Connecting industry, academia and government to forge a future-ready workforce

Integral to India’s mission to become a world-leading digital hub, SSC nasscom and MeitY are upskilling tech talent through their FutureSkills Prime platform.

As technology continues transforming the workforce at dizzying rates, the need for a comprehensive and sustainable skilling ecosystem remains paramount. For that reason, India’s Sector Skills Council (SSC) nasscom has partnered with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of the government of India to bridge the talent gap and deliver premier skills knowledge through FutureSkills Prime, a learning platform that orients leaders and learners for success in a digital future.

Kirti Seth, CEO of SSC nasscom, says this rapid digital advancement creates the need for more scalable upskilling and learning and development programs. Because academia and industry lack the time and resources to account for these quick skill changeovers, the council’s collaboration with industry leaders and policymakers is essential to helping the country build a thriving national skills framework.

A global hub for digital skilling

In India and around the world, rapid evolution within the tech industry has left many employers without quality talent. By 2023, in what the International Monetary Fund calls the “tech talent scramble,” the world will see shortages of an estimated 85 million tech workers. While India’s talent pool contains many STEM graduates, Seth says few of those individuals enter the workforce with employable skills.

But leaders and government officials in India have identified a promising solution. The country’s Sector Skill Council for Technology and Technology Enabled Services (IT-ITeS) and SSC nasscom are creating a sustainable and enduring talent pipeline by aligning skilling requirements and curricula with industry demands.

India has long been recognized on the international stage as a technological powerhouse, but SSC nasscom aims to establish the country as the global frontrunner in digital skilling and innovation, aligning with the country’s mission to exemplify a digital talent hub.

As an industry-driven coalition, SSC nasscom fields communication between government, academia and industry, gathering data on employer and workforce demands to develop appropriate learning standards and institute the necessary infrastructure to put those blueprints into practice.

The government-funded council begins by assessing skill gaps and translating those lapses into actionable and well-developed job standards. To keep pace with the fast-moving tech sector, SSC establishes a “common understanding and terminology” around professional skill requirements and specifications across those major stakeholders, Seth explains.

Those requirements feed into the codification of national occupational standards which, in turn, mirror the job descriptions aligned with the National Skills Qualifications Framework. In tandem with creating standardized skill benchmarks, Seth emphasizes the importance of fostering an academic system that can provide the necessary learning pathways.

Seth believes a successful skilling ecosystem depends on support and execution through public policy. In 2020, the National Education Policy jumpstarted and enabled SSC nasscom’s collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) around the technology sector. Central to the progress toward the flagship initiative driving the national tech sector dubbed “Digital India,” MeitY has created a wealth of new opportunities for tech companies and talent, according to an email interview with ministry representatives.

With this policy in action, students gain the option of using external materials to supplement their in-school education and compensate for any areas where their academics fall short of industry requirements.

“This means the learner can take a course from somewhere else and incorporate it into their degree and it goes towards their academic attainment,” Seth says.

Seth also notes how in sending a “shock to the system,” the pandemic made way for the success of online learning platforms like FutureSkills Prime. With policy at the time supporting the change, colleges and universities were able to recognize and harness the benefits of outsourcing education to these online resources.

Seth explains their work ranges from executing skill development programs to working on policies that can empower and energize their education and skilling institutions. To this end, FutureSkills Prime functions as an industry-minded supplement to India’s formal degree programs. Without this extra layer of skilling, many graduates exit without the necessary qualifications for professional employment, fueling the persistent mismatch between the skills constituting higher education curricula and those the workforce demands.

Creating a skilling curriculum with industry in mind

Connecting industry, academia and government, SSC nasscom offers learning content that directly prepares talent for the workforce, constructing a skilling ecosystem that understands the needs of both the learner and employer.

“You have to think of it at the individual level,” Seth says. “How should they think about themselves? How do you motivate them to think about developing themselves?”

To begin assessing and mitigating the asymmetry between educational tracks and real-world demand, business and government leaders must “think of the organizations in between and whether it’s the colleges that need to up their game or it’s the industry that needs to offer employment,” Seth says.

SSC nasscom not only provides the resources for optimizing IT-ITE curriculums and skills dissemination, but it helps officials stay privy to any necessary policy modifications that industry demands. According to Seth, there are two large culprits behind the talent gap.

For one, “Academia is simply not in touch with what is happening in industry, and teaching things that industry finds irrelevant or outdated,” she says. The second large factor she underlines is a question of institutional quality. While major cities like Bangladore and Delhi host tier one institutions with an abundance of high-caliber teachers and resources, other metro areas struggle to secure the same supplies and attention needed to keep their schools current with shifting IT and ITE skill demands.

The question for Seth and SSC nasscom remains — “How do you improve that quality, and what will inspire them to improve their quality?”

MeitY representatives explain how India’s work to skill talent in hot areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and robotics is essential to ensuring India’s workforce is prepared for the jobs of the future. Through FutureSkills Prime and other skilling initiatives such as the Skill India Mission, the government helps broaden the accessibility of skills education for learners of all backgrounds and, in turn, benefit the economy by creating “a more inclusive workforce,” the ministry writes. 

With 395 courses total — 217 of which meet established national occupational standards — FutureSkills Prime is a popular resource through which Seth says a wide demographic of Indian citizens can acquire awareness-level skills on digital technologies. The interface helps learners gain “digital fluency” and facilitates connection with potential employers. 

To date, 500 colleges and nine state governments utilize the platform; 1.48 million learners have signed up since the program’s launch, with enrollments at 630,000 and growing. And in the spirit of lowering financial barriers, the program provides learners with the opportunity to earn back a portion of their money spent on courses once they get a certificate.

Building a future-ready workforce

“The tech industry is such a huge part of the Indian GDP,” says Seth, “so it’s a really big issue if we don’t have the skill sets to capitalize on the opportunity coming our way.”

Through these comprehensive initiatives helping the growth of India’s skilling framework, SSC nasscom hopes to make economic use of a community rich in human capital and digital trailblazers.

MeitY executives hope leaders around the world can learn from India’s example.

“Businesses and talent leaders may take a cue from the India growth story and make skilling a priority for everyone,” representatives write. “The workforce is constantly changing, and workers need to adapt to new skills and technologies, embrace lifelong learning, and stay up to date on the latest skills and knowledge.”