AI and DL: Why it’s the New Mandate for Employers and Employees Alike?
By Arijit Banerjee
No country in the world has more young people than India. About 600 million people, more than half of India’s population, are under 25 years. Going by this statistic, it might seem safe to say that the country will have a stable supply of resources to fulfill the future demands of the professional sector. The reality, however, is a far cry from it. India’s talent market is staring at an ever-widening skills gap, and the fight for talent is fierce and unlikely to end anytime soon. 48% of Indian employers report difficulties in filling job vacancies due to talent shortages. The reason? India’s technology landscape has evolved in tandem with the global market. Competencies in working with technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Deep Learning (DL) are no longer a good-to-have but a must-have for the next-generation of techies.
It is estimated that around 40% of IT professionals in India must upskill themselves over the next few years to survive in the new digital reality. With AI expected to add USD 957 billion to India’s GDP by 2035, the country will face a demand-supply gap of more than two lakh data science and analytics professionals by 2020. Similar talent shortages will be seen in DL, Machine Learning (ML), UI/UX, robotics, etc.
Placing a premium on the right skills
While unemployment is declining globally, in India, the real issue is ‘under employment’. Young technical graduates are desperately looking for entry-level jobs, while ironically employers say they are unable to find people with the right skills to do the jobs they want them to. According to aggregated data from corporate India and research institutes, 65-75%, i.e. over 15 million Indian youth that enter the workforce annually is not job-ready or suitably employable. Just 5% of India’s workforce is formally skilled. This is in striking contrast to other countries where skilled workers are more abundant. 52% of the workforce in the US, 68% in the UK, 75% in Germany, 80% in Japan and 24% of the workforce in fellow emerging economies like China, receive formal skills training.
As automation increasingly replaces traditional entry-level technical jobs such as data entry and monitoring, it is becoming evident that upgrading to next-gen skills such as AI, DL, ML and Cloud is the way forward. AI is estimated to replace nearly seven million jobs by 2037. Automation (largely driven by AI) is likely to impact 69% of jobs in India as corporates increasingly adopt the ‘whatever can be automated, will be automated’ mantra to boost profitability, according to a recent World Bank research.
But this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for tech professionals. Contrary to wiping out jobs, AI in the workplace is actually all about increasing the skill sets of workers, and consequently, remuneration across industries. Jobs will evolve and require new skills, making upskilling in new digital technologies the new mandate for employees (both potential and existing) and employers alike. According to Accenture research, 61% of business leaders expect the share of roles requiring collaboration with Al to increase in the next three years. 54% cite human-machine collaboration as critical to achieving their strategic priorities in the future.
Why now’s the right time to upskill
It’s an interesting time for those in the learning and development (L&D) domain. After all, the responsibility to create a culture of ongoing learning – one that can cater to micro technological revolutions that keep occurring every 12-18 months - rests foremost on L&D professionals. But are they doing it right? Too often, L&D teams structure training by providing the tools, resources and necessary staff. But they miss a critical ingredient – learners’ needs. By not factoring in relevant aspects such as recipients’ training need, interests, learning potential, L&D professionals risk low engagement with training. And the numbers are telling – as many as 44% of L&D leaders report that their employees are reluctant to engage with online learning.
Clearly, if companies are to keep up with the new mandate of upskilling their workforce, commitment to changing their learning culture should be their foremost priority. L&D leaders must find innovative ways to engage with learners, decipher their needs, and map those with organizational requirements and the training curriculum. There are many ways to do this – either in-house or in partnership with EdTech firms. Gamified learning platforms, micro learning courses, and use of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) will be the new ways to revamp the learning culture, heighten engagement, and bring about the much needed change.
Another factor that is really paving the way for a new learning culture is the spree of recent IT layoffs and hiring freezes. The solution for IT layoff was always in the problem itself. To solve the problem, two things must happen. First, IT professionals must constantly stay on top of changing technologies. Second, corporate India must be poised to capitalize on the slew of new opportunities created in the wake of automation by constantly working with skilled professionals. In other words, the solution for both – employees as well as employers - is upskilling. One important thing to note is that upskilling professionals and students is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The involvement of multiple players at various levels is vital to making upskilling at scale a reality.
How India’s leading corporates are delivering on the upskilling mandate
NASSCOM, while emphasizing the dire need to upskill employees and students, has identified 56 job roles and eight disruptive technologies including AI, DL, IoT and others that are expected to facilitate job creation over the next 10 years. The significance of formal education and training is also gaining ground - 33% of employers, employees as well as job seekers thought that formal education was crucial to get a job in areas such as AI, analytics, data science or ML. Here are a few examples that demonstrate how corporate India is reacting to the evolving demands:
#1 NITI Ayog and SAP: The Indian government has partnered with software giant SAP to establish 100 Atal Tinkering Laboratories (ATL) to promote advanced technologies such as AI, Deep Learning and robotics among others, in Indian engineering schools.
#2 Philips and Manipal University: The electricity giant has partnered with Manipal and other universities such as IISc, UVCE, MSRIT and IIT-Kharagpur, to support the adoption of artificial intelligence and analytics in the educational curriculum. The aim is to equip students with the skills and knowledge that they would require on the job, right in school.
#3 Cognizant: The IT giant has introduced a ‘skills premium’ allowance for employees wishing to upskill in AI and ML domain. Offered to 40,000 employees so far, the move has two advantages – boosting employees’ morale to upskill in new technologies and reducing attrition.
#4 TCS: The company has rolled out an online National Qualifier Test (NQT) that tests fresh graduates’ acumen in new-age digital technologies such as AI and ML. Based on the test results, TCS offers double the previous salaries to fresh hires possessing knowledge of these skills.
#5 Flipkart, Myntra and Jabong: These companies have joined hands to upskill their employees in AI and ML to power last-mile deliveries, create automated storage systems and data mining, and develop new styles and patterns for work enhancement.
Thanks to the upskilling initiatives and awareness, candidates and employees have seen an uptick in hiring activity from Indian IT companies in 2018. At the same time, the organizations have also benefited from the upskilling initiatives. The new projects that they have bagged mostly require leveraging capabilities around newer technologies such as cloud, cognitive automation, data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
Successfully surviving the epochal transition
According to McKinsey, navigating the transitions driven by automation, AI and ML will be somewhat similar to what humans faced during the large-scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing in the early 20th century. But there’s a big difference – the earlier transitions occurred over a span of several decades while the pace of change today is lightning fast in comparison. Societies and economies successfully retraining a large number of people is historically unprecedented. The good news is governments and corporations across the world are joining hands to make it happen.
66% of global organizations now rate “addressing potential skills gaps related to automation/digitization” within their workforces as one of their ‘top-ten priorities’. Clearly, successfully transitioning from traditional to new-age digital skills is the new competitive imperative. For both employees and employers, the path to upskilling will not matter as much as the will to change - the most critical asset for thriving in the new digital reality.
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