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Reskilling The Workforce To Stay Relevant

Reskilling The Workforce To Stay Relevant

06 Sep, 2019

Disruption is the order of the day – be it people, processes, or functions. But for organizations to keep pace with the disruption, their workforce must stay abreast with the skill requirements of the digital age. According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Future of Jobs report 2018’, by 2022 no less than 54% of all employees will require significant upskilling or reskilling.

These numbers are a convincing indicator of why organizations – big and small, need to look at reskilling the workforce, with a sense of urgency.

The following panel discussion by the experts Amrita Madiah, Director – Talent Development, Adobe India, Shalaka Tambe, Corporate & Millennial Coach, Evoke Consultancy, Sruthi Kannan, Program Head – Cisco LaunchPad, Cisco, Sudeep Ralhan, HR Head, Walmart Labs India, moderated by Utkarsh Rai, Leadership Coach & Consultant, Former MD of Infinera India and China & Author of many popular books, at Confluence 2019 – India Edition throws light on reskilling for relevance.

Reskilling the Workforce

Utkarsh: How are people impacted mentally, physically, and socially when they find themselves becoming irrelevant?

Shalaka: In a situation where a person thinks he is becoming irrelevant, the emotion that naturally follows is fear – Fear of the future, fear of loss of job, fear of technology making one redundant.

When we say ‘Reskilling for Relevance’ we are focusing on the existential threat fueled by the survival instinct of us, humans. We should be more focused on ‘retuning’, than reskilling to stay relevant, which is driven by fear. So, what kind of retuning do we need? It is going to be around the human aspect – the connection with self, with others, and the environment.

Utkarsh: In what percentages should the responsibility of building expertise in a technology be distributed between an individual and an organization? What does your organization do to help your employees build capabilities in a particular technology?

Sudeep: I am not sure if the responsibilities can be quantified in terms of percentages. But I think it is unfair to create a regimented and spoon-fed system. Retuning is what we need to be prepared for and work towards. We are constantly bombarded by research and evidence that says that the world is constantly changing. The idea of future-proofing our employees against the constant disruption through learning/training initiatives is not feasible. The age of well-defined, futureproof career paths, and predefined training requirements, is over.

So, organizations can create frameworks and enable the employees to retune themselves according to the disruption. What great organizations do is, create the right kind of forums that extend beyond the traditional classroom training and enable the right conversations.

We conduct career counseling circles, speed coaching, and initiatives that bring awareness on what learning and development mean to an individual. We supplement this with our fundamental framework of learning that includes developing technical skills, behavioral skills, leadership skills, etc.

So, we focus on a culture that does not anticipate the skills that would be required in the future but encourages building a personality that is ready for the future.

Amrita: Every organization needs to make changes and adapt itself to meet customer expectations. If that is the need for change that organizations face from the outside, there is a need for change, internally as well. How do the people, processes, technologies, solutions realign with the business needs of the organization? Within this context is where organizations face the need to build skills, competencies, and do something different or new.

As an employee, you should be able to step back and say ‘no’ to things that you cannot do. So, as an employee, you need to ask yourselves two questions:

  1. Do you want to put yourself in a situation of anxiety where you need to build that skill/competency? For example, everyone needs to build AI/ML skills a few years down the line; but not everyone is required to do it today. Do you want to put yourself in that situation?
  2. What is in it for you?

Utkarsh: Despite the organization’s efforts for reskilling the workforce, why is there a lack of interest with the employees?

Sruthi: About 375 million workers will be displaced from their current jobs by 2030. This accounts for 14% of the workforce. For about 66% of the leadership of organizations, ‘Reskilling the workforce’ is one among the top ten in their to-do list. For 5% of the leadership, it is one among the top five. This implies the pressing need for reskilling.

An organization can only provide opportunities, and it is up to the individual to make the best out of the opportunities he/she is provided with.

Utkarsh: Individuals learn only in two situations: 1. When their job is at risk 2. When their promotion is hindered. What according to you should be the right motivation to learn?

Amrita: Most of us act when we are coerced to, or on our own, by assessing the consequences of the action – positive or negative. ‘Years of Experience’ is an operative term today. When you have a certain experience, you are expected to know something. But that is not necessary; because as you gain experience, others also do so as well, and they might know what you know or even better. So, learning cannot be quantified and be defined in absolute terms.

When you are looking at your graph, and you realize that you are not getting better with time, then you are probably getting worse. So, that should ideally be the impetus to learn. Asking oneself the question of how one has grown over the years, should drive one to learn more.

At Adobe, we have a ‘check-in’ every quarter where we have conversations about an employee’s goals and aspirations, and not focus on a quantified rating like in the case of a performance appraisal. If we have the same kind of conversations in every check-in, then we know, it is not getting anywhere. So, asking a question to yourself about your growth, should drive you to learn, and reskill yourselves.

Utkarsh: How can reskilling be made a part of an employee’s life, rather than an initiative in case of an emergency requirement?

This boils down to the fundamentals of performance management – separating self-starters from the rest. Who are those who will be a part of the 375 million people who will be displaced by 2030? They are generally the kind of people who react to emergencies, as compared to self-starters who pick signals from the environment and keep bettering themselves.

Organizations today are doing their fair bit to create a culture of learning; but if people don’t pick it up, it is a subtle signal of performance differentiation. Self-starters can be differentiated from the rest when it comes to leveraging opportunities, pushing out of their comfort zones, and reinventing themselves as compared to people who sit passively waiting for the organization to deliver opportunities to them.

When young leaders are faced with the question “How did you make it at such a young age?”, a common answer is that, “I put my hand up, and at the right time”. This means, people who constantly reach out for opportunities and are ready to reinvent themselves, have made it big.

Shalaka: The fact remains that the onus of learning lies with the individual. But the learning and unlearning typically have to happen at three levels:

Individual (Personal) level:
Adopting a growth mindset and striving for continuous improvement.
Organizational level:
A shift from ‘technology’ being the driver of processes, ecosystem, and people, to ‘people’ being the key driver.
Social level
It can be discussed at a deep level but might digress from the topic.

Utkarsh: How do life experiences help in honing leadership skills?

Shalaka: Life experiences do help in developing managerial/leadership skills. Human intelligence has two layers. One is the intellect, which is the key behind the breakthrough inventions, innovations, technological advancements, etc . the second layer comprises of qualities like empathy, being considerate, understanding others’ needs, being compassionate – all of this together constitute human intelligence. So, it is the life experiences, and the ability to apply holistic human intelligence, that fosters innovation.

Our recent survey revealed that what the young workforce thinks they ‘need’ to do, is to refresh their skillsets and stay up to date with recent technologies, but what they ‘want’ to do is to be good at life skills.

Being pushed to stay relevant is taking a back seat, and the assurance of self-worth is gradually becoming a primary requirement of the new-gen workforce.

Sudeep: The upcoming generation approaches life in a more holistic fashion, compared to the older workforce. This approach is very essential for three reasons. They are preparing for the future, building life skills, bringing in diversity with respect to perspectives, thoughts, and ideas.

Utkarsh: Does having a hobby help people foster agility in their organizations?

Amrita: Applying the experiences gained from one’s hobbies is key. I learned skiing, and it is not about how that skill or hobby is directly affecting my job, but I learned to conquer fear and be self-sufficient. So, it is about the learnings that you take from your experiences and translating that to work.

Sruthi: It is about the skills that we unconsciously imbibe through these hobbies and experiences. It is like, I learned how to handle pests in my garden through my gardening hobby and I can now handle troublemakers at work. That is how the experiences/skills gained through hobbies are translated to work.

Reskilling the workforce – the way forward:

What was clear from the panel discussion was that a reskilling revolution is the need of the hour. The global network of public-private task national task forces in India, South Africa, Argentina, and Oman, and many global partner companies, have resolved to reskill or upskill 17 million workers globally, aiming to help 10 million workers by 2020*. Therefore, the mantra to swear by is ‘Learn, Unlearn, Relearn, Repeat’.

Reskilling the workforce is not just a Learning & Development initiative, but a business imperative. To get expert guidance on undertaking reskilling initiatives, drop us a note at


  • * “We need a reskilling revolution. Here’s how to make it happen” – World Economic Forum

  • Digital Skill
  • Learning
  • Reskilling
  • Skill Transformation
  • Unlearning
  • Upskilling
Nitika Goel, Chief Marketing Officer, Zinnov
Saranya Elango, Marketing, Zinnov

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