The need for skill development in the contemporary work environment

By Isha Mahajan on June 21, 2016

As the world dives into complexities in growing industrial needs and technological advancements, need for  skill development increases. Corporate leaders confirm the importance of skill development for promotion and advancements. Economists believe that new skills are a key to counter the projected job loss due to decreased dependency on manpower and increased automation (Allen, 2014).

Evolution of education and skills in a work environment

Recapitulating the flashback of centuries-old definition of skills:

  • Reading,
  • Writing and
  • Arithmetic.

Traditional education environment created passive learners where appraisal was restricted to grade level specific papers or one time projects where curriculum was fixed and scheduled with minimal scope of learners to participate in decision making. However western modernity has forced academicians and educators to rethink new skills that would be compatible with the current needs. Traditional skills have been replaced by:

  • Reflecting,
  • Researching and
  • Resolving.

Reflection implies that learner must know the need and importance of the course they are opting for and undergo the training with the aim of lifelong learning rather than scores. Researching focuses on obtaining practical knowledge such as tracking down affordable and up-to date resources and in accessing and contributing to social networks. For instance now-a-days digitisation has offered the facility of massive open online courses through which students can develop their skills and master their field. Resolving will enable students how to structure their time, make decisions, face challenges and learn from their mistakes being provided an independent learning environment with lesser instructions and limited rules and regulations (Allen, 2014).

The gap between the expectations of an employer and the skills of an employee

There is a wide gap between the expectation of employers and the skills developed in the employees. Technological changes not only create new opportunities for individuals but also revolutionise the industries. For example electronic industry changed from televisions to LED’s, telecom industry underwent transformation from landlines to cellular phones to smart phones. Such radical changes make the workforce misfit in the industry adding to unemployment. So what is required is continuous skill development and enhancement. OECD skills outlook, 2013 suggests various causes that are responsible for the changing skill requirement such as:

  • Access to computers and information communication and technologies,
  • Change in service provision and consumption,
  • Employment in services and high-skilled occupations,
  • Change in employment by industry sectors,
  • Change in occupational structure,
  • Effect of globalisation,
  • Role of organisational change and
  • Imbalance between the supply and demand for skills in labour markets.

To counter these changes emphasis has been laid down on achieving the proficiency in literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills.  Moyer, 2015 suggests five skills that are a must to survive in the fast changing world which are:

  1. Learn how to learn.
  2. Discover purpose of life.
  3. Self branding.
  4. Equilibrium of supply and demand.
  5. Information reduction.

Demanding skills to focus on in skill development programs

International Data Corporation (2013) identified 20 most common skills required so as to fetch employment and increase the scope of growth and development in terms of rise in status, power and increment in salaries are:

  • Oral and written communication skills,
  • Microsoft office,
  • Detail orientation,
  • Problem solving capabilities,
  • Self starting and self motivated,
  • Organisational skills,
  • Work independently,
  • Project management tools,
  • Sales experience,
  • Customer service orientation,
  • Multilingual abilities,
  • Strong interpersonal skills and
  • Know how of work ethics.

The study also revealed that communication skills had greater importance over technical skills. The education level and skills required for the current occupations have changed drastically over the years. For instance; in India the entry level jobs such as those of clerks now require know how of computer skills along with increased educational qualification which was earlier not required. In Canada, the workers who required post secondary qualifications earlier sharply increased in late 90’s and now require professional degrees from universities. Also the growing trend of high tech jobs demand workers with a combination of  graduate and postgraduate degrees, technical training and soft skills which were limited to matriculation or lower qualification over the past years. Besides job-specific knowledge and technical skill developments employers look out for employability skills like academic, personal management skills and teamwork abilities.

Changes required in the education system

An important observation made was that the current education system focussed on developing subject matter experts rather than soft skill development. It must be realized that learners should not be made machines or memory storage devices, rather their personal application skills in terms of innovation, creativity and presentation should be intricately designed.

A country’s economic growth has a high positive correlation with the availability of required skilled manpower. According to Human Capital Report, 2015, Luxembourg tops the chart of having the highly skilled manpower where 6 in 10 workers are rated as high skilled and employed followed by Singapore,  Switzerland and Israel where 50% of the workers are highly skilled. Remaining countries in the top 10 are European countries and New Zealand rests 10th position with 47% of the workers as highly skilled. However there is an acute shortage of skilled manpower in world’s strongest economies such as Italy, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany and USA (Human capital report, 2015). The underlining reasons behind this shortage is inadequate training and orthodox systems. Nevertheless the problem could be solved through strategic migration and promotion of skilled trade so as to plug the talent gap.

The law of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ holds true in the case of career growth and employment stability. In order to stay abreast of the advancement and dynamic fluctuation in the job market, continuous learning and skill development is required. The learner should be flexible enough to imbibe what comes in its way and realize that skill is a lifelong virtue and requires constant nurturing.