Mamatha R Nath is the Delivery Excellence Leader at IBM Asia Pacific, and in her line of work feels a constant need to reskill herself. “The speed at which the technology, market trend and client requirement is constantly transforming demands all of us keep ourselves upgraded with new skills,” says Nath, who has been with the American technology giant for over a decade. Nath, based at the company’s Bengaluru campus, was particularly interested in upgrading her digital and marketing skills. That is when Your Learning – a new platform to enable IBMers learn, grow and explore their interests – came in handy. The cognitive, digital and interactive platform was introduced to IBM employees across the world last year. Apart from helping Nath access her skills, the platform pointed out the gaps and suggested solutions for her and her team. “The most interesting aspect of this platform is that it allows me to create a learning plan for myself and my team. This has helped me and my team gain better skills and in turn perform better, leading to enhanced business results,” says Nath, who was also pleased that she could access Your Learning on her phone.

“We wanted to create an enabling environment for our employees, and Your Learning has helped in doing that,” says DP Singh, Vice-President & HR Head-India/South Asia at IBM. In the first six months of this year, 39,000 IBM employees in India have spent 2.4 million hours of learning and growing on Your Learning, says Singh. IBM spends more than 50 per cent of its learning and development budget on reskilling every year. Earlier this year the American multinational had to fend off reports on it laying off employees in India as ‘incorrect,’ and had clarified that it’s focusing on reskilling and re-balancing its workforce.

the layoff threat

The IT industry has been at the receiving end of layoff news this year. A study by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) says that the faster growth of digital technology, as compared to the traditional one, is pushing the industry towards automation. It added that up to 10 per cent of the jobs will be automated in the next 10 years. At least 60 per cent of the 3.7 million workforce of the India IT industry needs to reskill itself. If not, many of them risk losing their jobs.

Emergence of artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data has pushed India’s biggest IT companies to reskill their employees. Wipro trained nearly 40,000 of its employees in 2016-17, and has launched an initiative called Newton’s Cradle to drive its reskilling effort. Similarly, reports have talked about TCS skilling one lakh employees in digital technology.

Infosys introduced Design Thinking in 2014, in its training curriculum to enable its employees to find new problems and rapidly develop high-quality solutions. “Over 142,218 Infoscions have undergone this training,” says Richard Lobo, EVP & Head – HR, Infosys. The company plans to cover the remaining employees in the near term. This training has also been imparted to client teams, leadership teams, employees and fresh recruits.

Apart from Design Thinking, there is also a programme for senior leaders that was launched with Stanford University. Called the Stanford Global Leadership Program, its second batch graduated with 36 graduates in the first quarter of the present financial year. Infosys has finished training 3,000 people in AI, and 2,100 on the new AI platform Nia. It also partnered with Udacity and Coursera on bringing in unique and different kinds of skills.

“The pace of change is unparalleled, putting organisations under tremendous pressure to simultaneously re-shape their internal operations, while continuing to deliver high-value, next generation innovations to their clients,” says Richard Lobo, EVP & Head – HR, Infosys. “To stay competitive in this highly dynamic environment, it is imperative for organisations to invest in re-skilling their employees,” he adds.

Opportunity for startups

Now it’s not just the blue-chip IT companies, but also the smaller ones that are going for reskilling. Catering to them are start-ups that have emerged offering reskilling platforms to companies. “When we entered the market in December 2013, it was tough,” says Arjun Gupta, Founder and CEO of CoursePlay, an e-learning solutions provider. “Initially we had to educate companies about the importance of reskilling. But since the last one year, we have seen huge interest among companies to reskill their workforce,” says Gupta, who returned to India after completing his studies in the US and founded the start-up.

CoursePlay now has 15 clients across sector, including from the IT sector. Gupta points out that there is a lot of demand from the middle management executives for more ‘certification programmes’. Says Gupta, “These executives go for certification so that they can handle a new set of responsibilities.” Many of his clients now ask for a blended model of training, which has a mix of online and in-person classes. The easier part of the training is done online, while the more-intense part is done offline.