Article (April-2019)


Focus on soft skills in building the future workplace

Harjeet Khanduja

Designation : -   Vice President HR

Organization : -  Reliance Jio, Mumbai


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Where do you think, we are headed in terms of skill set requirements and capability assessments to build a talent bank for future workplace needs? And how do you visualize the workforce of future?
HK A lady cooked the food and stored it in the freeze with the idea that she will consume it in the future. After few days, she had to throw out half of it for various reasons - Some of it passed expiry date, some of it did not taste good and some of it was unusable as her preference had changed.

Same way finished skill sets will not help in building the future workplace. Because future is evolving and it is dependent on multiple known and unknown variable. It would be wise to build "just in time" model for skills. We should have capability to build skills quickly as and when they are required.

To start with, we must focus on building fundamental soft skills rather than focusing on hard skills for creating skills of future workplace. Fundamental soft skills required for the future will take us PLACES.
1. Problem Solving
2. Learnability
3. Articulation
4. Comprehension
5. Economics
6. Swag
Workforce of future will look similar to our current workforce. However it will be far smarter, tech savvy and ambitious.

How is AI, robotics, automation affecting the employment scenario in India? 

HK AI, automation and robotics are just like diabetes. They remain within your system and keep growing without you knowing about it. When any other factor goes bad, they complicate scenarios and slow down the process of healing. Hence it is important to keep exercising and follow a healthy lifestyle to minimize their effect.

As far as India is concerned, automation and robotics will not pose themselves as a significant threat due to cost disadvantage. AI is still very new for businesses to figure out what they want to do with it. However, if macro-economic factors create a situation, all the three will have a visible effect on the employment scenario. Especially the routine jobs physical or intellectual will be washed out with the next wave of economic recession.

Some Businesses are proactively investing in AI, robotics and automation, which will reduce the impact of the shock. However, more businesses need to participate to moderate the shock further.

There are statistics that speak a loud about the growing unemployment in the country, so much so that highly qualified individuals are forced to take up meagre jobs to make a livelihood. To avoid any kind of social unrest, how more employment opportunities can be generated? 

HK The unequal growth across geography has created the scenario of unemployment. People are shifting heavily from villages and small towns to cities for better opportunities. When people unsettle, they are desperate for employment. They take up meagre jobs to make livelihood. Social factors and self-image don't allow them to go back. This not only creates heavy pressure on city ecosystem but also creates a base for social unrest.

Employment opportunities can be created in various ways. More important question is that where the opportunities should be created. Encouraging local entrepreneurs in smaller towns, by introducing incentives, will create more value and far more sustainable growth than investing all the resources in bigger cities.

Minimum Wages for bigger cities should be placed higher than smaller towns. This will provide competitive edge to the smaller cities. Currently there is no incentive for businesses to operate in smaller cities.

As country in connected digitally, harnessing talent has become relatively easier. However, education and sensitization of the workforce in smaller cities is an essential requirement for productivity improvements. Concepts of dignity of labour and working for 48 hours a week need to be engrained in workforce of smaller towns.

Is the current HR ecosystem ready to take on the challenges of a highly demanding and dynamic future workforce? How HR should evolve and upgrade its competencies to address this challenge?
HK I asked various cab drivers, how much they earn. There was a consistent response that it depends on how much you want to work. More you work, more you earn. There is not communication to them by HR. Cab companies have converted employees into entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs understand this of their own.

In this scenario, there are no administrative hassles, no payment of salaries and no engagement programs. HR is part of business. HR decides processes, policies, employment contracts and innovative incentive structures to keep people motivated. The new HR is much more technologically oriented and has higher business acumen. It is not called HR anymore.

Most of the traditional companies are yet to move to platform based organizations. Economy is waiting for a trigger. When that happens, it will be an advent of Gig economy. Organizations will transform and HR role will evolve.

What are the ways which can help HR to create a system where man and machine can co-exist without eating into each other's space? Is it even possible to have such a workplace universe?

HK Man and Machine have co-existed for decades. You have a fan, tube light, television, refrigerator, air conditioner, microwave, computer and a smart phone at home. Do they eat your space? They make your life easier, simpler and comfortable. This ecosystem was not built in one day. It evolved over a period of time. It will keep evolving. In future, apart from smart phones, homes will become smarter.

I brought Roomba at home. Roomba is a robot that cleans house. I thought after Roomba, we would not need a house maid. In reality, Maid has now become supervisor of Roomba and she can finish the job faster. And when maid is not around, work is not that taxing as there is a supporting robot.

Same way organizations are on their path to create ecosystems which will improve efficiency and reduce the dependency on human beings for routine tasks.

How do you think young generation should prepare themselves to remain employable and worthy in the age of technological disruption? How can HR and organisations support in this?

HK I heard a folk song in the interior of Madhya Pradesh. I recorded a 30 second audio clip of the song. I was hearing song again and again to write down its lyrics. My son saw me doing that. He asked me the objective. I explained that I wanted to find the song on you tube. He played the song to Google assistant and Google assistant searched the song on the YouTube.

The problem I was trying to solve in two steps - by writing the lyrics and then searching them on YouTube. Younger generation solved it in one step. Young generation has an advantage of growing in the technological age; hence their problem solving skills are better.

As young generation is entering the workforce in large number, many a times, their focus is on getting into a job by learning quick skills. Quick skills have a short shelf life. Young generation can improve employability by understanding fundamentals rather than learning quick skills. Flexibility is another important aspect which will help them remain employable in the age of technological disruption. Learning life skills and dignity of labour will help them tread longer in their career.