Digital Transformation in Skill Training should be an Equaliser

March 2020 came with an unprecedented circumstance. The entire country came to a standstill. The Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown and physical distancing measures forced skill training institutes to adopt innovative measures. This forced innovation majorly involved digital interventions.

Digital transformation proved to be a glocal movement, where global problems had local solutions and vice versa. Community radios, WhatsApp, online meeting platforms like Zoom, Google Meet and Webex, simple phone calls – whatever had the reach and availability was picked up by skill training providers. For those who had access to the digital means have taken a quantum leap in terms of know-how of technology.

We at Development Alternatives have multiple such examples to share. A new culture of digital sharing has emerged as an equaliser. As an implementation partner for the Skill Training for Employment Preparedness Programme being run at the Government Girls Inter College, Jwalapur, Haridwar, we saw many girls sharing the single mobile phone with fathers or brothers. They made efforts to understand the technology. At our vocational training centres like in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, where trainings were disrupted due to the national lockdown, students resumed their learning through online portals. In remote areas we saw trainees and trainers both locating a suitable location in fields to catch internet signals. Mobile phones were passed like batons to ensure that siblings, friends, cousins or neighbours don’t miss their classes. In fact, under post-sustainability interventions of our flagship programme TARA Akshar, neo-literate artisans in Bhagwanpur received online training and handholding for weaving new designs. One of the facilitators carried a laptop to provide master trainings from Delhi.

In terms of placements, recruiters have been able to hire amid the pandemic, thanks to internet connectivity and AI-enabled candidate screening software. At DA’s bridge2naukri portal, which provides pre- and post-placement assistance, we could conduct multiple interview drives on the same day using digital tools.

There were hurdles of accessibility and affordability, but at the same time there was also the will to sail through. Millions lost their jobs or dropped out trainings and formal education. There are many who have travelled backwards in terms of development. But it could have been even worse if we did not have technical intervention.

Owing to this digital transformation, new public-private partnerships have emerged to provide digital equipment, training and accessibility to teachers and disadvantaged learners. At the same time, approaches to the assessment and certification of skills are examples of collaborative partnerships forged as a response to the crisis. Amidst the lockdown, the National Skill Development Corporation’s (NSDC) e-Learning aggregator portal, eSkill India, offered to skill seekers more than 400 courses curated from various knowledge providers. eSkill India partnered with EnglishScore, SAS India, Saylor Academy (USA) UpGrad and many other partners, thereby providing skill seekers with varied online opportunities.

Despite existing handicaps, there has been a tremendous transformation. According to the Nasscom’s Strategic Review 2021 titled ‘The New World: The Future is Virtual’, India added more than 1,600 tech startups in 2020, making it the third largest tech start-up hub in the world.

Of course, all this might sound great, but we still have rockier paths to tread. Infrastructure, accessibility and quality trainers are still a challenge for digital trainings. There have been instances where trainees dropped out as they found digital mediums monotonous.

Public-private partnerships and a government with a vision and will are required to ensure that the digital transformation in the skilling space is inclusive and it bridges the gaps and not accentuates them. [With inputs from Shaurya Garg]

According to the India Skills Report, the maximum skill gap that emerged during the pandemic was in the following areas:

  1. Data Science
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. Natural Language Processing

Chatbots in banks, robots in manufacturing, and AI in pharma and healthcare are just a few instances of digital transformation indicating the need of new skills areas.

 Jyoti Sharma 

This blog first appeared as an editorial in Development Alternatives Newsletter August, 2021

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