Investing in people is just as important as investing in technology.
Authored by: Sanjay Tiwari
We live in turbulent times. These aren’t humanity’s first but they certainly feel a lot worse than past crises due to an uncanny convergence of events. Almost any adult can rightfully claim to have survived more than one crisis in their lifetime. The anemic European growth of the late eighties, the Asian Tiger implosion of the late nineties which followed close on the heels of the Balkan War, the SARS outbreak and the banking crisis that greeted us as soon as we stepped into the new century—chaos seems to have been the running background theme of human existence for as far back as memory serves us.
The events of the past, though daunting at the time, were ultimately survivable and also proved to be harbingers of change. The shake-ups of history eventually resulted in the emergence of better, more resilient systems. New industries were formed and only the fittest survived. In fact, the birth and death of industries that the last North American recession witnessed, eventually led to new employment opportunities arising that virtually erased the 10 percent unemployment of 2008 - 09.
Yet this one feels different
None of the past pandemics, crises and disasters led to entire industries getting retired or put on hold for extended periods of time, not unless catalysed by technological disruption.
The scale and impact of COVID-19 are unprecedented. The pandemic piled on to a world already teetering on the brink with geopolitical uncertainty, trade tensions between US-China-Europe, Brexit and widespread social unrest.
The cumulative impact of the current crisis will make the repercussions reverberate well into the future. What do all of these impending changes mean for the employability of people in the affected industries as well as our students? Are we to leave them to their own avail and hope that ‘water will flow where it does’? Or will we conclude too late, years from now, that this pandemic destroyed not only thousands of physical lives but also the economic livelihoods of millions of people? Will we create a new lost generation for a new Malcolm Gladwell to write about someday, a new batch of outliers?
The road ahead
Technology today is ubiquitous and emerges as the apparent hero in every story. But the fact is, investing in people is just as important as investing in technology. It is knowledgeable and skilled people that provide businesses with a competitive advantage. People bring ideas, innovation and capability to the workings of a business, and building our people is the most pressing need of the hour as we set off on the road to re-build.
Yet as things stand, just 10 percent of management graduates in India have the skills to deliver in a real job scenario as per a 2017 ASSOCHAM study. The Prime Minister’s push for skill development is of critical relevance today. A December 2018 report of NITI Aayog revealed that 5.4 percent of Indian workers have undergone skills training compared to 96 percent in South Korea and 75 percent in Germany.
The need to overhaul the education ecosystem has turned urgent. Implementing an upskilling and reskilling revolution is important as not only will it help build a future-ready workforce, it will also help tackle the immediate challenges of job displacement and talent shortage.
It is time for businesses to recognize this as an area of critical investment. Leaning in to leverage new-age tech-based innovations that offer scalable, custom-made solutions for these businesses can help build their human capital asset. This is will be a sure-footed step on the road to economic revival ensuring long-term returns and dynamism for businesses.
The rewards for building this intangible asset are not limited to productivity alone. Upskilling and reskilling also offer the additional advantage of expanding the range of choices available to people. Incentivising their lifelong learning also improves morale and brings down employee turnover.
Especially the sunrise industries of logistics, health, education, E-retail, and food processing hold the promise of high-yielding opportunities and must increase emphasis on human capital development.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Lessons from history reveal that well-timed, well thought out responses can spell the difference between adaptability and extinction for businesses in times of distress. Nicholas Taleb calls it being ‘anti-fragile’.
Strategically important, sustainable and agile solutions that bring better systems in place will come from action. Because while it is true that chaos is more or less a constant of human existence, it is also true that historically big events have been the forebearer of change. The evolution that follows chaos is not accidental.
—Sanjay Tiwari is Co-Founder, 21CC Education. The views expressed are personal