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The importance of up-skilling blue-collar workers in the new normal


India has a long way to go when it comes to up-skilling our blue-collar workforce.

The importance of up-skilling blue-collar workers in the new normal
India is a country with a large number of blue-collar workers, estimated at around 300 million. While skilling and development programs are widely implemented for the white-collar staff; there is a lack of structured training programs and institutes available for the blue-collar workforce. Since the incorporation of the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) in 2008, the government and several private institutions have invested in programs to address this problem, however, there is still a lot more to be done.
With the increasing number of start-ups, e-commerce companies and the subsequent advent of the gig economy, the employability of the blue-collar workforce has increased.  However, the skillset gap between the while-collar and unskilled blue-collar workforce remains as wide as it was. With the advancement in technology and robotics, the demand for skilled workers will continue to rise. Workers will be expected to perform tasks and adhere to processes that seamlessly integrate with automated processes.
While blue-collar work in its traditional sense was reduced to doing mindless physical tasks, the new age jobs have evolved and require a certain level of digital literacy to manage tasks in a successful manner and ensure intelligent workflows. The emergence of the gig economy has further accelerated demand for skilled workers who have diverse skill sets to work across sectors/ industries like Construction, Manufacturing, Logistics and Transportation. According to a recent report by consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group and Michael Susan Dell Foundation, India’s gig economy is set to triple over the next 3-4 years to 24 million jobs in the non-firm sector from the existing 8 million. This will, in effect, lead to the creation of 90 million flexi-gig jobs in 8-10 years with total transactions valued at more than $250 billion, contributing an incremental 1.25% to India’s gross domestic product (GDP), the report said.
In the manufacturing space, the onset of the pandemic has further accelerated this transition as more companies are looking to automate their operations and decrease dependence on manual labour, leading to a gradual transition towards a higher skilled worker. Shop-floor and production-related labour will need to acquire new sets over time in order to remain employed. Production in plants and manufacturing sectors will become increasingly automated and will have less use for people to do manual work and will instead focus on building a workforce who can operate, repair and maintain the technology. Workers will need to up-skill themselves to adapt to use of the newest technology.  With machines carrying out the larger quantum of work, this, in turn, gives the employees a chance to get trained further and provides more avenues for growth.
In the IT/ITES sector, offices will continue to work with a limited additional workforce until the effects of the pandemic wear off.  Even post-pandemic job functions like pantry staff, lift operators, errand boys etc. may become obsolete in the long run as companies begin to de-densify office spaces.
Post pandemic, companies will pay more attention to EHS (Environment, Health, Safety) and ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) standards at their industrial and commercial workplaces. EHS will become a definitive factor when it comes to employment. It will become imperative for blue-collar and gig workers to build skills related to EHS as it gains more importance in our daily lives. From shop-floor and production workers to delivery boys and make-up artists, everyone will need to pay more attention to EHS.
With expectations of greater transparency from corporates, both internal and external stakeholders now look towards environmental sustainability and social governance as a true indicator of company health. Owing to this renewed focus on Environmental and Social Governance (ESG), especially for modern businesses, the Environment Health and Safety (EHS) teams on the ground will need to play a robust supporting role in ensuring organization compliance at all times. This requires up-skilling of the internal task force on the important industry as well as company policies and a rigid structure to manage individual performances through constant training and development.
Furthermore, upskilling will help in employee retention and morale building. With limited training and growth opportunities available for blue-collar workers, structured training provided by companies will help in not just to diversify their skill sets but will also motivate them to be more productive while increasing their analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities leading to more intuitive workforce.
In conclusion, upskilling is the only effective way to stay relevant. This holds true for companies as well as for individual workers. Especially for the blue-collar workforce.
-by Rushabh Vora, Co-Founder & CEO, SILA Group

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