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The skills that will likely be in demand

Prof. Rajeev Srinivasan

SkillsWe have already looked at where – as in which geographies – the future growth of desirable employment may lie. Here we look at a different perspective: what are the kinds of jobs (and therefore skills) that may become more available to the Kerala people in the next few decades.

One point to note is that many of the opportunities are not necessarily in traditional white-collar employment, which typically requires tertiary education and a college degree. Many high-paying jobs will be in vocational areas, which have been de-emphasized in the rush to get college admissions. There is a skills-gap that can be filled by institutions offering secondary-level training in vocational and technical skills.

There is a tendency to disdain vocational skills as somehow not equal to college-degree-based skills, but I think this is a false distinction. It is time that we recognize that growing economies need both kinds of skills, and in fact need vocational skills in greater numbers than tertiary skills. In some countries, for instance Germany, there is a consistent streaming of students into vocational skills, and one of the results has been a vibrant small-to-medium business sector, which has allowed Germany to ride out the global financial crisis much better than most other countries.

Additionally, there is a need to develop and preserve traditional knowledge and skills. There are amazing products and services based on Kerala’s heritage and history: for instance, the Aranmula Kannadi, the sea-going Urus made by Beypore shipyards, Kalari payat and the associated science of pressure points, or the effective wellness care by Ayurveda practitioners. In some countries, for instance Japan, masters of traditional skills (such as painting) are respected as ‘national treasures’ and they pass on their knowledge to willing apprentices. Some of Kerala’s skills have heritage value, not only in tourism, but also in practical real-life applications: for example, the vanishing bio-diversity in rice varieties or in medicinal herbs can be preserved and sustained by expert practitioners.

An expert committee of the Kerala State Planning Board is considering skill development issues for the 12th Plan period. As a member of this committee, I am happy to note that the Kerala government is addressing the skills issue from a long-term employment perspective: for instance, there are many Central schemes intended to address employment, but some of their models may need to be modified somewhat to fit the Kerala scenario.

The most evident opportunities lie in several distinct domains: both in traditional sectors like engineering and healthcare, but also in newer areas such as energy, advertising, media, and so forth. Many of these newer jobs will be in non-traditional areas, including law, public services and so forth. I have not separated the white-collar jobs from the vocational skills, although the certification requirements will be quite different. The areas below are in no particular order of importance. Some of the skill areas are vertical (that is, they pertain to a particular industry); others are horizontal (that is, they can be used in many industries).
Civil Engineering

Infrastructure buildup is an ongoing activity in many emerging nations and also in much of India. There will be demand for all kinds of skills related to large-scale construction, all the way from surveying to architecture and urban planning, and including Geographic Information Systems, mapping, hydrology, etc. There are vast new construction projects, including entire cities coming up, along with high-speed rail, highways and airports in many parts of the world. In addition to construction, there will be many opportunities in supporting and maintaining buildings: for instance, lifts, fire and safety, soil testing, water conservation, green building management, waste management.

Given the increasing need for energy as populations grow and prosper, all areas related to energy, including oil and gas, renewable(s), and nuclear, will see increased demand (with the possible exception of nuclear). All the way from oil rigs to gas pipelines to solar photovoltaic installation, many opportunities can be anticipated. In a recent conference on solar photovoltaic, the concerned minister suggested that as many as 85 lakh households will be targeted for rooftop solar energy.

The world’s population is aging, and with gigantic new initiatives such as Obamacare in the US, as well as technological changes that allow for remote monitoring of patients, the healthcare sector is set to explode. Nurses, doctors, dentists, lab technicians, paramedical, hospital administrators, process technicians for drug companies, medical transcribers, insurance claims processors, are examples. Other opportunities include geriatric care, dental hygiene, occupational therapists, mobile clinics, epidemic management, public health workers, home nurses, care for degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer or Parkinson’s. Data analysis and statistics for epidemic management and prediction is another occupation that will need advanced computing skills too.

The opportunity for teachers at all levels is likely to increase as people spend more of their disposable income on improving their skills, as well as their pursuit of leisure and hobby activities. Vocational trainers, rehabilitation trainers, special-needs teachers for the handicapped, and other specialized teaching needs will arise, in addition to traditional teaching opportunities in emerging markets. A number of foreign universities are entering the West Asia market, and they will be a magnet for PhD professors from India. Similarly, sooner or later India will become a global education center, attracting students from all over the world.
Financial Services

With prosperity, the demand for those providing services, such as financial advisors, bankers, stock market advisors, accountants, insurance agents, real estate agents, mutual fund experts, actuaries, and other finance professionals will increase.
Personal Services

There will be demand for marriage counselors, psychologists, beauticians, seamstresses, upholsterers, interior designers, landscapers, caterers, event managers, and others offering personal services.
Technology Services

As more people become linked through telecommunications providers, there will be a need for those writing applications for mobile devices, selling and servicing products such as cellular phones, internet devices, copiers, computers, washing machines, TVs, refrigerators, energy management systems etc. Similarly, there will be demand for those fixing and servicing these in the field.
Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals

Drug discovery is moving towards generics and in particular biological analogs. Those with skills in these areas, including in Ayurveda, will be in demand.
Tourism, Hospitality, Food Service

Tourism and related industries are always favorites for growth. Tour operators, guides, hotel managers, adventure tourism providers, cultural event creators, and in the food service industry, cooks, food managers, etc. Many hospitality-related positions will require knowledge of history, traditions, etc. and may be in high demand in Kerala itself.

Farm consultants, veterinarians, plantation experts and related experts in fields related to food crops and cash crops will be in demand as new areas come under planting in many countries.
Automobile Technology

With the increasing density of motorized vehicles in the country, those who know how to repair and maintain cars, motorcycles and other vehicles will find positions. The number of positions for those with mechanical engineering skills will also increase.
Retail and Merchandising

There will be substantial growth in retail operations in India and other developing countries. Those who know how to manage shops, set up merchandising, (including those doing internet marketing) will be in demand.
Supply chains and logistics

More products will have complicated supply chains spanning multiple countries and vendors. Those who can orchestrate the just-in-time delivery of goods and services at the lowest cost will find positions.

Prof Rajeev Sreenivasan, Director, AsianSchool of Business