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Naresh Wadhwa, President & Country Manager, Cisco - India & SAARC

In a speech at Harvard University in 1943 Winston Churchill observed that "the empires of the future will be empires of the mind." As The Economist recently put it, Churchill might have added that the battles of the future will be battles for talent.

Globalisation and market forces are creating opportunities across countries at a scale never seen before. Unfortunately there is also a widening skill gap. The resulting battle for talent is not just among companies but also among countries; notice how today ‘reverse brain drain’ is helping India and China’s economies.

With 900 million "globalised" workers in the world, sheer numbers are not the problem in the current talent shortage; rather, the gap is shaped by geography, migration, demographics and education, with all signs pointing towards an even bigger problem in the coming years. Demographics are a case in point; its most dramatic effect will be in Europe and Japan: by 2025 the number of people aged 15-64 is projected to fall by 7% in Germany, 9% in Italy and 14% in Japan. It will have an effect on China, and also in America where the retirement of the baby-boomers means that companies will lose large numbers of experienced workers over a short period.

India has the demographic advantage and this begets the question: how can a country with a billion people suffer from talent shortages? One of the reasons can be observed early on: only 11% of the relevant age group in India go on to higher education. Another cause for the skill gap lies in the quality of talent being churned out. Every year India produces around 2.5 million university graduates, including 400,000 engineers and 200,000 IT professionals. NASSCOM estimates that only 25 percent of these technical graduates and 10-15 percent of other graduates are considered employable by the rapidly growing IT and ITES segments.

I believe we should see the silver lining in the talent shortage in India; there is a huge well of opportunity behind the cover of scarcity. NASSCOM predicts that India's IT sector will face a shortfall of 500,000 professionals by 2010 while a recent IDC report suggests India will experience a shortfall of 118,000 skilled IT networking professionals in 2008 alone. Evalueserve predicts a demand for over 160,000 foreign language professionals in the Indian offshoring industry by 2010 to address the demand for language-sensitive work. The talent shortage goes beyond the IT industry; according to McKinsey, India's aviation industry will create an additional 3,200 jobs for pilots and about 40,000 vacancies in cabin crew jobs over the next 3 to 4 years.

This talent gap can be addressed better if the youth of India are educated and trained at a certain level of quantity. The state of affairs presents a compelling case for private public partnership through industry-academia alliances to enhance talent development amongst the youth at the grass root level. Many IT companies are now partnering with engineering colleges and universities building a much needed engagement between industry and academia even creating universally accepted benchmarks like certifications and
policy-level curriculum changes. Educational institutions can update the syllabus of professional academic courses to make them more industry relevant, with regular updates from professionals who have a deeper understanding of current business developments and technical standards.

There’s a rising trend of talent development in organizations in India mostly through a two pronged approach - pipeline development and workforce re-skilling. GE’s famed Learning Centre in Crotonville is a great example of the success of such initiatives. Corporate India needs to take the lead in training development to benefit the larger public and build an army of ‘knowledge workers’, to borrow Peter Drucker’s term.

The Cisco Networking Academy program, for instance, partners with over 170 institutes in India aiming to create a supply of world-class IT professionals in the country and help bridge the digital divide. If leading companies from across industries can step forward to advance talent development we could make the youth of today competitive, supporting long term local sustainable development and also addressing global demand.

Arguably, talent has become the world's most sought-after commodity. Indeed as I remember reading some time ago, GE Capital had boards in their Indian offices saying ‘Trespassers Will Be Recruited’. If we all work together we can give the youth of India a better chance to follow their dreams and be assured of a place in the rapidly evolving global economy.

Naresh Wadhwa

Naresh Wadhwa
President & Country Manager
Cisco - India & SAARC


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