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Skill-Building Is Key To Turning India Into A Digital Economy

02/03/2017 2:09 PM IST | Updated 06/03/2017 9:17 AM IST
Adnan1 Abidi / Reuters

Digital technologies have become the cornerstone of disruption, innovation and wide-ranging transformations globally, while at the same time drastically altering the social, economic and business landscape in every nation. Without a doubt, technology will continue to shape and reshape the world and be at the core of what defines a modern economy.

Last year proved to be a banner year for India, with it coming up as the sixth-largest economy in terms of GDP, after the United States, China, Japan, Germany and France. Although the global economic forecast is bleak, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India has remained ahead of China, growing at 7.5%, and emerged as the fastest growing major economy in 2016-17.

For India to achieve the ambitious goals laid out in the Digital India programme, development of digital skills needs to take centrestage.

The Indian government is focused on developing a "Digital India"—an enabler for a digital economy. In fact, the announcements by the Finance Minister in the recently presented Union budget clearly indicate the government's thrust towards India's massive digital revolution—one that will help eradicate corruption and black money and galvanise the economy. The BHIM app launched by the government, for instance, will unleash the power of mobile phones for digital payments and enable financial inclusion. Aadhaar Pay, a merchant version of the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System is also expected to be launched shortly. Several announcements made by the government have only reiterated their resolve to make India "digital."

While there is no blueprint to become a digital nation, the core of any digital economy is the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. India has a strong ICT sector and a substantial number of qualified ICT workers. A key requirement for these highly skilled personnel is to keep ahead of the learning curve, when it comes to honing their digital skills, so as to ably grapple with rapidly advancing technologies. Hence, for India to achieve the ambitious goals laid out in the Digital India programme, development of digital skills needs to take centrestage.

Then again, for India to achieve its goal of becoming a digital nation, infrastructure and connectivity issues need to be overcome. Today, a gaping digital divide is visible, with many having limited access to new technologies and therefore lagging behind with respect to digital adoption. Last mile connectivity is an issue in remote areas and over 55,000 villages still lack mobile connectivity.

Improving digital skills across workplaces

Global spending on digital transformation technologies is expected to cross $2.1 billion by 2019. According to industry experts, digitally transformed organisations are 26% more profitable than their industry competitors. Enterprises, for the most part have stayed on top of digital technologies, embracing them in order to stay competitive in the global marketplace. Yet, of the more than 42,000 employers surveyed globally, 40% are experiencing difficulties filling roles. In India, 58% of employers reported that finding replacements for job vacancies is becoming more difficult due to talent shortage.

A whole lot more focus is required on ensuring that digital skills meet global quality standards, so that India remains competitive.

The challenge lies not only with regard to fresh skilling and reskilling. The need is digital skills for all Indians, not just those encompassing the IT and ITES industry. If India is to be the most sought after digital marketplace, effective Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) participation is an absolute must. However, SMEs today, are already under immense strain to invest in new ICT technologies to stay ahead. This holds true for start-ups as well. Larger organisations also need to invest heavily in digital upskilling.

A whole lot more focus is required on ensuring that digital skills meet global quality standards, so that India remains competitive. High skilled jobs in the areas of big data, analytics, cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), will be the next big wave. This means that while digitisation will remain central for businesses to outperform, skill needs are changing rapidly. Job holders and job seekers need to constantly be upping their skill sets.

Tackling the digital skills divide

Digital disruption has been a focal point at the World Economic Forum (WEF) too. Coupled with IoT, the digital revolution will have a significant impact on everyday life. In fact, according to the WEF, in their report, the combined value of digitisation to society and industry is pegged at over US$100 trillion over the next decade.

Collectively honing our digital prowess will allow for a fast-evolving and successful global economy...

The questions to be asked are: Is there a mismatch in terms of digital skills required and what is available today? Where does digital competence feature in business enterprises? At what level does the digital literacy of a company's supervisory and executive board stand? After all, these are the very skills that will drive companies to leapfrog and connect with the world of tomorrow.

For India to become the powerhouse of digital innovation, we need to:

Foster a strong youth talent pipeline

With rapid technology advancements, India needs a workforce that is innovative, skilled and adaptable. Tomorrow's talent must be nurtured today.

Encourage workforce upskilling to enhance digital adoption

For companies to stay ahead, it is essential that they continually invest in upskilling their workforce.

Build on digital literacy/skills

Alongside promoting the adoption of technologies by businesses, it is also imperative that workers using these technologies have the skills to leverage benefits to the maximum. Armed with the right digital skills, digital adoption increases, thereby impacting productivity positively and driving economic growth.

Cultivate digital entrepreneurship

Adoption of technical skills is an integral part for the success of entrepreneurs.

By implementing these strategies on the ground, more Indians can be a part of the digital transformation that is sweeping across our nation today. Collectively honing our digital prowess will allow for a fast-evolving and successful global economy where the youth, in particular, will be well prepared to tackle what lies ahead.

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