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In-Depth Jobs


Issue no 43, 21-27 January 2023

Developing India as a Hub for World Class Digital Talent

 

Dr. Neeraj Sinha Naman Agarwal Naba Suroor

Over the past few decades, India has seen incredible progression in various technology-driven sectors, be it the digital platforms, automobile, and pharmaceutical industries such as the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and Aadhaar. Much of these innovations have been through the disposition of the country's domestic talent. At the same time, India is also a source of talent for the world. An overwhelming number of corporations and institutes have engaged many Indianorigin people, signifying that Indian talent is in demand for their technical skills and labour in the global market. Indian talent is promoting the economic growth of several other countries worldwide. The quality of the advanced-level education accessible in India and the lack of lucrative job opportunities have a crucial role in this adversity. From a nationwide perspective, this loss of talent profoundly impacts the country's economic growth. This, in turn, hurts future job opportunities and demand for better education.

Talent acquisition and retention: The shortage of digital talent in India is also leading to high attrition rates and increased wages. Still, this crisis should be converted into an opportunity for India to take some steps and become a global digital talent hub. Over the last few years, the most frequent concern heard from industry leaders has been about talent acquisition and retention. Not just about a widening gap between the demand for and supply of digital talent but the higher political and economic cost of lacking a digitally skilled workforce. Rising attrition at companies and a shortage of talent is a global phenomenon. A recent report by McKinsey & Co highlights that more than 19 million US workers have quit their jobs since April 2021. The scenario for digital talent is even more dramatic. There is an estimated gap of 6 million between the demand and supply of digital talent across eight countries, including the US, China, India and parts of Europe. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of enterprises, creating enormous opportunities for all organisations. Given the customer-centricity of the tech industry in India, the demand environment is highly positive. This sudden acceleration in demand has led to a war for digital talent. To address these talent wars, companies are adopting a multipronged approach - step up fresh hiring so that the supply pool increases, enhance re-skilling programmes through online learning, deploy adjacenttalent skills for on-the-job learning, and, most of all, employees have holistic employment experience, one that spans career development, education and wellness. We must rethink to change India's age old talent development approach to retain its lead in the digital era. The race to become and be seen as a talent hub is heating up worldwide. For instance, the UAE's recent announcement to roll out green visas, expand eligibility for golden visas and attract top tech workers for the country to become the preferred investment hub for technology companies. Several other countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia are realigning efforts to attract high-skill talent, including accelerating visas for vulnerable sectors and promoting visas for highly accomplished applicants. Also, skilling is no longer a unidimensional exercise. Digital talent does not equate to education in the classic STEM disciplines: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Instead, digital talent stems from a digital-first approach, which comprises hard digital skills such as data analytics and soft digital skills. Despite its promising young workforce, India still has a significant skills gap in securing a future of technological innovation. India contributes 31.7% of the total STEM graduates in the world and has the 2nd largest annual supply of STEM graduates. Still, it appears enough is not being done to skill them in the right areas. Demand Supply Analysis conducted by NASSCOM in collaboration with drape estimates that India has a tech talent demandsupply gap of 21.1%, which is the lowest among global tech leaders such as the USA, China, UK, Japan, Canada, and Australia. Recent employability surveys on engineers in India have shown that less than 4% have the technical, cognitive, and language skills necessary for technology start-ups and even a lesser percentage have the new-age skills such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science and mobile development. India is also witnessing a constant brain drain of talent.

Bridging the Skill vs. Employability Gap: As India targets and projects itself towards becoming a 'knowledge economy', it focuses on advancing skills relevant to the emerging economic environment. The Government's mission has dual objectives of economic growth and inclusive development. As the Indian talent migrates from the rural and predominantly agricultural sector to other urban sectors, India realises that it needs a wellthought-out and executed strategy to provide a new set of skills through vocational training to absorb this additional workforce and sustain economic growth effectually. However, it is necessary to also build a robust infrastructure of institutes and academicians for the same. The Skill India Mission, launched by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi with the vision of increasing the employment rate in the country, aims to train 400 millions of Indian youth in various skills. The mission aims at vocational training and certification of Indian youth for a better livelihood and respect in society. Furthermore, the State Governments and other key stakeholders such as industry associations, international organisations, and industry players are also contributing through various financial aid, schemes and programmes to achieve the skill development objectives of the country. It is accepted that skilling is the shared responsibility of the country's private and public sectors, and each should leverage their expertise to work together and create a holistic skill environment for the nation's youth.

Role of Industry in Bridging the Skill Gap: The Indian Tech Industry is one of the largest in the world. The potential of corporates to create a skilled workforce by collaborating with academic and training institutes is enormous. Strategies for the Industry and Academic Institutes to collaborate:

·         Offering industry-oriented internships for students.

·         Incorporate realtime learning under the guidance of expert trainers as a part of the curriculum.

·         Upgrading the curriculum with a focus on the latest and emerging technologies.

·         Mandate the upskilling of faculty and train them with the support of industry experts

Future Roadmap: With leadingedge knowledge, competency and facilities, India needs to attract potential and harness expertise available nationwide, thus fostering research innovation, world-class technology and product development. India must also coordinate and build linkages with research institutes and labs in India and abroad. The Government should work in close collaboration with industry to deliver commercial technology and products and build a vibrant innovation ecosystem by providing a reliable platform for technology-based firms and entrepreneurs to achieve the following objectives:

I.                   Knowledge Generation

·         Generation of new knowledge through basic and applied research.

·         Technology / Product Development and Commercialisation.

·         Undertake expert-driven focused research for specific requirements of Industry, other government verticals and International Collaborative Research Programmes.

·         Translational work, by delivering technologies or technology solutions on the ground. These Technology Innovation Hubs (TIHs) shall also work on lower TRLs.

 

II.                Human Resource and Skill Development

·         Development of highly knowledgeable human resources with top-order skills, including graduate internships, postgraduate fellowships, doctoral fellowships, post-doctoral fellowships, faculty fellowships, and chair professorships.

·         Create an innovation and entrepreneurship-centric start-up ecosystem

·         Enhance competencies, capacity building and training to nurture innovation and start-ups

·         Support young and aspiring entrepreneurs by enabling the translation of ideas into prototypes.

·         Inspire the best talents to be entrepreneurs by providing fellowship, guidance, and co-working spaces for developing their ideas into products.

·         Initial funding assistance for student start-ups.

·         Create linkages with existing Technology Business Incubators (TBI) or create new TBIs in academic institutes.

 

III.             International Collaboration

·         Leverage international alliances which can add value to the chosen domain.

·         Connect Indian research with global efforts in emerging domain areas.

·         Participate in international projects and advanced facilities.

 

IV.              Bringing back Indian talent

·         The Visiting Advanced Joint Research Faculty (VAJRA) scheme of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, has been primarily instituted to enable non-resident Indians and the overseas scientific community to participate and contribute to R&D in India through collaborative research.

·         Such faculty are allowed to work in S&T priority areas for the nation, and publicly funded academic institutions and national laboratories are also eligible to host such faculty.

·         A collaborative effort from all the actors in this space, including the Government, institutions and industry, would make such initiatives more efficient and push them to the scale it needs.

 

V.                 Building a National Database of Skills

·         A rich and comprehensive skills database can help build India as a talent hub.

·         There is a need to review and renew all educational qualifications annually

·         The skill base creates an opportunity of using technology to align people to the relevant jobs or professions.

·         The said platform will help employers to identify and hire people with the right skills.

 

VI.               Investment in Research & Development

·         In the long run, India will have to develop the capability to mobilise resources. As such, a symbiotic relationship between R&D and commercialisation has to grow.

·         Both public and private investment in science and technology R&D need to increase in India. Presently, private industry investment is relatively low in the country's GERD (Gross domestic expenditure on R&D).

·         Correspondingly, a wellplanned roadmap with revenue channels has to be worked out for the developed technologies, innovations, products or services.

·         Focus on Intellectual property management and licensing.

·         Regular training and consulting sessions

·         Databank creation across strategic areas of focus

 

VII.           Incentives and Recognition

·         Making science, technology and innovation a remunerative and lucrative career option.

·         Improving career progression through developing progressive HR policies based on performance assessment.

·         Encourage collaboration between and among institutions, industry, universities, start-ups and other stakeholders.

·         Re-skilling, re-training, and leadership training for talent throughout the career

Implementation Strategy: For India to emerge as the world's talent hub for digital skills, the following strategies are to be adopted:

·         Identifying areas of national importance: Identify areas of national significance for building world-class talent in India. Based on the emerging areas, collaborations with top overseas higher education institutions that have developed expertise in teaching-learning and research could be considered in a customised format. Emerging technologies encompass technology areas of Cybernetics, Mechatronics, Design and Embedded Systems, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and many more, catalysed by methods which are intelligent, autonomous and efficient and are expected to drive innovation in sectors as diverse as agriculture, water, energy, transportation, infrastructure, security, health and manufacturing. Thus, it is heralded as the next paradigm shift in technology that can exponentially spur growth and development in the following domain areas:

a.      Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

b.      Technologies for Internet of Things and Everything (IoT & IOE), Sensors, Activators and Control

c.       Databanks & Data Services, Data Analytics

d.      Advanced Communication Systems

e.       Robotics & Autonomous Systems

f.        Cyber Security and Cyber Security for Physical Infrastructure

 

·         Implementing the National Education Policy on priority: It is essential to have a long-term focus, and we must teach the right attitudes. Continuous learning, skill credits, worldclass academic institutes, experiential learning, and faculty training must focus on excellence and outcomes.

·         Building alternate talent pools: Engineers have been at the core of our talent strategy, but all tech skills don't require a fouryear degree. India needs to build digital capabilities in smaller towns, get more women to join the work stream with hybrid work norms, and revamp vocational education from industrial training institutes and polytechnics. We can leverage corporate-socialresponsibility funding from the industry for these programmes.

·         Incentivising skilling: In the early days of the tech sector, tax incentives played a crucial role in building a global footprint of multinational corporations in India. We must now create schemes that incentivise skilling for corporates, not just for their own needs but across the ecosystem.

·         Exploring innovative learning models: Use apprenticeship programmes at scale, not just for a certificate, but coupled with assessments. Invest in building world-class free content that anyone can leverage and align with a credible certification system.

·         Democratising training: We must remove all hurdles for people to get skilled. Unnecessary entry qualifications and eligibility criteria should be dropped. Let's have no barrier to entry but a qualitycontrolled exit process.

India must look at strategies to increase home-grown talent and attract the best global talent to catalyse the next decade of growth and innovation. This requires constant investments in reskilling and embracing a culture that promotes skill development. Improving incentives, ease of doing science and educational systems will be vital in improving the attraction and retention of Indian S&T talent. These will be the foundation for the success of any programs or policies for retaining and attracting talent. Creating a robust digital talent ecosystem would further enable us to be future-ready and leverage the opportunities of a digital future.

(The authors are Senior Adviser, Specialist, and Associate, NITI Aayog)

 Views expressed are personal.