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Within the fast-paced development chaos, we have almost forgotten the critical role played by employees in attaining desired goals. Without talented & skilled people, no company can achieve success. It’s the people power because of which no goal is bigger and things can be attained in harmony. Yet, continuously honing their skill-sets is what we are still lacking. Technology can play a key role in bridging the talent gap through creating compelling content for the small screen format, writes Sanjay Tiwari, CEO, 21CC Education.

When India celebrated its 70th year of independence in August, there wasn’t just a reflection on the past seventy years, but also a look ahead at what the next thirty years would bring. The consensus of economists was that India would grow to become an $18 trillion economy by the time that it celebrates its 100th year of independence and would by then be the second or third largest economy in the world. What that means in terms of our domain, that of supply chains, is incredible. Here’s a stab at what I think the future holds.

On the export front, large Indian corporates such as the Tatas, Reliance, Mahindras, Birlas and Jindals are each already serving up to sixty countries across the globe with their products, from the Far East to Africa and Latin America, and of course the OECD countries. That activity is only going to increase with many more Indian companies joining the fray and making inroads in global markets. That large global footprint is going to call for specialized staff capable of planning and managing these exports and everything that it entails in terms of vendor relationships or the optimization of inventories at customer locations.

The novelty factor of Indian exports will rapidly wear off and customers in Chile or Spain or Algeria will demand the same level of service from an Indian vendor that they do today from a Japanese or Korean company. They will expect instruction manuals and local service centres addressing their concerns in Spanish or French or Arabic. The parent companies too will grow increasingly dependent on exports and will want to monitor the revenue from each market and will want to offset that against the cost of servicing a particular market. That will require detailed knowledge of the cost of each component in the supply chain, something often missing today.

On the import front, the trends that we’re just beginning to see are going to explode. The e-commerce giants such as Amazon, Alibaba and Flipkart (here’s hoping they or another Indian e-commerce platform are still around thirty years from now) will have their own end to end supply chains, stringing together air and ocean carriers, warehouses and trucking companies to source goods from global origins and deliver them to an Indian consumer or business entity. Indian tastes and consumption will grow more refined, in terms of clothing, food and electronics. An $18 trillion economy will be a magnet for producers from around the world, seeking to deliver their ice creams and chocolates, handbags and driverless cars to consumers in India’s hinterland. Some of us will continue our trend of becoming unhealthier and so the need to deliver insulin and other disease management medication into many corners of the country will only increase.

Merging boundaries

Domestic trade will form a big part of the $18 trillion economy. The painful introduction of GST will be a distant memory and goods will move freely from the North East to the South West on eight lane highways or inland waterways or air bridges. Cold storage facilities will finally make it easy to consume apples from Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh in the quality in which they were intended to be consumed. Regional trade will take off. North and West India will become a distribution center for Central Asia, servicing countries from Afghanistan onwards to the West. The North-Eastern states will house DCs for servicing countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and the north of Thailand. So why this preamble about the future of Indian supply chains in an article about skilling? Well, you know what they say about a chain right, that it’s only as strong as its weakest link? As it happens that’s true about supply chains as well.

Skill development – a great asset

All this international expansion, this domestic consumption and domestic trade isn’t going to be possible, or is going to be very painful, without the right men and women running the show. Industry estimates that 10 – 15 million people will need to be trained for the transportation, logistics and supply chain industry. Customers will be more demanding, less forgiving and more price conscious. That means getting it right the first time. For certain tasks, automation is already making rapid inroads and that will only continue, especially in picker - packer type jobs, but there’s quite a bit of ground to cover between the India of now, 2017, and the India of 2047. Today, and for the next several years, those people are still needed. Managing automation is going to require skilled people in their own right. Will we have our groceries delivered by driverless bots ten years from now? If so then someone will be planning the loading of those bots before they set off into the housing estates where we will live.

Skilling requirements

The skilling requirements of entry-level workers are different from those of lower level white collar workers. There are differences in terms of the topics to cover, languages of instruction and medium of instruction.

Topics

Fixing or strengthening the weakest links of our interlinked supply chains calls for covering topics as diverse as: warehouse picking, packing and labeling; express package pickup and delivery; operation of cold storage facilities; truck driving; knowledge of the handling properties of various types of cargo; (air) cargo loading and unloading; container stuffing and un-stuffing; managing of container yards; handling and administration of dangerous goods; forklift driving; and inventory management (systems). 

In addition to ensuring knowledge of these very elementary but crucial skills for a resilient supply chain, the audience that is being trained for these tasks is often semi-literate which means that there is a huge need for bridging skills. People end up having to be trained in topics such as: hundred basic words in English that are critical to their job; soft skills such as meeting and greeting customers in person or on the phone; punctuality; personal hygiene; Indian and world geography; and maintaining records on an electronic device.

The place and method of instruction

One of the biggest reasons why companies don’t actually spend more time and resources on training of their staff is that the logistics of training itself is a huge hurdle. How on earth do you get 5,000 employees spread across your network into classrooms and trained for two or three days at a time? Which operation can afford that kind of disruption? Faced with this alternative, many companies, except for the most process-centric and quality conscious ones, opt for the ‘we’ll deal with it when we get there’ option, an attitude that leads to overturned petrochemical tankers, cold storage facilities switched off in the middle of a hot summer’s night, toppled stacks of containers and mislabeled and thus misrouted shipments.

If you do manage to get the teams into a classroom then the training delivery is at the mercy of the individual trainer. With luck, he or she is an enlightened soul who makes the session as interactive as possible, but more often than not the trainer broadcasts, working her way through a fixed program, and ending with a ‘Any questions?’ at the end of eight hours. 

Thankfully there is a convergence of trends that is bringing a huge change to the world of learning, and thus of skilling.

» Driven by the hugely disruptive introduction of Reliance Jio, the price of 4G data consumption in India is crashing, making 3G and Edge even cheaper. This means very simply that all but the poorest of our fellow citizens can afford and are thus consuming huge amounts of data via their mobile phones.  

» E-learning modules, traditionally disseminated via laptops and PCs in classrooms, are being designed specifically for the small screen format. That means shorter modules, less on-screen text, more images, simpler Q&A with the trainee.

» There is a move towards gamification of learning content, converting e-learning modules into compelling stories whose outcome is dictated by the trainee herself. The implications of these three trends are huge. Think about it:

» We can now reach trainees and employees while they are yet to join the company or while they are out on the job, or on a break.

» We can reach them with shorter content that each time is built around a specific topic. Instead of teaching them everything about cold storage in one go we can cover modules on Individual commodities (potatoes, onions, apples, carrots, etc.), switching the equipment on and off, maintaining temperature, servicing the unit, calling for assistance, etc.

» We can test their retention of knowledge at a specific moment in time, but also over time, which tells the manager how the knowledge level of his teams is developing, real time.

» The gamification of content if done well leads to compelling content, greater adoption and releases data on what people didn’t get right, which is almost more valuable than knowing what they did get right.

Recipe to success

We have a simple formula at 21CC Education that we believe in:

RETENTION (r) = FREQUENCY(f) of REPETITION X TIME (t)

With training, we’re trying to change the behavior of employees such that behaviour changes for the better, and permanently, that mistakes are (almost) never made. The deployment of compelling training content via personal devices such as smartphones and tablets means that we now have the capability to drive that behavioural change and to successfully bring very large numbers of people into the exciting world of transportation, logistics and supply chain management. With India’s role in global supply chains only set to increase, the skilling and development of our workforce is at a critical juncture.

The future is here.



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