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Santhosh Kurup Moulds and Guides Jobseekers for Industry 4.0

Thiruvananthapuram: The current gush of technological disruptions and sweeping novel Information Technology trends, commonly known as Industry 4.0, are considered as the exciting prelude to a new chapter in the development of human civilisation. However, it comes with certain riders which initially may appear as a huge challenge to accomplish. Technologists around the world unequivocally

Thiruvananthapuram: The current gush of technological disruptions and sweeping novel Information Technology trends, commonly known as Industry 4.0, are considered as the exciting prelude to a new chapter in the development of human civilisation. However, it comes with certain riders which initially may appear as a huge challenge to accomplish. Technologists around the world unequivocally underline the importance of arming oneself with the new-era technology skills to make the transition seamless.In the context of Kerala, one such leading technocrat who fully concurs with this narrative is Santhosh Kurup, CEO, ICT Academy of Kerala (ICTAK) and believes that there is enough talent in Kerala that can facilitate the State’s efforts to become a leader in the endeavour to embrace Industry 4.0.

The Industry 4.0 juggernaut is altering the domain of technology in an unprecedented and unheard of manner, mandating new-era skills for the IT industry and consumers alike. As an institution having a clear understanding of the fast-changing contours of the technology field, ICT Academy Kerala (ICTAK) helps prepare job aspirants by imparting skills required to embrace the revolutionary changes happening in the industry, thereby making them job-ready

At the helm of ICTAK, Santhosh and team work as a conduit between the academia and industry. ICTAK arms jobseekers with skills that are necessary to meet demands of the emerging technology market.

The Academy was formed in 2014 under PPP model for imparting employability skills to young jobseekers of Kerala. Programs offered at ICTAK are supported by the Central Government and conducted in partnership with the State Government and the ICT industry. The four-level intervention programs ICTAK focuses on are skilling programs for graduates, training programs for teachers by partnering with Oracle, Syska and UiPath, competency programs for graduates and professionals on behalf of the State, and consulting and capacity building for both government and private entities.

“We conduct programs for the State Government. Accelerated Blockchain Competency Development (ABCD) is currently progressing. There are two parts in the ABCD program. We take care of the campaigning for the whole program. ICTAK provides training in fullstack for ABCD program takers and qualifying students will then be put to undergo Blockchain training at Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management – Kerala (IIITMK),” Santhosh says.

ICTAK also builds Learning Management Systems (LMS) on Moodle platform as per the requirements of educational institutions. However, Santhosh thinks that educational institutions in Kerala are still dependent on traditional model of pedagogy and yet to move to technology platforms. “Traditional teaching patterns are important. However, we feel that using technology could be much more helpful,” he says.

Consultancy services being offered to government and private entities is another strength of ICTAK.“The State Government is running a skill delivery platform. ICTAK was very much involved in it right from the beginning of its conceptualisation to implementation,” he said. The Academy provides valuable insights to curriculum committees of colleges based on inputs it receives from the industry. As part of consultation services, the Academy helps colleges and other educational institutions to ensure regulatory frameworks as mandated by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

Industry, Skills and Jobs

In the ICT era, there are huge opportunities for students in the new technology areas. In terms of requirements, there are two types of recruiters. First, the large companies which are not keen on students with prerequisite skills. Such companies hire candidates after assessing the learnability and adaptability of job applicants. They do have their internal training procedures. The second type is the small and medium companies which look for candidates with a certain set of prerequisite skills. So, it is important for IT jobseekers to be skilled to easily land a job.

“ICTAK is working with the IT companies around the world to devise a more seamless demand pipeline. ICTAK, being a bridge between the industry and academia in Kerala, plays a crucial role in streamlining the flow of required candidates,” Santhosh says. However, he is of the opinion that a structured way of analysing the industry requirements will help train students and professionals with the right kind of skills, thereby creating good talent pools. “At present, there is a lack of clarity regarding the requirement of skills and talents from the industry side. Recruitments through us often happen on a short notice, hardly giving candidates time to prepare. On the other hand, if companies inform us about an upcoming requirement of skilled talent beforehand, ICTAK will be able to train the candidates and provide the required talent,” he adds. With the introduction of ABCD program, ICTAK is trying to bring in more order to the stream of demands from the industry. According to him, the Academy is working very closely with the industry and trying to understand the demand so that they can be met reasonably well.

Speaking about the common apprehension that Blockchain technology is slightly overrated, the ICTAK CEO terms the introduction of ABCD program as a great leap based on good judgment. “We took a chance in the case of Blockchain. We will have to make such leaps of faith as well. In the worst-case scenario, students may not land a job in Kerala, but can definitely find good slots in Chennai or Bengaluru,” he says.

ICTAK doesn’t view the technology as overrated but feels that the companies are only getting ready to use it as a viable technology. Even Blockchain technologies are changing. For example, it started with Ethereum and Hyperledger, but now there’s a new provider called R3Coda and it is trying to dominate the market. “At present, the technology platform on which it is built is a bit shaky and so, large companies are unsure about it. Blockchain has already found its applications in various fields. However, companies may wait until the technology gets a bit more refined,” he adds.

For Blockchain talents there are opportunities in countries like Malaysia and Singapore. Moreover, companies like Infosys have formed dedicated verticals to work on the technology. “From my experience at ICTAK, I can say that there will be a sudden demand from the industry for Blockchain-trained people,” says a confident Santhosh.

He assures that even if the Blockchain application couldn’t click with the companies in the near future, the ABCD program takers needn’t be concerned as their knowledge in fullstack programming, which is a major part of the syllabus, will help stand them in good stead.

IT Talent in Kerala

Santhosh is candid when speaking about the engineering academia of Kerala and opines that the issue of excess number of educational institutions should be addressed. “There is an over supply in the system which needs correction. I feel that a natural correction will happen on that front and it’s already underway,” he observes.

In the last two decades, even non-engineering graduates were able to find job opportunities in the IT sector. Forget the BPO, there has been low-end programming jobs which students were able to get in to after learning what was just needed. According to Santhosh, it may not be the same in the coming years. “I think jobs in the sector are going to become a little more engineering intensive. There will be more use of algorithms and designing,” he says.

“ICTAK should be able to create that kind of awareness among students. Students by and large are aware of the trends that move the industry. Internet and efforts taken by colleges to create industry awareness among students are keeping them updated. Teachers are getting trained in these new areas. Awareness about trends and requirements among students and jobseekers is good,” he says. However, there needs to be a conscious effort to skill the students with a more engineering-oriented approach.

Meanwhile, colleges too, should focus on putting in place facilities to make industry-oriented skilling happen on campuses. There was a lot of industry intervention during the formulation of syllabuses of Kerala Technological University (KTU). The changes recommended by the industry were adopted. However, Santhosh points out that there are not enough facilities in many colleges under KTU to conduct courses as suggested by the industry. “Competent faculty and infrastructure should complement the recommendations of the industry,” he says.

The successive governments in Kerala have taken efforts to encourage and promote skill-based job portfolios. ICTAK is playing a nodal role in Skill Delivery Platform of Kerala (SDPK) which is interconnecting several engineering campuses in the State. The Department of IT has appointed ICTAK as the operating partner of the program considering its focus on skill delivery.

Reskilling and Industry 4.0

ICTAK was initially positioned to train students and make them employable, which itself tantamounts to addressing a social problem. However, with the advent of Industry 4.0, the disruption juggernaut is outpacing the adoption capacity of the present systems in public and private domains.“If you consider the curves of human adaption and disruption of Industry 4.0, the gap between the two is staggering. Hence, there is an immediate need to find shortcuts to help converge the two curves,” Santhosh observed. Moving from Industry 3.0 to 4.0 means companies and markets will have to adapt and reorient, the governments will have to relook at their management philosophies and, at the end of the day, all these are powered by people who will have to reorient themselves. For the people, it will be their skills which will have to be corrected and updated. According to a World Bank report on Industry 4.0 in 2017, about 62 per cent of India’s population will have to be reskilled. “It does not mean that 62 per cent of the jobs will go away, but the tasks we do may change. There will be additions and modifications while some will continue as they are,” he said.

Additions to the existing systems, however, call for learning of new skills. According to studies conducted in this area, about 40 per cent of tasks may have to be augmented or modified, which essentially falls under the ambit of reskilling.

“For example, if somebody is using Microsoft Excel for analytics, he or she will have to move to a more sophisticated system like Tableau. It becomes cost effective and faster. When Robotic Process Automation (RPA) comes into play, all business processes which were previously done manually will get automated. RPA is a new skill that industry players will have to focus on. So is learning Data Science which is just a modification of current domain called Analytics,” Santhosh says. People who are not willing to retrain or change domain or learn another secondary skill are likely to be sidelined over a period of time. “People who fail to upgrade their skills may have to come out of the work environments, which we see as a larger social problem. It may be an unavoidable damage. However, it can be corrected through reskilling programs. In the case of companies which fail to adapt, the same old story of Kodak may be repeated,” he says.

The need to rework systems and retrain people is important for our transition to Industry 4.0. Earlier, if the generation gap happened after every 30 years, now it has come down to just three years. So, the cultural understanding of dealing with these changes is important, Santhosh says.

Technology Leapfrogging

Even as the disruption juggernaut is posing a significant challenge to the reskilling of the population, leapfrogging of technology or the flexibility in skipping stages of growth has worked in favour of India in the past. Santhosh pointed out the classic example of telecom revolution in India. “India successfully skipped the land phone phase and led a mobile phone revolution with high volumes of penetration across the country,” he observes.

Finding Trainers

When it comes to new technology areas, it is becoming harder to find trainers. Curriculum in ICTAK is co-created with industry partners. ICTAK’s trainers are trained by the industry. The Academy has proposed that industry partners send experts on a sabbatical basis to tutor at ICTAK which, in turn, will certify the tutors on completion of their association.

Recently, ICTAK tied up with University of Illinois for a skill partnership which will be utilised in launching programs through SDPK.

Santhosh is excited about the activities of ICTAK for the upcoming academic year. He plans to get SDPK operationalised. SDPK will be run in colleges. Another key focus of the Academy will be on skill areas which are expected to drive the market. “Introduction of new generation skills and reskilling of existing professional base are going to be extremely important for us,” he said.

ICTAK is also working with Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM) to build a bridge between the IEDCs (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Cell) operating in various educational institutions and the industry. It is also mulling over the introduction of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) competency programs.

The retail training program of ICTAK includes certification programs for students and professionals. For graduates, the classes are held during the week and weekend sessions are dedicated to professionals. After ABCD, training in Data Science is the biggest program conducted by the Academy. It has 150 students who get trained in Data Science in five batches. Recently, ICTAK also started a training program in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in association with EY. For more information on courses, visit,
https://ictkerala.org/courses/

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