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India With Its Digital Workforce Is Fast Becoming The Home Office For The World: Harish Krishnan, Cisco


The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the pace of digital transformation, increasing the demand for digital skills more than ever. As more industries adopt tech-driven approaches to grow and succeed, newer and cutting-edge jobs and skills will continue to proliferate. In a recent conversation with CXOToday, Harish Krishnan, Managing Director and  Chief Policy Officer, Cisco India and SAARC, discusses how imparting skill-based education helps solve the challenges faced by the industry in acquiring right talent and the key tech skills that can solve some of the real-world industry problems. Krishnan also sheds light on how Cisco Networking Academy is bridging the skill-employability gap by offering global and inclusive access for anyone, anywhere to participate in the evolving digital landscape. Excerpts.

What are the key tech skills, according to you, that will help solve real-world industry problems?
As technology becomes core to everything, the workspace, work, and, more importantly, workers are changing. Accelerated digital transformation, hybrid work, and new business models have widened the skill gap, and the need to bridge the gap has never been more critical. While numbers vary, according to World Economic Forum, roughly ⅔ of today’s students will end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet. To stay relevant in this shifting world, it’s not only important to reinvent what you learn, but also how and where you learn from.

The emerging DeepTech industry demands a skilling revolution in AI/ML, blockchain, analytics, cloud, DevOps,  and software/mobile development skillsets. While the focus on technical skills remains, one should also focus on building soft skills such as adaptability, resilience, teamwork, and effective communication. They will be the bridge for connection, engagement, & success in the connected future. Most importantly, a lifelong learning mindset is the key to upskilling, reskilling, and staying relevant for the jobs of tomorrow. Moreover, today’s hyperconnected world calls for the next big surge of innovation powered by emerging technologies and the thriving DeepTech startup ecosystem. DeepTech has the potential to impact and transform critical sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and education. It can help connect the underserved and power an equitable future for all.

Skills shortage remains an ongoing concern for industries. What’s your view on the tech industry skills gap, especially at the managerial level?
According to McKinsey, the demand for tech workers worldwide will rise 55% by 2030. Digital disruption and overnight transition to hybrid work have exposed alarming digital skills divide. Today, IT professionals needskills that are more deep and agile. They also have to be comfortable working as a multidisciplinary team. As a result, organizations are on the lookout for skilled professionals, and job seekers are looking for employers who are willing to train them. IT managers at many organizations have already shifted their focus from technology order takers to strategic business partners. This means the day-to-day roles of IT workers are evolving from merely configuring devices and troubleshooting to solving real business problems with the help of technology. While automation and smart machines are said to replace over 20 million jobs by 2030, it is estimated that more than 133 million new jobs will be created as early as 2022, stated India Skills Report 2022. We need the right talent to turn emerging technologies into a force of change. Organizations should focus on skilling their existing workforce, as it is a more sustainable and cost-effective alternative. In the workplace of the future, skilling will take precedence from both the employee and from an employer’s perspective.

What are the key challenges companies are facing in terms of upskilling and reskilling today?
Today, technologies are moving faster than the expertise needed to grapple with them. According to McKinsey, we will experience more technological progress in the coming decade than we did in the preceding 100 years. Moreover, many organizations are experiencing the ‘Great Resignation’ and losing their most talented staff not just to direct competition but to the abundance of upskilling courses.

To meet these challenges, organizations need to craft a talent strategy that develops employees’ critical digital and cognitive capabilities, along with skillsets such as adaptability and resilience. They must prioritize investing and doubling down their budgets towards upskilling and reskilling programs because as we go deeper into the digital-first world, talent management will become a skills-centric process to close development gaps and create a more adaptable workforce.

Can employers leverage AI/data analytics/blockchain and other emerging tech to reduce the problem of skills shortage?

L&D is evolving quickly, and business leaders have realized that effective L&D programs must be strategic, engaging, flexible, and digital to be successful in the global economy with a diverse workforce. The learning strategies have to incorporate collaborative eLearning methodology, and learning platforms have to become a knowledge marketplace for employees to combat the skill shortage. There is a wealth of scope in the field of L&D with emerging technologies entering the space. Organizationscan leverage these technologies to improve their content and enhance programs that encompass future skills. For example, at Cisco, our L&D strategies are evolving in real-time, balancing building technical expertise within a domain and fostering leadership capabilities and talent engagement within the organization. We have reinvented our L&D strategy, leveraging technology to serve leaders and teams, moving away from performance management to investment, and rolling out a strength assessment to all our employees globally.

What is the importance of building a culture of continuous learning?
Today, without a rich talent pool armed with the latest IT skills, organizations cannot fully realize the business outcomes, productivity gains, and efficiencies they need to thrive. Continuous learning is the key to staying updated in this ever-changing world. Although training needs differ from one individual to another, everyone needs the right resources for their specific learning style. With continuous learning culture, employees are more actively engaged with learning, training, and skills certification.

How can companies impart skill-based education to help solve the challenges faced by the industry in acquiring the right talent?

According to the World Economic Forum, more than 1 billion jobs, almost one-third of all jobs worldwide, are likely to be transformed by technology in the next decade. According to Gartner, by this year, 70% of customer interactions will involve ML applications, chatbots, and mobile messaging, up from 15% in 2018. In this hyperconnected world,skill-based education will be the only way forward to fulfill the IT industry’s demand and combat the challenge of digital-skill shortage.

Talent no longer means the same as it did a couple of years ago – organizations are looking for lifelong learners who are up to date with relevant skills. More and more companies are going borderless, hiring diverse, technically skilled talent that can innovate from anywhere.As a result, India, with its massive, digital native youth, is fast becoming the home office for the world. In this perspective, educational institutions are the best places to encourage young minds to explore new ideas and introduce skill-based curricula. Academia and industry are two different worlds, which operate on different foundations. However, the rapid pace of change in the landscape is compelling these two realms to come together to address and solve the challenge of skill shortage.

A step further in our goal to help create a digitally proficient workforce is through Cisco thingQbator program, a platform for young innovators to turn their ideas into prototypes and businesses. We have partnered with some of the top universities in the country, where students can learn about digital technologies in a hands-on environment, turn their ideas into working prototypes, and develop local solutions to real-world problems. Therefore, stakeholders across the ecosystem should come together and collaborate with educational institutions. Together, we can bridge the existing gaps and pave the way for renewed opportunities for everyone across the country.

How Cisco Networking Academy provides a bridge to career possibilities for people everywhere?

At Cisco, we are committed to offering inclusive access to digital skills training and supporting those who use technology to educate. After all, even the most transformative innovations have no value if people don’t have access to them. We’re particularly proud of our collective impact, especially for underrepresented people in our communities. Our mission is to empower everyone with career possibilities by transforming the lives of learners, educators, and communities through the power of technology, education, and career opportunities.

We have partnered with nearly 12,000 educational institutions across 180 countries and offer curricula in up to 27 languages. We equip educators with the leading curriculum (licensed free to educational and non-profit institutions), Cisco Webex, and resources and learners with industry-recognized skills and certifications. We are training learners – professionals and students in emerging technologies across Networking, OS & IT, Programming, IoT, Infrastructure Automation, Cyber Security, and Packet Tracer, that are at the heart of the ongoing digital transformation. So far, we have trained over 10,00,000 learners. We have partnered with AICTE to provide 20,000 virtual internships on cybersecurity and with NSDC to upskill several professionals. Our NetAcad courses in cybersecurity, IoT, Python, and Linux were made available on the FutureSkills platform, including FutureSkills PRIME, and almost 55,000 students have enrolled in these courses.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at