“Our chairman stated in October of last year that our goal is to skill 30 million learners by 2030. We [IBM India] are a microcosm of IBM. As a result, we will be taking a fairly large share of that number as we work through,”
Managing Director of IBM India/South Asia, said in an exclusive interview with ET.
The company’s Skill Build Platform, which was launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) in 2019, has enrolled over 7.5 lakh learners and placed over 7,800 into jobs. It now intends to intensify its focus on artificial intelligence, data science, cyber security, and quantum computing.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Government is trying to create a supporting ecosystem for skills development across the country. How does IBM see it, and how can we make it more inclusive and market-driven?
Through a variety of our good tech CSR initiatives, we reach over 10 million learners in India. We have skill development engagements with a number of universities and collaborate on skills development initiatives with our own clients and partners. Personally, I have been a strong proponent of skill alignment with job creation — you can continue skilling people indefinitely, but the skills must be relevant at the end of the day. Finally, they must be aligned with the job market or evolving market needs.
I am extremely proud that we have been able to place over 7800 learners in jobs last year through our Skill Build Platform initiative. While I do believe that skilling is great, skilling that can actually add to the employment numbers is better.
Our entire skilling initiative in India is centred on the Prime Minister’s vision of India becoming the world’s skill capital. Take a look at the India skills report’s eighth edition, which was released in February 2021. It stated that slightly more than 45 percent of graduates were found employable, a decrease of nearly 46-47 percent from the year 2020. Also, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics, India will face a skill shortage of nearly 29 million people by 2030. Thus, all of these require both short- and medium-term intervention by industry as a whole and the government.
You underlined the need for short- and medium-term intervention to address the skills gap. How is IBM addressing this?
IBM is attempting to address this challenge through a variety of initiatives. We launched the STEM for girls programme in India a few years ago with the goal of preparing over 2 lakh high school girls. We began with approximately 10 states in 2019. We have now surpassed the goal that we had established. This programme has benefited over 2.3 lakh girls and over 1.15 lakh boys to date.
Apart from assisting students in scaling, we are promoting a teach the teacher concept in order to equip teachers with new age skills. Additionally, we have trained over 7000 teachers. Around 1700 schools across the country participate in the programme. Furthermore, the project is being implemented in 155 districts throughout 11 states. Among these 33 are aspirational districts, out of a total of 124 identified by the government.
This Skills Build Platform was launched in 2019 in collaboration with the Directorate General of Training (DGT) of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE), and has since enrolled over 7.5 lakh learners. States such as Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have partnered with us to promote skill development through this initiative.
Additionally, we collaborated with the Ministry of Education and Niti Aayog on the Shram Siksha programme, an online higher education initiative. The programme is aligned with the mission of Skill India and aims to provide last-mile connectivity and high-quality higher education. It is a personalised learning platform powered by AI that we developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Niti Aayog, and others.
It has the potential to grow into a single point of contact for higher education in India by acting as a virtual campus that facilitates access to knowledge and skills. And it’s not just about technical abilities. Other skills can be gleaned from alternative education sources. It enables easy access and bridges the divide between students, faculty, schools, and service providers, with the goal of eventually having a learning passport that can travel with the student and be tracked.
Also, we partnered with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to establish the Common Services Center Academy, which will leverage technology, teaching, and the delivery of specialised courses and training programmes, including cloud and artificial intelligence, to train the trainers and learners from diverse backgrounds and educational needs. Thus, this includes village entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the CSC programme. As a result of this collaboration, CSC will be able to bring IBM Skill Build Platform to over 5 lakh learners across the country.
Given their enormous potential, the centre and state governments are trying to integrate AI and data science into the curriculum. How do you see it?
When I was in high school, these options were not available, but today’s students have a variety of options and are eager to learn — when you give them something, they actually pick it up and do amazing things with it.
For instance, in 2018-19, we collaborated with the CBSE to offer an elective course in artificial intelligence to students in grades 9 through 12. We have reached out to over 15,000 students and 6,000 teachers through this AI programme, which is currently being implemented in over 200 CBSE schools across the country.
On next-gen technology push, we have also collaborated with the Atal Innovation Mission of the Government of India. We are promoting young innovators as part of this initiative through the Atal Tinkering Lab. This training has benefited approximately 4 lakh students. As part of our capacity for skill development, we have reached out to over 20,000 teachers.
IBM also offers two-year advanced diploma programmes in emerging technologies developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship. It is accessible to all 100 ITIs, including the 50 all-female ITIs. This programme offers five-month internships and mentoring by IBM. Almost 100 per cent of previous batches were placed in jobs within IBM or through one of our partners, or more broadly in the industry.
Quantum computing is gaining ground in the next-gen technology drive. What do you think of quantum computing skills development in India?
In higher education, we work with a number of higher education institutions on a variety of programmes. IIT Delhi and IIT Mumbai are members of our artificial intelligence horizons network. At Indian Institute of Science (IISC), we’ve established a Hybrid Cloud Lab, an innovation centre dedicated to advancing hybrid cloud research in India.
As you said, we are innovators in the fields of quantum technology and quantum computing. This necessitates a highly specialised curriculum. As a result, we have established an IBM Quantum educators’ programme for faculty and students. Numerous universities and institutions of higher education will be able to access not only the curriculum, which includes quantum learning resources and a quick set of tools via the IBM cloud, but also live IBM quantum computers. This is not a simulation; it is the actual computer side computing cycles that we offer via the IBM cloud.
Earlier you referred to two reports indicating a skill deficit in the country. What challenges do you see in India’s skilling push and how could they be overcome?
The global shortage of technical talent is not limited to India. That is why our 100% of CSR activities in India have been and will continue to be focused on workforce and skill developments.
As you know, I am on the boards of Nasscom and other industry organisations. The private sector continues to help students enhance their skills. We have a number of initiatives underway with our partners and we are exploring ways to collaborate to accelerate some of this, through industry associations, because the need to develop a global talent pool and foster an ecosystem conducive to learning is critical.
We look forward to being a growth partner for India. We keep investing in skill development across the value chain because we believe in investing for the greater good. We recently announced our software labs expansion to places like Kochi and Ahmedabad and consulting expansion in Mysore and Hyderabad.
We can leverage this expansion to encourage skills and digital innovation among kids and provide them with the best technology available. Our chairman remarked in October last year that “By 2030, we want to skill 30 million learners.” We are an IBM microcosm. So, we will take a big chunk of that amount as we go.