Article (April-2019)


Need to prepare future workforce compatible to technological advancements

Sidharath Tuli

Designation : -   CEO & Founder

Organization : -  People Sculptors, Gurugram


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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?

ST The world of work is changing faster than most of the people realize. More and more people are beginning to work remotely, and large organizations exist with hardly any assets and without even company offices. As technology advances and companies look for more ways to control costs and increase their competitive advantage, people should expect increased interaction with artificial intelligence (AI), job re-engineering, more remote working and a need to find new ways of ensuring meaningful human connections in a virtual culture and world. 

The world of work is changing and adapting at speed to catch up with the rapid and continuous advances being made in technology. We are transitioning into an era that has been dubbed 'The Fourth Industrial Revolution' (known as Industry 4.0). The technological age is squeezing out manual labour and it is predicted that by 2020 (only two years away!) over five million jobs will be replaced by automated machines. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released The Future of Jobs report revealing the top skills needed by 2020. Some of these are :

1. Cognitive Functioning Skills - Complex problem solving, Creativity and Critical thinking.

2. Collaborative skills - Effective Communication and Team collaboration.

3. Curiosity - Penchant for new experiences, learning new skills and openness for change.

4. People Management - Inspiring and Coaching people.

5. Emotional Intelligence - Self-Awareness, Empathy, Motivation, Self-Regulation and Social Skills.

6. Judgment & Decision Making - Using data analytics for prediction, insight and action.

7. Cognitive Flexibility - Switching between different situations and interdisciplinary thinking.

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

ST A worldwide survey conducted by Accenture of over 1700 managers from 14 countries has revealed that managers spend as much as 50% of their time in routine tasks like coordination, control and coordination. Automation, Robotics and AI could give most of it back leaving managers with more time to devote to strategy, people development and engagement with stake holders.

However, the biggest challenge would be the education of the workforce. In a survey conducted by Accenture, it has found out that 80% of the executives in India believe that the workforce isn't ready for Artificial Intelligence. In the rest of the world, the same figure is 65%. And in India, very few companies are investing in training the workforce to meet the skill requirements for engaging with AI.

Many people appreciate the problem and understand that the workforce isn't ready, but they are not taking enough action to re-skill their people, and that's the biggest challenge staring us in the face.

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? 

ST Yes, it is true that we need to create more jobs. We do hear about situations where people having Masters and even PhD's have applied for unskilled jobs in the government sector. I am not a public policy expert, but I think a bigger push is required in manufacturing. The manufacturing sector has the potential to create a large number of jobs as has happened in China. If you look at the country's GDP, Services constitute over 61%, and manufacturing only 23%. This has to change if we have to create opportunities for our youth and exploit the demographic dividend of our country. Moreover, this would provide opportunities for the population overly dependent upon the agriculture sector to shift to more rewarding jobs. The main engine of growth for India must be clusters of enterprises, spread around the country by creating more jobs in micro, small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and stimulating the domestic demand. Labour-intensive clusters can compete in export markets too by supplying the demand for customised products with new technologies such as carpet manufacturers in Rajasthan. Second, special packages are needed for labour-intensive industries to create jobs. There are a number of labour intensive manufacturing sectors in India such as food processing, leather and footwear, wood manufacturers and furniture, textiles and apparel and garments.

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?

ST I do think that our HR ecosystem needs to evolve further. In many ways the HR hasn't moved beyond a transactional role. If you ask the CEOs as to what is their biggest challenge, most of them would mention managing their human capital as their biggest challenge. But if you ask as a follow up question how they would rank their HR function, most likely, they would not rank it among the top 5 functions of their organization.

This is quite paradoxical.  And the real reason is that they are sometimes disappointed with their CHROs. They would like to use their HR heads as sounding boards just as they use their CFOs and rely on their skills of linking people with numbers to diagnose weaknesses and strengths in the organization, find the right fit between people and the jobs and advice on the talent implications of the people strategy. But quite often they find them wanting. They want their CHROs to link HR to real world business needs. They find that their HR heads have difficulty in understanding how business decisions are made and have great difficulty in understanding why people or parts of the organizations aren't performing. They accept that by and large HR people understand the intricacies of compensation, performance management methodologies and IR policies. But have trouble connecting with the business. The people generally complain that HR gets reduced to a mouthpiece of the organization, and don't have the courage to take up their issues with the organization and don't adequately play the role of the credible activist.

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?

ST Technology is going to change how organizations are managed. Consistently contemporary research is suggesting that in an AI age characterized by intense disruption and rapid ambiguous change, we need to rethink the essence of effective leadership. Certain qualities, such as deep domain expertise, decisiveness, authority and short-term task focus are losing their cachet, while others, such as humility, adaptability, vision, and constant engagement are likely to play a key role in more-agile types of leadership. The challenge for HR would be to recruit people who possess the above competencies and further nurture and keep developing them. They have to focus their attention to build organizations whose mind-sets shift from controlling to collaborating and how to make their managers competent in engaging with their employees in coaching conversations. 

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?

ST The statistics suggest that by 2025, Gen Y employees, now in their 20s will grow to represent 75% of the workforce. These people would need to display some or all the skills that we discussed earlier. And more importantly managing and leading them would require a different paradigm. For instance instead of telling them what to do, they would want to know why something needs to be done. They would be more attracted to organizations which provide meaningful jobs and grant them greater autonomy to carry on with their responsibilities. And I think they would also prefer to work in organizations which genuinely practice sustainable environmental practices. They would demand a better work life balance and flexibility in their work schedule.

HR would become a more strategic function. And HR managers would be recognized in creating value for their organizations.