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Leverage technology for skilling on new and future digital technologies

In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, where technology is constantly advancing, the need to upskill and adapt to new digital technologies has become paramount. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in a wave of transformative technologies, such as artificial intelligence (IA), blockchain, and the Internet of Things (IoT), creating both challenges and opportunities. To remain competitive and thrive in this digital era, it is crucial to leverage technology as a powerful tool for upskilling, enabling individuals to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.

According to a report by the Telecom Sector Skills Council (TSSC), India requires a minimum of 22 million skilled professionals by 2025, in order to fully harness the advantages of 5G technology. However, the report highlights a significant demand-supply gap of 28 percent. The telecom council plans to train 1 lakh people in the next three years and open 10 new Centers of Excellence across the country. But the greater question lies in how effective the skilling and training programs are, and if the output from these would suffice the rapidly evolving requirements and expectations at the operational levels of the companies who are hiring.

The skilling ecosystem faces some major challenges at the grassroots level. The availability of both skilled and unskilled manpower is a key requirement in this ecosystem. While skilled manpower typically emerges from the urban areas, Tier-II/III cities, towns and rural areas provide the bulk of the unskilled resources. Training for these unskilled resources encompasses addressing a host of challenges.

Most of these candidates lack appropriate infrastructure for training and skilling, and a majority have to travel to different cities/towns to get the basic training. This geographical disconnect poses a grave hurdle at the beginning of the process itself. Moreover, lack of training modules and content in regional/vernacular dialect, even for teacher–student interactions, presents a severe handicap to comprehensive and meaningful learning for the resources. It is also not feasible to provide physical training infrastructure/institutes in every location since the student distribution is pretty widespread.

The trainees from the non-urban locales are also not too aware or updated on the opportunities present in the industries, and the avenues to understand where and what skills need to be pursued for a successful career.

Presently, the connect between the industry and these trainees is not adequate, which leads to an overwhelming gap between the industry’s skillset requirements, and the training being imparted to the students. The industry faces difficulties in allotting time and resources for the mapping and sourcing of skilled manpower, which leads to lack of clarity on how the on-ground needs of the industry can be met. The training institutes and trainers are, therefore, bereft of industry knowledge and clear-cut terms of requirements, which would greatly benefit the students. The quality control in terms of courses and content also cannot be monitored/evaluated fruitfully without the industry’s active involvement. There is a serious dearth of learning and development (L&D) divisions in the industry for this purpose.

A collaborative approach with equitable involvement and contributions from both the industry and the academia is of critical importance for proper and productive training and skilling of resources. Measures like cross-movement between the academia and industry and joint labs for facilitating up-to-date operational-level training can help develop resources as per the actual evolving needs of the industry.

These students are not very well versed with IT and technology on a day-to-day basis either, which becomes a disadvantage in their adaptability to technical training. Most of the training centers lack modern facilities, and need to upgrade significantly. This is a fundamental requirement as the use of modern technology tools can very well address these prevalent problems mentioned above. Here is how we can better our learning and development programs so that the gap is lessened and the youth are able to get hired into their right domain of interest:

  • The challenge of adequate training infrastructure and capacities can be overcome efficiently today, especially with the advent of 5G technology. Virtual classrooms and training facilities could meet this requirement with minimal physical infrastructure spends. Virtual use of resources through technology can deliver the best available content and teachers, both global and domestic, to the students in the neediest places. This would bring uniformity in the training imparted, thus minimizing the difference in quality of training and content for the trainees, irrespective of their locations.
  • A learning management system (LMS) may be used that would facilitate access to educational content through various technologies, such as the web, smartphones, tablets, DTH (direct-to-home) with toll-free voice channel, social media, CBTs (computer-based training), and traditional textbooks. 5G will further offer real-time remote teaching or even high-quality simulations through the use of AR/VR and AI technologies. The creators of the LMS should possess the requisite expertise in application development and utilization.
  • A hub-and-spoke model can ensure equitable access to high-quality content and teachers for all students, fostering a comprehensive and productive learning environment. In this system, a highly qualified teacher, based in an urban area, can teach through an LMS from a studio, supported by a local teacher in rural areas, facilitating self-learning. The master instructor, preferably from the industry, can teach in Hindi, English, or other languages for global experts, while the local facilitator translates into the regional dialect, eliminating the need for content translation into multiple dialects. Advancements in natural language processing, like the government’s Bhashini initiative, coupled with AI utilization, are expected to enhance this aspect further. This approach offers growth opportunities for local teachers, bridges the gap between students and the industry, and aligns with Digital India and Make AI in India objectives.
  • Upon the completion of the course, students will have to undergo online assessments based on outcomes and heuristics. Technology specialists are needed to create assessment platforms meeting quality assurance standards. An ecosystem of assessors, supported by local facilitators, will conduct assessments online. The models for internet-connected and non-internet-connected locations can use web or Android-based tablets. Furthermore, on obtaining a skill or academic certification, trainees will have the option to enter either the job stream or the entrepreneur stream.

On the technology part, 5G will facilitate high bandwidth, faster speeds, 100 times more capacity for aggregation of consumers, without any degradation in quality and access to last-mile teaching facilities with increasing network proliferation. It will provide access to unlimited digital highways without congestion, with the capacity to connect all entities and facilities to a central location for uniform training. Edge computing, enabled by 5G, could facilitate a hierarchy-based computing network, which would benefit the local students – the local edge could cater to the needs of the specific area/district, while connecting to the entire world. High-data applications can be utilized via overlay on 5G apps for the convenience and benefit of the trainees as well as teachers. 5G can also enable customized learning, based on deep analytics and student assessment, to cater to the specific needs of different segments of students. Moreover, the industry will get the benefit of choosing from a country-wide pool of uniformly trained resources to mold and absorb in their operations, as per their requirements.

The industry is encountering significant challenges in finding the ideal candidates who possess the necessary knowledge, skillsets and mindset for the desired job profiles. Additionally, the intense competition within the industry makes it challenging to attract and retain top talent. The evolving work environment and adopting hybrid ecosystems present further hurdles when relying on traditional methods.

Embracing technology-driven approaches in the hiring process and providing potential employees with opportunities to grow alongside the industry are effective strategies to overcome these challenges. Leveraging technology for upskilling empowers individuals to stay ahead of the curve, adapt to changing digital landscapes, and unlock new career opportunities. Moreover, it enables organizations to build a future-ready workforce that can drive innovation and competitiveness in the digital era. With cohesive efforts, we can build a future that is driven by knowledge, innovation, and the limitless potential of technology.

This article is authored by Lt. Gen. Dr. SP Kochhar, Director General, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). Views expressed are personal.

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