Companies in India have long grappled with the problem of a shortage of skilled workers, and now they must also focus on constantly skilling their existing workforce given the fast-changing business environment.
"The needs are even not known, because a lot of them are evolving," said Richa Sethi, head, learning and organizational development at Coforge, an information technology company, while speaking at the SHRM India Annual Conference in Delhi. "The need for today does not need to be the need for tomorrow," said Sethi.
So how can HR plan for skilling in such an environment? Here are some tips and challenges shared by experts at the SHRM India conference:
A Continuous Evolution
At Coforge, the strategy for skilling is to be extremely nimble, said Sethi.
She said HR needs to continuously look at what's next for the business, and plan on how to keep employees ready for that.
She gave the example of Metaverse, an online space where people interact or experience things via a digital persona. Until a few years ago, Ms. Sethi said that her staff had no experience in Metaverse, but they are now getting trained in it because clients are asking for that.
"So when you look at the workforce, it's a continuous evolution," she said.
Disrupt and Reconstruct Mindset
For business leaders, HR experts said its imperative to have a growth mindset and the ability to disrupt a business and build it back.
"That is the biggest skill gap," said Regina Roberts, global head, learning and OD, at Jubilant Life Sciences, a manufacturer of pharmaceutical and life science products.
At Jubilant, for instance, Roberts said that one part of the business is growing rapidly while another is on a muted growth path. They felt that leaders should be able to adjust quickly to changing realities.
"We wanted to shift the orbit and think whether our leaders are ready to take on the new challenge that we are faced with," said Roberts.
Jubilant created a 9-month program for its top 50 leaders, in partnership with an academic institution, to simulate a business environment. The simulation "helps them to disrupt the business, think of the new business model, and… bring back the business to life," said Roberts.
Leaders are expected to draw upon this experience in their current roles.
As companies in India grow rapidly and diversify into new businesses, they need to train a large number of people, sometimes in niche skills for which there isn't any training available in the market.
The result: they've set up their own training academies.
At Reliance Retail, a retailer of everything from groceries to electronics, staff strength has doubled since the pandemic to 400,000, said Jeeva Balakrishnan senior vice president and chief talent officer for the company. The company has several in-house academies to prepare employees for more than 900 roles, for which they require certifications, he said.
For instance, one academy prepares staff for the role of "buying and merchandising", which involves deciding what products to sell and how to package and display them. "There are no courses available in India on buying and merchandising," said Balakrishnan. "We are growing like anything and we can't really buy people from market."
Tapping Business Leaders to Build Courses
At outsourcing company WNS Global Services, they have a university which draws on the expertise of business leaders in creating content for their employees, along with academic and other partners, said Rajnish Borah, global head, learning, organization effectiveness & DNI, WNS Global Services.
The company's business leaders make up a board of studies which proof-reads the curriculum and decides what needs to go into the classroom, said Borah.
They "essentially decide what kind of curriculum, what kind of course, what kind of capability-building that we need to take the organization employees through," he said. "That is helping us primarily because of the fact that they are closer to the markets," said Borah.
Skilling a Diverse Workforce
One of the challenges when creating training programs is to make them suitable for a wide range of workers at the company.
"The biggest challenge that we have is the diversity of workforce that we manage," said Roberts of Jubilant. She said her staff includes young people right out of college, to much older workers and scholars who have PhDs. "It requires a different approach for all," she said.
In the post-pandemic world, she said they are also getting some pushback from workers at manufacturing plants on digital training. Workers want to go back to in-person training programs. "That is throwing up another challenge," said Roberts.
Technology Skills for All
Ankur Gupta, senior director of marketing at educational technology company Skillsoft in India, said that even non-technology companies should provide their employees a basic understanding of various digital technologies. "You need to understand… how it will make your future role better," said Gupta. He said they've seen a lot of demand for such courses.
However, getting management to agree to such training for all may not always be easy.
At Reliance Retail, when Balakrishnan proposed the idea of providing training in artificial intelligence to staff as part of a future skills development plan, his manager asked whether he planned to make AI software developers out of retail employees.
"I said certainly not," said Balakrishnan. "But I want my retail workforce to understand the application of AI in retail."