ICT & Telecom: Why are we facing severe skills gap

By Ninad Desai

Our ICT and telecom industry is well into the 21st century. So why isn’t our education system geared up for what needs to be delivered to upcoming professionals to look forward to making a career in this field?

Today’s jobs are vastly different than they were a generation ago. An ICT professional having knowledge and understanding of only a specific area could survive easily around a decade back however it’s a different story altogether in this changeable and unpredictable world.

The days of working for 40 years at one job and retiring with a good pension are gone. Now the average time in a single job is 4.2 years, according to the US. Bureau of Labour Statistics. What’s more, 35% of the skills that workers need today— regardless of industry — will have changed by 2020.

What’s more alarming to notice is with the rising adoption of automation and artificial intelligence the low skilled job requirement would see a 35% decrease by 2022 as per the report of US based research firm HfS research.

GHNasscom, an Indian association of IT companies too has said categorically stated in its recent communique to its members to re-skill or perish in the next five years. What’s important to know here is that the medium and high skilled jobs are expected to grow and are not really facing the same challenge although they would grow marginally.
Skills for the wrong century

Here’s the problem, in a nutshell. The job opportunities that are available today are for professionals who understand and build the ICT and telecom infrastructure for the 21st-century. But the way most people perform these jobs are still stuck in the previous decade. As is the way our society is training and educating them for the needs of yesterday.

So, it’s clear that education hasn’t kept pace. We still send our children through a fixed set of primary and secondary education steps which is further added to by a college degree which is a virtual prerequisite for the best jobs. The model doesn’t actually prepare professionals especially as their skills are typically out-dated by the time they finish their four-year degree.

Further what’s even more surprising is a fact that on-the-job training isn’t enough to close the gap. The recent World Economic Forum report found that 63% of workers in the US say they’ve participated in job-related training in the past 12 months. Yet employers are reporting the highest talent shortages since 2007.

What individuals can do

Given this situation, people in the workforce should proactively steer their own skills development. In other words, recognize that they need on-going training and realize that they hold the responsibility for their own education. With that they can certainly improve their marketability for years to come.

They should ask themselves, if the skills that they have is relevant to their professional career are still in demand? And most importantly what skills could they work on today that would increase their income potential in the coming years?

After this, if they feel like going through a training to acquire additional skills, they shouldn’t refrain. First of all, as pointed out by the New York Times this week, many of the skills needed to do fading jobs are applicable to growing jobs. A skilled Fiber Optic splicer would have all the necessary skills to perform a splice however he need’s to know the updated requirements to make a splice that’s changed in its type (single fiber to Ribbon) improve splice performance quality (low loss and reflectance with dual testing) along with the know-how on the latest fiber preparation tools and test equipment’s that are now available to make his job easier and better.

For the skills that one need to acquire, consider step changes. In project management, we are trained to break down large problems into smaller chunks that can be more easily solved, one at a time. We are not going to turn ourselves into an ICT infrastructure expert overnight. But we can acquire basic skills leading to the direction we want to go.
As the career progresses, it is important to make decisions about which work suits based on how much an individual will learn. Prioritize jobs where one can learn valuable new skills.

What companies can do

We cannot put all the responsibility on individuals. Companies and governments have a moral obligation to educate workers better than they do now.

Companies should offer more flexible training for all their workers, both staff, and freelance. At many companies, management is reluctant to do this. What if we raise the skill levels of our people and then they just leave for a competitor, they ask? The rejoinder is simple: What if you don’t, and they stay?

Companies need to look beyond the “not my problem” mentality when it comes to skills acquisition. If nobody takes responsibility for training, simply assuming that some other party (another company, universities, the government) will take care of it, then we have a classic tragedy of the commons. Instead, we all need to contribute to investing in workers’ skills.

To facilitate this kind of cooperation, there is a big role for public-private partnerships, such as internship and apprenticeship programs, and vocational training that prepares young people for jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree, but for which industries have specific skills needs. This model has produced great success in other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland. Both countries have demonstrated strong outcomes in procuring adult technical skills and their models could be expanded and experimented to local needs.

Meanwhile, for individuals, don’t wait. Take charge of your own future now, and start working on acquiring the skills you will need to have five years from now. Whether you are a Fiber Optic Splicer, a Technician, ICT & Telecom sales professional, Telecom Project Manager or a Network Infrastructure Auditor, one thing is certain, job security lies in acquiring new skills throughout your entire career.

So, don’t stop learning because Life never stops Teaching….

The author is a District Chair, BICSI India

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