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Here’s why innovation is impossible without continuous learning

Here’s why innovation is impossible without continuous learning

At the pace the world is moving today, we need to accept that age is no bar to ‘learning’. Increasingly, a traditional employee will have to acquire an entrepreneurial mindset and be willing to skill, upskill and reskill.

At the pace the world is moving today, we need to accept that age is no bar to ‘learning’. At the pace the world is moving today, we need to accept that age is no bar to ‘learning’.

For years now we have been anticipating the great Indian demographic dividend. For the next several decades, we have a population advantage over the rest of the world. Most of India will be in their prime working years, that is years in which they are contributing and consuming; factors that should lead to a perfect storm in economic terms. This should be a transformative period for India, a period when we decisively lift tens of millions out of poverty and, join the ranks of the developed economies, recovering the dominant global economic standing we once enjoyed. 

Certainly, the potential upsides for India are limitless. We will have the largest middle class in history, a middle class with increased spending power and confidence. Domestic consumption will drive our economy, while attracting unprecedented levels of foreign investment as the world competes to buy a piece of the India growth story. At least, that’s the optimist’s take.

The pessimists are shaking their heads at the back of the room. How, they ask, will India create enough jobs to meet the demands of this enormous working-age population? Female workforce participation, already well below the global average, is decreasing at an alarming pace. Instead of a glittering future of prosperity and productivity, India, the pessimists insist, is far more likely to fall into the so-called middle-income trap, plateauing because of declining competitiveness and an inability to offer ambitious young people the future they believe should be theirs.  If not addressed, it is a perfect storm for social unrest.

I must confess that despite the scale and severity of India’s many problems, I’m firmly on the side of the optimists. India already has a start-up culture to rival even that of the United States. Innovation is vital if we want to make the step from a developing economy to a developed one; if we want to use pockets of extreme growth and prosperity to be effectively spread to lift vast numbers of people out of poverty. A United Nations report showed that India had made a decent progress in lifting people out of poverty in a single decade between 2006 and 2016. The pandemic set us back, however digitization could provide the opportunity to regain momentum and reduce poverty at even faster rates.
Another critical aspect will be to ensure there is no divide between rural India and urban India when it comes to learning, developing these new-age skills.  Technology must be used to spread education to parts that might once have been considered too rural, too remote, too ‘backward’. India’s economic and entrepreneurial energy in the decades to come will emerge from rural areas and from Tier 2 and 3 cities.  

Key will be tapping into a start-up ethos and directing the growing availability of venture and CSR capital towards innovative social enterprises. We will have to recalibrate our learning systems. How effective is our syllabi?  Do subjects, like Data Analytics, Robotics, Machine Learning, Design thinking, form part of the basic curriculum at school level?  Are these skills still categorised as “good-to-have” or are already a necessity? 

At the pace the world is moving today, we need to accept that age is no bar to ‘learning’.  Increasingly, a traditional employee will have to acquire an entrepreneurial mindset and be willing to skill, upskill and reskill to remain viable, in a fast-moving market. How do we encourage this appetite for lifelong learning? How do we encourage people to add new strings to their bows and to refresh their perspectives?

I think the most valuable colleagues will be those who are curious about other fields, who are eager to acquire new skills, and who want to stretch themselves in varied and multidisciplinary teams. The future of employment will be about competencies and capacities, not credentialism. 

Views are personal. The author is the CEO of Adani Ports and SEZ Limited.