One interesting way of understanding innovation and disruption is to see how many new words have made their way into our daily vocabulary. For instance, in India, some words we hadn’t heard of less than a decade ago—barcodes, payment gateways, mobile money, 3D printing, cloud storage, drones, GPS systems, e-commerce, the internet of things—are terms we now use every day. The events of 2020 have pushed the word ‘disruption’ even further into the mainstream vocabulary.

Everything is being disrupted as we speak; businesses and markets more rapidly than we can imagine. In his book, The New Wealth of Nations, Surjit Bhalla argues that the transformation of developing economies in a rapid, extended and sustainable fashion will only happen through improved quality of education and human capital. Amidst all the chatter around innovation and disruption, the field of human capital has largely remained untouched. According to The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, human capital is “the knowledge, skills, competencies and other attributes embodied in individuals or groups of individuals acquired during their life and used to produce goods, services or ideas in market circumstances”.

To an otherwise stagnated human capital (a result of an education system that is in limbo), add on what 2020 has brought upon us, and we know that we are in deep waters. While we have seen incremental innovation in the higher education space, most of it has been inadequately channelized and ill-equipped to scale. The majority of these changes in the higher education space seem more like an after-thought, instead of a well-defined and thought-out strategy to build rich human capital.

Our traditional models of education are ill-equipped to deal with the ever-changing job market and industry, which is evidenced by the alarming facts around youth employability in India. Firstly, in the last decade, the youth unemployment rate in India has increased steadily to around 23% in 2019, according to the International Labour Organization report published in June 2020.

Moreover, about 54 percent of the youth in India are not job-ready, as per the latest India Skills report 2019-20 states. If there is one concern that should be keeping us awake at night, it’s this statistic. To make matters worse, Industry 4.0—heralded as the biggest wave of technology disruption—will make business less labor-intensive. And as technical skills become easier to automate, the market expects those entering the workforce to be equipped with more than just technical skills.

So, what are the skills in demand because of the creeping redundancy of conventional skills that Gen Z grew up processing? What upgrades and disruption does our human capital require to better prepare for the changing business landscape?

According to the 2019 Global Talent Trends Report by LinkedIn that surveyed over 5000 talent experts across leading organizations, behavioral or emotional skills, also popularly known as ‘soft skills,’, have emerged as the most critical capabilities in an employee, with most hiring and firing decisions coming down to soft skills. These competencies are especially assuming more importance for the workforce as automation and artificial intelligence threaten to replace our routine tasks and jobs, (McKinsey Global Institute, 2018; Capgemini, 2019; World Economic Forum, 2019).

According to LinkedIn’s global list of the most in-demand skills of 2020 published in January this year, the cognitive skill of analytical reasoning stands shoulder to shoulder with hard skills like cloud computing and artificial intelligence. Creativity, persuasion and collaboration emerge as the other top skills most needed in 2020. A recent Harappa Education survey of 350 companies shows that 91% of the companies are going beyond just technical upskilling of their employees and creating learning programs on cognitive, behavioral and social skills.

While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to most of us, the irony lies in the fact that despite repeated alarms, our education system is not addressing this category of skills. The types of competencies being taught to students attending higher education programs and those required by the labor market are completely misaligned. Think about it. How many of our own schools invested in teaching communication, collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking; skills that lie at the heart of workplace success? Our educational institutions are still far from making these subjects mainstream, which leaves businesses with no option but to assume the responsibility upon themselves.

Behavioral competencies are definitely more complex and hard to develop than the so-called ‘hard’ skills. This makes their pursuit a challenge in itself. Of the 350 companies surveyed by Harappa, only 8% were more than satisfied with their behavioral training programs for their employees and another 42% were barely satisfied, leaving a significant 50% dissatisfied with their programs or the lack thereof. It is safe to say that when it comes to reaping the positive impact of these behavioral skills on work performance, career success and professional well-being, that has been established through a wide body of research, we have merely taken a tiny step towards the direction of change, with a giant leap ahead of us.

Human capital is the new infant on the block, crying for innovation, upgradation and upskilling. Several academic studies and surveys show that the markets and businesses need a workforce with upgraded cognitive, social and behavioral skills. Good habits will set us on the right path. It’s high time we got past the inertia and made behavioral skills center-stage; a part of our mainstream education vocabulary.

(This article was first published in Businessworld People.)

Samta Arora is the Director of Learning Impact at Harappa Education. A nerd at heart, she spends the wee hours on weekends deconstructing the actions and words of world leaders. 

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