Article (April-2019)


Skilling and labour demands will become unpredictable and variable

Salil Chinchore

Designation : -   Head- Human Resources

Organization : -  Godrej Agrovet Limited, Mumbai


10000+ View        

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?

SC Industry 4.0 is the digital transformation of industrial markets (industrial transformation) with smart manufacturing currently on the forefront. Industry 4.0 represents the so-called fourth industrial revolution in discrete and process manufacturing, logistics and supply chain (Logistics 4.0), the chemical industry, energy (Energy 4.0), transportation, utilities, oil and gas, mining and metals and other segments, including resources industries, healthcare, pharma and even smart cities.

India, along with the United States and China, is expected to lead the platform economy by 2020, creating new economic opportunities for both blue collar and white collar workers. Studies suggest that digital platforms will enable new forms of micro-entrepreneurship, self-directed financial growth, flexible work arrangements. They will enable the women workers to avail new employment opportunities, breaking the barriers of physical mobility and domestic commitments.

Leveraging these opportunities will require the workers to have technical skills along with entrepreneurial and soft skills. The platform economy will create more precarious work conditions rather than formal employment, in terms of job security and protection. Particularly significant is the growth of digital platforms targeted at service workers, many of whom fall under the purview of informal employment such as drivers, plumbers, delivery men etc.

A rapidly changing technological landscape will make skilling and labour demands unpredictable and variable. This would prompt the employers to prefer the contractual workforce over the permanent ones.

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

SC In India, the impact of AI, robotics and automation will be slow and varied across jobs. These impacts, will be felt, in niches.

Automation & robotics - it would be important to distinguish between automation potential and automation adoption. While the potential could be vast, actual adoption in India will depend on many factors such as cost of capital & labour, legal labour framework, social & cultural norms etc. Technology advancements through robotics and automation can influence the jobs that are manual in nature in the industrial sector. This will pose challenges for workers employed in such jobs. They will have to upskill themselves else they will get quickly redundant.  Other few changes that can indirectly impact employment scenario in India are localisation and outsourcing. Many companies from developed markets have decided to relook at their industrial activities outsourced to the developing countries. Through robotics and automation, there will have more efficient manufacturing set up in the home countries. But the employment in developing markets will be at risk.

AI however, may not have direct effect on the employment. AI will provide us much needed machine learning and support us take better decisions at work. However the decisions will continue to be taken by the humans. Hence, its impact on the employment is yet not evident.

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?

SC Emerging technologies will create new opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures, whether by enabling more efficient access to the suppliers and markets through the platform economy or enabling new opportunities for dispersed manufacturing and remote working. A shift from wage employment to self-employment can be expected. However, for traditional workers, self-employment will be associated with loss of social protection and income guarantee. In the digital economy, marginalisation of certain communities is likely to be more entrenched due to technological skill-bias. Digital access and fluency are rapidly becoming essential for suitable work opportunities. Low levels of education among marginalised social groups will limit their capacity to access technology gains and adapt to technology-led disruptions with respect to the future of work. Hence, it is pertinent to see what kind of measures can help how emerging technologies play out in complex socio-economic and cultural context in India. There could be various ways such as labour protection, strengthening of security benefits, providing labour subsidies, skilling initiatives for current workforce, making job platforms accessible to unemployed workers.

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?

SC Jeff McMillan, MS Wealth Management said that "Our objective is not 'artificial intelligence' - it's an intelligent organization. Human engagement is still the single best driver for client satisfaction." We are in early days of AI. As HR, we should proactively study the upcoming Industry Revolution 4.0 and impact on Indian organisations and jobs. Role of HR in future will be to smoothen the transition of current workforce in future requirements. Some of the challenges that HR will have to deal with in future are as follows :

a) Creating people policies and processes conducive for the digitally literate/gig workers.

b) Providing an inclusive workplace in which both traditional and gig workers can co-exist.

c) Up-skilling the traditional workers on a continual basis to help them cope up with technological changes.

d) Designing social/redundancy policies.

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?

SC AI and digital revolution is an irreversible change. Hence, AI is not either or OR but it's an AND solution. HR will have to blend the people approach with tasks AI can do to get the best of both worlds.

HR will have to enhance the skills of employees in tandem with AI. Some of these soft skills include creativity, unique perspective, ability to influence and understanding others.

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?

SC As I said before, the emerging technologies will create shift from wage employment to self-employment. For traditional workers, self-employment will be associated with loss of social protection and income guarantee.

Digital literacy and ICT have been recognised as the basic skills required in the current work environment. In the face of rapidly changing technologies, the skill landscape is constantly evolving. Education and vocational training can no longer follow a linear trajectory and employees will have to regularly upskill as new and improved technologies continuously disrupt the labour market. Lifelong learning is integral to building resilience and remains relevant in the context of the work. Humanistic skills, including creative and critical problem solving are important means to adopt to change. Interpersonal skills and along with leadership abilities are important to navigate through these transitions.

Organisations in general and HR in specific have large role in driving these measures. Creating an environment where continual learning is fostered will be a critical deliverable for HR in coming years.