Re-skilling & The Role of Learning Professional in the Digital Age

These are unique times. The age of digitization has truly arrived and requires Learning & Development professionals to spearhead this VUCA economy. Never before was the business world so thriving with activity and excitement since the industrial revolution.

Technology will disrupt traditional methods of business

With the advent of technologies like, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning algorithms, Intelligent automation technologies, Big data analytics and Robotics, businesses are changing at a breakneck speed. Organizations are aspiring to be leaner, agile and in a constant pursuit to stay relevant to the customer.

• Banks use ‘Block-chain’ technology to sell customized banking services to its customers. The entire back-end processes are now close to complete automation with AI and Machine learning Algorithms.

• The automotive industry, probably the largest employers of labor in India, now stares at near 100% automation through robotics. Toyota will have its first such plant in 2020. This makes millions of jobs in the automotive industry redundant.

• Insurance companies use Big data and Analytics, to design customized insurance plans for its customers on a large scale, making the jobs of actuarial analysts obsolete.

• Doctors in remote villages in Maharashtra are replaced by robots to perform complex cardiac surgeries for farmers at a fraction of today’s conventional cost. Microsoft’s ‘Whitefi’ technology makes this possible.

• The Indian IT outsourcing industry that employees approximately 3.5 million engineers every year, now may not need as many. AI (Artificial Intelligence Technology) can create software applications and maintain them with minimal human intervention.

All this means that a lot of jobs that we have today, will cease to exist once the digital era reaches maturity. Either they will get automated or become irrelevant in the near future. Nearly 69% of the current jobs will be lost to automation.

While we are better than some of the other countries, we will have 18 million people out of work by 2019. As AI & ML capabilities mature, manual & repeat jobs will be the first to go, followed by the medium skilled & supervisory jobs.

Source: The Guardian Impact of automation report 2016

“If India grows at 8% a year, with a labor productivity increase of 1.5% a year, jobs should grow at a rate of 6.5% a year. With automation, jobs may grow within a band of 4–5% a year for the next 10 years.” — Pai, former human resources head at Infosys Ltd and chairman of Aarin Capital.

The workforce demographics are changing

In Parallel, the composition of the workforce in India is also changing. We call them ‘Millennials’. This generation of workforce, today constitute 80% of any organization. Their work ethics, aspirations, and motivational drivers are very different. They have access to information, wider choice of work and they are very technologically savvy.

Today’s workforce is highly aspirational. Traditional belief about working culture and behavior is challenged. Organizations are changing their reporting structures and altogether removing them completely to adapt and accommodate the new requirements.

• Organizations like Accenture, Deloitte, Genpact, and many others including GE, have shut down their traditional model of performance appraisals and have adapted to the new model of individual goals and measurements.

• Companies now allow flexi-work options for its employees, including work from home, 24/7 offices, club and gym memberships. Such benefits are highly appreciated by the young workforce. These are regarded as better and more authentic benefits than the traditional awards or plaques that existed in the earlier generation of workforce.

This brings up a very important question about the workforce.

What do Millennials Want at work?

Training & Development tops the chart with over 22%. Traditional benefits like maternity, access to loans, or free child care is not high on their priority list.

Source: The Millennial Survey — Pricewater Coopers — 2017

The mismatch of Skills vs. Requirement

This brings a bigger dilemma for both the organizations and the employee workforce. The needs of the business do not seem to match the aspirations of the workforce.

Only 37.7% of these graduates are employable. Organizations are in a constant search to match the skills of the employees to the future demands of its customers. These graduates lack the basic skills required for their jobs. Their graduation skills hardly meet the industry requirements and benchmarks.

Organizations spend on training & orientation to bring their productivity to acceptable levels. This trend continues for the past few years. The cost of this low employability is huge and takes shape as loss of productivity, including aspects like escalating cost of production, due to rework, the cost of rehiring, the cost of retraining etc.

Source: Wheebox India Skill Report — 2017

As of 2016, 873678 (in 000’s) people work in India. India Ranks 105th in 130 countries for the working population and has a score of 57.73 over an index of 100. Without a clear strategy to handle the changing skill requirements, most of this population will be unemployed and will render the economy to a downward spiral.

Source: World Economic Forum — Human Capital Index Report 2017

Re-skilling/Up-Skilling workforce — The need of the hour

In order to overcome this challenge, a three way approach is critical. This change requires involvement from multiple stakeholders, including the government.

The Government

The government takes the lead on this and set the tone by creating a body with specific focus on skilling the Indian workforce, and making this a national agenda. The establishment of National Skill Development Corporation and its ancillaries, and the Skill India Initiative, is a right step towards this direction. With its clear policy and agenda, the initiative aims to make them productive and employable in the work environment.

The NSDC predicts the skill requirements in each sector and set the path for various service providers to avail the schemes to enable skill.

Over the years, their initiatives have increased the number of trained and skilled workforce of over 1.06 Crore Indians. This is possible by teaming up with industry leaders, creating a strong supply of training providers and clear programs and incentives for the organizations that employ this workforce.

Source: Annual Report 2016 — NSDC


Organizations on their part, have stepped up to meet this challenge. With programs that incentivize employees to learn, get certified on the new skills. Skills like design thinking, programming, systems literacy, problem-solving etc. are required in the near future.

According to world economic forum, the top skills required in 2020 clearly show, organizations have a long way to go and are taking the right steps towards that direction. There is a clear focus on including learning as a key parameter in the performance appraisals. This sets the tone about the seriousness of the issue.

Programs like the career path, competency mapping, and career compass, provide the road map for employees to move up from their current skills to the future skills required for the organization. The importance of such programs and their effective implementation will be critical for success.

According to the All India Management Association, the training spend in organizations has significantly increased from 3% of the overall budget to well over 6%.


Finally, the employee. With access to new technology and platforms, learning is now easier than ever. All the content an employee needs, to reskill themselves, to gain awareness and knowledge, is now available on the Internet. Employees, should have the right perspective and attitude to access this content, learn and apply the newly acquired skill in practice.

Learning is no more a paid vacation that companies provide. It is a reward that employees need to earn, stay relevant and continue to grow in the talent market. With options like Udacity, Lynda, Coursera and many good platforms, NOT learning is no more an excuse.

How does the Learning & Development professional’s role change?

The Learning & Development fraternity finds itself at the center of the action. Their role is critical to bridge this gap between business priorities and employee aspirations and skill gap.

Re-skilling employees, based on the business priorities, and future skill requirements of the organization is the central role that learning professionals will play on this new stage. The clear mandate is to ensure that the new age workforce is employable and have the right skills for their jobs and are productive.

To enable this, the role of an L&D professional will also undergo a sea change. Before re-skilling the employees, the L&D professionals need to re-skill themselves and look at their roles differently. Traditional perceptions of L&D will now adapt to a more central role.


Learning & Development professionals will have to start thinking like architects. An architect who designs the learning programs and defines the learning outcomes. These learning outcomes should have a direct impact on the productivity and outcome expected by the business. The wireframe of the architecture, should include the plethora of learning options available and create a trans media experience for the learner.

These learning programs should include a combination of instructor led, self-learning & blended approach across delivery mechanisms like physical/virtual. At each stage of learning, a specific choice of tools can be mixed. All these should align into a neat wireframe.

The experience that a learner undergoes is of critical importance here. The design of the architecture should take into the account the multiple learning preferences of learners and make the content available in each of these formats. The focus should be on the application of the knowledge in a real time scenario.


Learning professionals now have all the tools, technology, content and assessments, required for a comprehensive re-skilling plan. These are available either off the shelf or can be quickly customized for specific needs, from a template. Knowing the information or knowledge to extract from the universe and extracting the best of the content and assessments available will be a skill in itself. The assessments should establish display of skill than knowledge of a concept.

Social Engineer

Once the architecture and the content are ready, it is now the responsibility of the L&D professional to socially engineer the program for consumption among the participants. Forcing the learners with the carrot or stick approach will defeat the entire purpose of such programs. The need is to identify the ‘WHY an individual undertake the program?’

Social engineering can be triggered with various initiatives like leadership propaganda, peer pressure, and team members pushing for participation.

Why Re-skilling/Up-skilling is Imperative to Business in this environment?

Businesses today face competition from a completely unforeseen player.

· Ford now competes with Google and Tesla who NOT are NOT in the automobile industry.

· The largest taxi service Uber does not own a single cab or employee.

· Reliance is morphing into a technology based service provider and is trying to stay relate to today’s young consumer.

This disruption is possible only with technology as the key driver. Hence organizations need to build and re-skill its existing employees to adapt and meet new challenges in the digital era.

Organizations that did not place emphasis on re-skilling, learning or adapting to changing customer demands, perish.

· Hindustan motors is a classic example of not adapting to the changing customer preferences of a car. They closed last year.

· HMT the famous watch company is another. When quartz came into existence, they literally ousted the wind-up watches out of the market.

The benefits of re-skilling and creating an environment of a developing a learning organization make direct business sense. Organizations that learn, perform better than the others 5:1.

Adapting is the core of business survival and growth. The same is true for individuals as well. Adapting will require constant re-skilling. Learning professionals will have to drive this. Learning is Imperative for business for its existence and growth.

The next few years will be exciting for both business leaders, employees, and L&D professionals. A few jobs will disappear, new ones created, and it is the L&D professional’s responsibility to ensure that organizations are right skilled to succeed in this new environment. To do that, L&D professionals also have to adapt and re-skill themselves.