Over the last decade or so, the manufacturing sector across the world has been shifting to Industry 4.0, calling for a renewed look at the kind of skilled workforce required to run the factories of tomorrow.

A Nasscom report published earlier this year expects large economies like the US, the UK, China, Japan, and India to invest in excess of $100 billion in Industry 4.0 over the next three to four years, paving the way for a transformed industrial landscape across the world. This fresh investment, expected to be committed between now and 2025, is equal to the investment made over the past decade or so, which highlights the speed at which the transformation is taking place.

India’s role in this transformation will be quite significant because we expect to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP from around 16-17% today to around 25% by 2025-26 thus creating a $1.1 trillion manufacturing sector and 100 million direct jobs. Investing billions in creating Industry 4.0 is one thing but building the ‘human capital to run the factories of tomorrow is a whole new challenge capable of making or breaking India’s dream to become a global manufacturing powerhouse.

Despite being the second most populous country with the largest youth population in the world, skill deficit has been a perennial challenge for India’s manufacturing sector (as it is in the service sector too). India is already among the top players in several industries like steel, cement, auto, and in emerging sectors like renewable energy, etc. Each of these is not only going to get much bigger but will also be produced in plants that will look and operate quite differently from what we have seen so far. The impressive deployment of robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data science that we see today in large plants across the country is just the first chapter of this new and exciting story we are writing.

While creating the human resource pool to run the factories of tomorrow will be vital, it won’t be easy. We will be dealing with the twin challenges of scale and quality or more specifically the relevance of the skills at any given point of time. These challenges cannot be met effectively without doing a reality check on the kind of youth population we are addressing or trying to skill.

Consider the big changes in the education, skilling and workplace ecosystems that have made hard landings during the last two and a half years since the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Millions across the country shifted to online education and training and work from home, quite literally overnight. From a skilling point of view, this also means that the three vital parts i.e., content, pedagogy and trainers are also undergoing big changes. If we juxtapose this understanding with the youth population of today, we will start to see the challenges that are right around the corner.

The youth of today are not only more ambitious and restless but also impatient with status-quo around the kind of work that excites them, how they work, where they work from etc. The idea of work-life balance or the role of work in one’s life will only become more fluid in the coming years and decades.

For HR professionals this is not such a bad thing if we know how to handle it. In my opinion, the two guiding principles that can help us become more prepared and effective will be empathy and flexibility. For example, the average tenure of an employee in any one company is getting shorter and the task of increasing the tenure especially with Gen Z and Millennials is proving to be a difficult proposition. Thus, ensuring that we do both – hire and retain the right talent is a big priority to ensure the economic viability of long-term investment in human capital. The increasing globalisation will make hiring more competitive given that the youth of today will be looking for jobs not just locally, but globally. The advent of ‘Anywhere, Anytime’ work philosophy has allowed access to a wider talent pool while adding a whole new dimension of flexibility to the work culture. Simply put, time zones and geographies will cease to be significant constraints in the job market. Further, the opportunities provided by the impressive growth in India’s start-up ecosystem has also seeded the idea of entrepreneurship in youth as a viable career option. Offering roles in companies that can become launch pad for future entrepreneurial careers seems more viable today, including soft skills that are key to success in a highly networked world. All this means HR folks will need a whole new bag of tricks when they head to campuses for fresh hires.

It is also important to remember that building a more relevant and effective skilling ecosystem is much more than an economic priority. Millions of unemployable and disillusioned youths can become fodder for other social and political challenges. It is from this context we need to consider the theme for this year’s World Youth Skills Day is ‘Transforming Youth Skills for Future