100% skilled workforce required across telecom value chain: Aruna Sundararajan

The telecom sector requires over 47 lakh additional skilled manpower by 2021-22, but the challenge lies in imparting the right skill sets. In a conversation with Voice&Data, Aruna Sundararajan, Secretary, DoT, says that India needs to do away with its traditional learning state and make way for creative and innovative learning to keep pace with the world.

Voice&Data: In the light of Digital India, Make in India, what type of skill sets are required for the telecom sector?
Aruna Sundararajan: Skills are required across the value chain. On the manufacturing side, whether it was the Nokia factory in Chennai or the factory in Tirupati, they were number 1 in global productivity. The reason why these factories came here was not out of charity, they came because of the 100% professionalism and skill levels of the workforce. They must be just plus 12 pass or basic graduates, but it was the skilled workforce which basically triggered so many manufacturing jobs. So, in a way, we need to create a lot of manufacturing jobs, for that improving and updating the skill level is a big area.

Secondly, we also need skills on the networking, the core technology side so that skills could be developed for telecom network, maintenance, installation, operations. As we go for newer technologies for example 4G, etc, we would need to build the skill levels for that. Thirdly, going up the value chain in terms of design skills—it’s a huge area where we need to train people because design skill is slightly different from the kind of course curriculum that is offered. For that, we are collaborating with countries like Taiwan to make sure design skills are inculcated in our people.

On the retail side, also on the service side, a lot of service opportunities are there in the telecom sector, there also a different kind of skilling is required that is more to do with marketing, soft skills, being able to talk to the consumers, so a different set of skill sets are required for them and we have to work on all these.

One big advantage we have is software skills because the entire telecom industry is moving towards virtualization and softwarization and for these two, India is an ideal place but we need to make sure that we have the best skills. And we need to re-skill in some of these areas so that we can emerge as the global leader with the advent of latest technologies such as IoT, artificial intelligence, etc.

Voice&Data: What kind of role academia can play in skilling the future workforce?
Aruna Sundararajan: The main thing is our learning is too theoretical and too mechanical–both these have to change so you have to make way for creativity and innovation and secondly, it can’t be so theoretical, it has to be lot more hands on. It’s all about adaptive learning, you can’t say I learnt one technology five years ago, you must be able to have flexible learning so that people can quickly switch from one field of technology to another field. And for all these to happen, a lot of work is required from the educators side primarily. And I believe, a lot of online learning has to happen where people can learn at their own convenience.

Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China are investing heavily on skills and different kinds of skills. Each one has a different model, there are many learning that we have to take and I think in some of these areas many have also offered help in order to transfer technology and skills to us. So, in the bilateral discussion that we are having with many governments, skill is one of the key components.

Voice&Data: How important is to re-skill workforce with the advent of latest technologies?
Aruna Sundararajan: 100% skilled workforce is required. In fact, it’s all about skills. If today India is respected globally in IT and digital world, it’s because of the skill sets we have –the final distinguishing factor is only skill set capability.
If any company in the world would come to India or plans to invest in India, It’s not because of the physical infrastructure; it’s because of the quality of skills, so they come primarily for the quality of skills. Already, Indian engineers have a good reputation as being highly skilled but we have to keep pace with the changing requirements of technologies.
We are working on an ambitious action plan for skill development, we are also working on setting up our own training institution and PSUs like BSNL, ITI etc, have a lot of infrastructure and we plan to use that for creating skills. We are also working very closely with the industry to make sure that the required skill sets are there.

(Voice&Data in association with Telecom Sector Skill Council is organizing ‘Telecom Manthan, a conference of telecom ecosystem and talent pool in India, on May 16th, 2018, in New Delhi.)

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