Professionals and students striving to make themselves future-ready, future-proof
Closing in on his 40s, business development and sales professional Jignasu Panchal is taking an Advanced Excel, Power Business Intelligence and SQL masterclass via Skill Nation, an online platform that offers modern-age job skills. Panchal, 38, who has a bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering and an MBA in finance, says he is making himself “future ready”.
Similarly, 37-year-old Akashdev Engineer, who has 16 years of experience in telecom operations, has recently completed an online project management professional (PMP) certification course from US-based Project Management Institute. An electronics and communications engineer, he says his need to upskill is triggered by the rapidly evolving nature of his sector and role.
Panchal and Engineer are doing what has come to be called “career cushioning” – another phenomenon brought upon the world of work by the churning in the job market, the spate of sackings in the IT and start-up sector, and the changing needs of a cross-section of industries with digital taking centre stage.
Also a product of the pandemic – like the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting – career cushioning has been described variously but essentially means preparing yourself to cushion against a possible upheaval in your professional life. It could be a backup employment plan – a Plan B – in the event of being laid off. Or it could be actively quipping yourself with new skills that would continue to make you valuable to your company even when it is looking to downsize.
“Skills like data management, analytics and science have now become a necessity since monitoring and measurement of data has become crucial across sectors,” says Vadodara-based Panchal, who works in the recertification management department of DNV Business Assurance India, a quality assurance and risk management company. “I am upskilling myself with these tools knowing that these will not only help me in my current profile but also prepare me for multiple sectors.”
Technology is evolving at breakneck speed, says Engineer. “Moreover, as one moves vertically upwards within an organisation, the opportunities for growth shrink. You can stand out by acquiring key skills,” he adds. Engineer has now enrolled for a “disciplined agile senior scrum master” programme with PMI, which offers a toolkit to optimise how teams work, collaborate with allies within the organisation, and solve problems.
It’s not just professionals like Panchal and Engineer who are waking up to the potential redundancy of their existing skills.
Students, too, are becoming cognisant of this and trying to build longevity into their profiles from the get-go.
Coursera’s Campus Skills Report 2022, for instance, finds students preparing for high-growth digital and technology jobs like those of data scientist, data analyst, software engineer, and machine learning engineer. “They are actively building foundational and emerging digital skills such as HTML and CSS, data structures, Blockchain, cloud computing and C programming, in line with the jobs in India’s expanding digital economy,” Raghav Gupta, managing director, India and Asia-Pacific (APAC), Coursera, tells Business Standard.
He adds that several higher education institutions, too, are building their digital competencies and integrating high-quality online learning options to arm students with in-demand skills, bridge the industry-academia gap, and bolster employability. “Blended learning models allow universities to instantly upgrade their curricula to deliver in-demand learning at scale,” he says.
For instance, in a single semester, over 3,700 engineering students from Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology built intermediate and advanced proficiency in industry-relevant multi-disciplinary skills across engineering, data science and business domains on Coursera.
Recruiters and upskilling firms are also working with colleges so that students may step into the industry armed with future-proof skills.
“Today, the rate of obsolescence of skills is very high,” says Bibek Banerjee, dean, School of Management and Entrepreneurship, Shiv Nadar Institution of Eminence. “Whether one is learning programming, analytics or supply chain, these skills are going to become obsolete at a very finite point in time. Schools that are only teaching ‘here-and-now’ skills so that students get jobs will face these conditions as things change fast.”
Coursera, meanwhile, has noticed a rise in the popularity of micro-credentials or professional certificates among those who want to learn in-demand skills for entry-level digital jobs. Its recent “Higher Education to Employment Survey Report”, found that students and recent graduates globally, as also in India, believe industry micro-credentials make them more likely to land a job. The survey also highlights that employers both recognise and value industry micro-credentials and are more likely to hire a candidate who has earned one.
“We are noticing a shift in employers’ expectations as they take on a more ‘skills-first’ hiring approach,” says Gupta. “Many hiring managers are expecting not only a degree but also a credential that signals recent graduates have practical skills. Industry micro-credentials are helping hiring decision-makers solve two of their biggest challenges: identifying and validating applicants’ skills.”
The report found that around 92 per cent of Indian employers agree that earning an industry micro-credential strengthens a candidate’s job application.
A case for soft skills
Besides digital know-how, upskilling firms and recruiters are also emphasising the need for soft skills: an ability to think creatively and critically, and work in teams; high emotional intelligence; flexibility; adaptability, and so on.
“We have noticed that recruiters in the tech space are looking for candidates with not just hard skills but a combination of hard and soft skills, typically referred to as the 5Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Computational Thinking, Communication and Collaboration,” says Neeti Sharma, president and co-founder, TeamLease Edtech.
Citing a career outlook report that TeamLease recently released, Sharma says that from a fresher’s perspective, some of the core domain skills that employers are looking for include cyber security, project management, AR/VR, among others. “The same report also states that soft skills such as analytical thinking, innovation, positive thinking, adaptability, and flexibility are in demand,” she adds.
Coursera’s Gupta maintains that the most future-proof skills across all in-demand jobs are human skills like problem-solving and communication, computer literacy, and career management.
Supratik Bhattacharyya, chief talent officer, RPG Group, agrees, “At a time when the average lifespan of any technology is about five years, we are increasingly seeking people who can learn fast, have resilience and are collaborative. We will continue to look for those who bring in a high level of emotional intelligence, together with problem solving, communication and interpersonal skills.”
Upping the game
- Over 75% employed learners have done at least one upskilling programme, says TeamLease. Of these, over 80% got a better job or a higher salary
- Microsoft data estimates 28 mn new technology jobs in India by 2025
- 62% Indian employers say finding applicants with specific skills biggest challenge
- 92% Indian employers say earning an industry micro-credential strengthens a candidate’s job application
|Top 10 skills in demand by students in India|
|Amazon Web Services|
|HTML and CSS|
|Software As A Service|
(Source: Coursera India)
|Top skills sought by recruiters|
|Artificial Intelligence | Machine Learning|
|Python – Java – R Language – Natural Language Processing|
|DevOps – Network Management – Cloud Security|
|Full Stack Development|
|Robotic Process Automation|
(Source: TeamLease Edtech)