A human-centric approach to unlock growth

Source: By Debjani Ghosh: Mint

Industry 4.0 is a double-edged sword. On one side, we have an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven $15.7 trillion game-changer that is unfolding. Of this, India can claim a $957 billion boost to its gross domestic product in the next 12-15 years. On the other side, it’s this (cutting-edge technologies such as AI) that will disrupt 70% of market leaders across industries in the next 10 years.

The availability of relevant talent (or the lack of it) will decide which way industries (and nations) will go. Re-skilling/upskilling is the only way out and will have to be undertaken by every stakeholder. Even from a mid-term standpoint, the opportunities are simply massive—the global digital transformation market is expected to grow from $ 445.4 billion in 2017 to $ 2,279.4 billion by 2025. The cost of not changing is frightening. By 2022, about 54% employees will need significant re-skilling/ upskilling.

The race for talent acquisition is intense. Countries have started to put in place national digital skills strategies, including in Asia. The magnitude of the challenge is massive and, in our case, nothing short of a collaborative Indian effort will suffice. Moreover, it’s about time we put to rest the fear-mongering narrative of job losses and underpinned the real issue—the global skill crisis. Smart machines will replace millions of jobs worldwide, but, newer jobs will be created in greater numbers.

The World Economic Forum estimates 75 million jobs may be displaced, but 133 million new roles may emerge globally in a few years. These new jobs will be different and will require higher application of cognitive skills alongside working with deep technologies. McKinsey says pretty much the same thing with more alarming statistics over a broader time horizon. Globally, 400 to 800 million jobs may be displaced by 2030, requiring as many as 375 million people to switch job categories entirely. Numerous studies have been carried out (including by Nasscom) and it’s clear why re-skilling is an imperative. Most of these figures are futuristic, but even now the skill gap is being acutely felt across industries. It’s a significant gap.

Is Indian IT doing enough towards re-skilling? Many companies have their own learning platforms that are being used extensively. Others are tapping into their partner networks and massive open online courses. Workforce participants realise that re-skilling is a hygiene factor. Historically, learning has happened in silos where learners have been pitted against one other. This has to morph into a collaborative mindset to create an environment of shared learning. Also, as an industry, we need to have deeper engagements with academia, CoEs and research labs to reach our optimum potential. Indian IT is taking convincing strides to sustain its position as the preferred transformational partner for global clients. Towards this, investments of about 10,000 crore of have been earmarked for re-skilling.

Besides our traditional geographies (the US & the UK) even other nations, such as Singapore, China, France, Canada, and Egypt, have begun to invest significantly towards creating digital talent. As many as 20 countries across the globe have adopted AI National Strategy. Governments worldwide recognise the inevitable shift and are adopting AI, analytics, and allied technologies to deliver citizen-centric services, including real-time response.

The government doubled its Digital India budget to $480 million in 2018-19, which will be used for research and training in deep tech. In the interim budget this year, the announcement of the National AI Centre, AI portal, and the identification of nine areas to be driven by technology are positive steps towards evangelisation. On this, I’d like to also add that the Karnataka government along with Nasscom has launched a CoE for data science and AI.

Universities will have to re-train to ensure students are employable in the digital era. We produce 2.6 million STEM graduates annually, but their employability is considerably low. We have to bear in mind that deep tech is evolving rapidly, so Standards & Quality Packs are still in the WIP stage, putting additional strain on quality. Investment in research is another area where we lag. Sponsored research in our top institutions is between $120-140 million annually, while comparable estimates in the American colleges are between $1-1.5 billion. Increasingly, universities will require great access to patient capital.

This industry has never been constrained by demand. We have to ensure that we get the supply side of the equation right in real quick time, and policies and strategies must translate into immediate action. The choice is no more about being the bigger fish —but being the faster one.