Upskilling & Reskilling - A Socioeconomic Imperative

A renowned business personnel with expertise in and experience in strategic marketing, sales and P&L management.

Knowledge is power, but it is the skill that gets things done!

Shifting Paradigms
The disruption fuelled by a digital economy was accentuated and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The compulsions of stay-at-home and work-from-home were the epicentre of a shift in the producer-consumer dynamic leading to a paradigm shift in traditional business models and processes as well as a consequent shift in customer experiences and expectations.

Widening Skill Gap
While the dynamic evolution of emerging technologies ­ AI, analytics, automation and digitisation ­ is transforming industries and businesses at an exponential rate; it is also reshaping existing job roles and functions and in the process, exposing large gaps in requisite skills and competencies. The situation is critical and directly impacts macroeconomic national metrics such as GDP, consumption, tax revenues, and social security outflow.

In its `Future of Jobs Report 2018', the World Economic Forum indicates that by 2022, 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines; while 133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. Closer home, FICCI and NASSCOM, along with E&Y, rolled out a report titled `Future of Jobs in India ­ A 2022Perspective' where it is estimated that, by 2022, 9% of the organised workforce would be deployed in new jobs that don't exist today, while 37% would be deployed in jobs that have radically changed skill sets.

The Knowledge Economy
The expansion of new technologies and the exponential growth in their application and adoption respectively heralds the rise of a technology-enabled knowledge economy. For organisations and businesses to remain relevant, stay competitive, and pursue profitability, it has become critical to stay abreast of this tech driven disruption. Naturally, the successful transition to a knowledge economy requires a workforce that comprehends the need for and is willing and eager to develop the requisite new skills to function and thrive in the new reality.

Peter Drucker's assertion, "The only skill that will be important in the 21st century is the skill of learning new skills. Everything else will become obsolete over time." was never truer or more relevant than today. Individuals and organisations both need to look at upskilling and reskilling as an inevitable and immediate response to the disruptive trends of a knowledge economy.

The expansion of new technologies and the exponential growth in their application and adoption respectively heralds the rise of a technology-enabled knowledge economy

The Learning Imperative
Enter the terms `upskilling' and `reskilling'. Grammatically gerunds, they are becoming buzzwords that are often, though erroneously, used interchangeably. The Cambridge dictionary defines upskilling as "the process of learning new skills or of teaching workers new skills," while reskilling is defined as "the process of learning new skills to do a different job, or of training people to do a different job." While both upskilling and reskilling imply learning new skills, the context defines their usage. Upskilling focuses on helping workers become more skilled and relevant in their existing job roles or functions, whereas reskilling focuses on enabling workers to perform other roles or functions within the organisation.

Upskilling and reskilling programmes can enhance employee engagement and retention, attract new talent, and drive innovation. It is mission-critical for organisations to stay ahead of the curve by empowering and nurturing a workforce that is agile, flexible and knowledge-driven. Fostering and inculcating a culture of upskilling and reskilling is therefore the need of the hour and will prove to be an indispensable asset that will have a force multiplier effect on an organisation's efficiency, productivity, and profitability.

Risk-Return Equilibrium
Upskilling and reskilling requires serious investments by both organisations and their employees and involves confronting long-held assumptions about human capital and organisational practices. While organisations need capital to deploy new technologies and fund training initiatives, employees need to invest extra time and effort to acquire necessary competencies. For organisations, the cost concerns of upskilling and reskilling should be considered in the context of the alternatives: severance costs, time and cost involved in the search and recruitment of new talent, and the time taken to align and assimilate new recruits into the organisational work culture. For employees, the burden of acquiring new skills to remain relevant or undertake a new role can lead to apprehension and stress. But the trade-off, to draw an analogy to the risk-reward calculations of capital market investments, isn't nearly as speculative. In this context, a quote by Howard Schultz, former CEO and Chairman of Starbucks, the world's largest coffeehouse chain, is very interesting and extremely relevant: "Starbucks is not an advertiser; people think we are a great marketing company, but in fact we spend very little money on marketing and more money on training our people than advertising."

The bottom line is that the imperatives of upskilling and reskilling have never been more urgent or demanding for governments and communities in general, and for individuals and businesses in particular.

The writing on the wall is clear. Upskill, reskill, or be killed!