Goal is to keep India a talent hub for the new skills: Debjani Ghosh

Newly-elected Nasscom president Debjani Ghosh, who is the first woman to head the IT industry body, talks about her priorities, the urgent need for re-skilling, and exploring newer markets. Ms. Ghosh, the former managing director of Intel South Asia, says India has the potential to become a trillion dollar digital economy, but believes that there is a need to streamline procurement policies and simplify legal processes. Edited excerpts:

What are the immediate opportunities and challenges you see for the IT sector?

This is one of the most interesting times in the sector. Technology is actually reaching that stage where the adoption is becoming so fast that by 2025 or so, it will more than double. It brings in tremendous opportunities because today technology is getting integrated into every aspect of our life. Economies are getting strongly linked to the way the countries are adopting and using technology.

The country’s competitive position is going to be pretty much determined by its ability to leverage technology. While technology has always been valuable to our life, this is new and transformative. One of the challenges right now is how you prioritise the opportunities. Every every vertical is transforming... how do you prioritise the opportunities that you want to focus on. The current way of doing business is not going to suffice. Business models need to be changed and it is tremendously tough. You have to change people’s mindset, build skills that were not there before. So, one of the biggest challenges is the huge transformation that businesses need to undertake.

What are your priorities as the Nasscom president?

I think the two key areas where every company and every industry — no matter how big or small, Indian or MNC — needs help today is growing technology capabilities and growing the business opportunities in the new markets. These are the two things we will focus on. To build technological capabilities, the biggest challenge that the industry faces is talent. You talk to any CEO, any CIO and ask them what is the one challenge that you face in your transformation. The answer, without fail, will be talent. That is a huge need not just in India, but globally. We want to become a very effective partner for industry and countries to develop talent for Industry 4.0. The Prime Minister recently inaugurated our Future Skills platform that focuses on employability. The pilots are on and we will be launching in June. A lot of countries are interested in such platforms. We have already signed an MoU with our sister concern in the U.K. They can use this platform and customise it to skill the workforce in the U.K. I would like to see India, sometime next year being referred to as not just a talent hub, but also a partner in creating industry 4.0.

The skills required for industry 4.0 are very different from the skills we used to have, so we have to re-skill and do it quickly. Just as we were the talent hub for the last generation of skills, the goal is to keep India a talent hub for the new skills that are required. We are working on it from a position of strength as a country.

What about newer markets?

We are just back from the Nordics. It was a huge delegation that interacted with start-ups, government and companies to understand what they do, their capabilities and what business opportunities exist.

We are also working with the Indian government to create business opportunities for Indian companies and SMEs in China and Japan. There are so many more markets there, so we will continue to work towards it. We are of course looking at growing the Indian market too; there is so much potential here.

But why is that we don’t see much interest from bigger companies to work in India?

That absolutely has to change. It’s a chicken and egg situation. There are changes needed in the way these programmes get implemented, in the way procurement happens. Procurement needs to be sorted out at a national level, not just the Centre. When companies come to India, the usual approach is CSR. The problem today is that CSR or pilot projects are not scaling. How do we ensure that we get scale? This is my feedback to the government.

The companies would want to do it. India is a land of a billion-plus people, anyone will want to do it.

The business models exist, but the processes have to be very strong, starting with procurement policies and scale. We don’t scale anything in India, everyone wants to reinvent the wheel again and again. You need to have a policy or a process in place where if a state is doing wonderful work, without much customisation and re-invention that is able to scale.

Economies of scale are very important for business. I think we have the potential to hit a trillion-dollar digital economy... may be more, but not with the status quo.

If the process is right, no business will stay away. We have to streamline and simplify our legal processes too. There are too many and too cumbersome.

There is a lot of negativity in the industry, particularly with growing protectionism and job losses.

A lot of it is uneducated. A lot of it is political rhetoric, which gets created especially in other countries saying “we are going to create more jobs.” Look at the facts. Let’s take the U.S. as an example. Fact one is, of the around 65,000 of the new visas (H1B visa), less than 12% goes to Indian companies.

We are consistently reducing the visa intake and that too by design.Problem is even with the reduction in Indian workers going to the U.S., no new jobs are getting created for U.S. locals because the skills do not exist. The U.S. has a huge skill deficit especially IT and computer related, especially for industry 4.0. Till they are able to bridge that gap, they will need our engineers. Who gets the rest of H-1B visas, it’s all the international firms, primarily the U.S. H-1B seriously is not an issue for us. We are declining our intake.

Now look at the other side. We have the skill surplus, we have the engineers that the world wants...that’s a huge position of strength. No company or country knowingly will shut down the pipe for resource and talent because their businesses are dependent on it. Look at the Indian companies, be it Infosys, TCS, Wipro, Tech Mahindra, HCL Technologies or any other company, what is their there biggest investment in countries they exist in... it is talent development. They don’t need to do it, but there is a serious shortage of skills there.

What about the decline in jobs?

Again it is not a very informed rhetoric. What is happening today, one as we reinvent business models, a lot of routine jobs go away because automation comes in. This is where you have to focus on skilling and re-skilling, so you have talent for the new job set that are created. Every industrial revolution you go back to — from steel to machines to computer technology — a lot of jobs have gone away, a lot of new jobs have been created. It is not new. It has been there from the beginning of time, so I don’t get the hype around this one. This is a new industrial revolution, there will be some jobs that might get lost, but there are tonnes of new jobs that will be created. We have already identified 55 new roles, and only 9 from technology. An important point that no one talks about is that today, if you are an engineer, you don’t only get jobs in an IT companies, you are in demand by banks, by hospitals and by government...because everyone is going through digital transformation and need IT talent. So, if you are an IT engineer, your overall universe of getting a job increases significantly. That is the point that India has not realised yet.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2022 10:09:07 am |