Executive need to listen

ARTICLE | May 17, 2023

Building a learning democracy

Can a more inclusive approach to skills and technology transform India’s economy?

By Sumeet Mathur, Workflow contributor

India’s future relies on the democratisation of learning. That means creating equitable and accessible opportunities for everyone in India to develop vocational skills, especially digital ones, and apply them in stable jobs. We have gained ground with state programs that create more universal access to skills and training, like the Skill India initiative, and its continued evolution to meet the needs of our times. Yet there is much more to be done, especially when it comes to collaboration between government and the private sector.

We now boasts the world’s most populous country - our greatest competitive advantage and also one of our biggest challenges. India continues to suffer from persistent skills shortages and concentration of top talent in just a few cities – which only adds to high levels of economic inequality. We need to address the skills crunch at mass scale, which requires us to democratize learning. 

Breaking this cycle will generate more talent for our industries, greater economic competitiveness, and social equity for our most vulnerable citizens. Democratizing learning would also address thorny workplace issues like moonlighting and pay inequity, by creating career development opportunities and a more level playing field.

How do we create equal and meaningful learning opportunities for millions of citizens? Building a learning democracy will take three elements: smart technology, investment in our Tier 2 and 3 cities, and more comprehensive public-private partnerships that teach skills and also lead to jobs.


Mapping the hybrid employee journey

Current technologies can help us tackle two key challenges to India’s learning democracy: personalizing lessons at national scale, and entry-level barriers to the most sought-after disciplines to further employability.

The sheer size of India’s population makes it almost impossible to create personalized learning experiences at scale – at least if we only rely on human teachers and instructors. AI technologies can help fill the gaps. The right AI systems can personalize learning content based on individuals’ competency levels. This will play a key role in helping large segments of India's population receive relevant skills training.

Second, many of the most in-demand roles – like software development and IT – come with technical entry-level barriers that put many citizens at a disadvantage and impact employability. Technology can help by redefining the specific technical skills and personal attributes a person needs to meet work in those roles. Low-code and no-code app development is one such example: it dramatically simplifies the coding process to meet a business need so that even those without technical training can build apps and achieve valuable business results.

At least within knowledge industries like software, technical requirements have contributed substantially to the talent shortages which Indian industries face. New technologies have made many of those requirements obsolete. Removing them creates a far better possibility to be successful in an occupation as you upskill – and a far greater pool of talent – for the individuals and sectors most in need.

India’s future relies on the democratisation of learning. That means creating equitable and accessible opportunities for everyone in India to develop vocational skills, especially digital ones, and apply them in stable jobs.

It’s vital that we ramp up skills investments in our Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. India’s largest cities are already making oversized contributions to economic growth and offer many opportunities for workers numerous  to upskill and apply those skills in jobs. The same cannot be said of Tier 2 and 3 cities, where such opportunities tend to be scarcer and less equitably distributed. If we truly want to “upskill India,” we must level the playing field for workers in Tier 2 and 3 cities – improving their access to learning and subsequent employment to match that of their Tier 1 counterparts.

This will benefit companies and advance national development goals. By developing smaller cities into talent hubs we can empower significant numbers of job seekers, while helping businesses diversify their cost base away from just one or two in-demand locations.

Improved learning and development opportunities in Tier 2 and 3 cities will also create groups of local innovators and builders. Their skills can enrich entire communities. Individuals who learn new skills are much more likely to apply them locally, whether in developing localized services and solutions or training others in their communities. Of course, this relies on them being able to find local job opportunities that allow them to do so.

In a learning democracy, upskilling forms only half of the equation. The other half is connecting learners with jobs and opportunities that allow them to apply those skills. Without that crucial final step, those skills will never translate into real benefits for citizens or our economy.

No business can do this alone. ServiceNow’ RiseUp program involves partnerships with universities to train and certify youth in using ServiceNow tools while also developing essential business skills like communication and problem-solving. We also partner with numerous other businesses to provide job opportunities for graduates. Students in one recent cohort emphasize that the confidence they develop is often as important as the skills they acquire. We can’t foster that confidence without playing our part to convert their talents into jobs.

To build a learning democracy in India we’ll need to build similar partnerships at \national scale by aligning government policies and industry initiatives. This will be challenging and it will take time but we cannot afford to leave our learners in the wind. If students can’t see the fruits of their efforts, even the most well-supported skills initiatives will be unsustainable at best.

The democratization of learning is both a social imperative and a critical business need. This is an investment no leader can afford to pass up. 


 The Secrets to Creating the Ultimate Workplace

Related articles

Skills intelligence systems are the future
Skills intelligence systems are the future

New technology pinpoints employee skills to help execs form better teams and drive business success

Generative AI is a game changer. Companies need to set the new rules of the game.
Generative AI is a game changer. Companies need to set the new rules of the game.

There are no hard and fast answers yet, but governance pitfalls are rife, from bias and security threats to the spread of shadow AI

Your company, optimized
Your company, optimized

Digital process mining helps companies work faster and better than ever before

Finding talent close to home
Finding talent close to home

Companies unable to fill tech roles need to help their existing employees get things done, learn new skills, and grow into new roles.


Sumeet Mathur

Sumeet Mathur is the Vice President and Managing Director of ServiceNow’s India Technology and Business Center.