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Digital skilling and new jobs will take precedence in the post-COVID era

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In an era where digital technologies have taken precedence, the healthcare workforce will be forced to upgrade their tech skills. Online-learning, therefore, is gaining popularity even among healthcare professionals. In a brief chat,  Daisy Chittilapilly, Managing Director — Digital Transformation Office, Cisco India and SAARC explains more to Raelene Kambli

What are the most important skills needed to succeed in the workforce, post-COVID?

The current crisis, undoubtedly, has accelerated the reinvention of processes and business models across industries, with organisations increasingly turning to virtual platforms for catering to the newly dispersed, diverse, and most importantly, digital consumer. The new normal, shaped by evolving consumer behaviours, is witnessing an unprecedented surge in automation at every touchpoint in the supply chain, with companies embracing new-age technologies like IoT, AI, ML, robotics, etc., for manufacturing, customer care, last-mile delivery and more.

As a result of these tectonic shifts, the need to assess, and then reskill, upskill and train existing workforces in emerging technologies has never been greater. Additionally, as the preference for low-touch services and experiences rises, the craving for “real” will also build gradually, which indicates that demonstrable soft skills like adaptability, resilience, teamwork and the ability to communicate effectively in virtual, as well as physical environments, will be paramount in the distance economy. Lastly, as remote working becomes a norm, workplaces will become borderless. Employees must, therefore, prepare for remote hiring, online networking alternatives and cross-cultural workspaces.

Which of these skills can be taught effectively via online systems?

This pandemic has brought to light the incredible scope and capabilities of technology, essentially reshaping our perception of its potential. In the last few weeks, we have seen record adoption of digital platforms for working and learning, giving rise to unprecedented use cases. For instance, 4.5 million employees of India’s IT industry switched to remote working almost overnight; top institutes across the country are using video to continue educating students; frontline healthcare workers are being trained in critical pandemic management skills over video; even pilots are taking their refresher courses online.

In these and many other ways, the last few months have brought to the fore the tremendous promise of technology, especially in the way knowledge is imparted. Post COVID-19, technology will continue to transform education and skilling, allowing some tasks and processes to be completely automated, and others to be reimagined as an amalgamation of real and virtual. While certain physical settings, like schools, may not be replaced in entirety by digital platforms, I do believe that cloud-based services will enhance the learning experience, making it more accessible. The fact that learning is fast-evolving from being a structured, early-life, formal education experience to becoming a life-long requirement, will also accelerate this shift.

Which skills will be most challenging to teach at scale?

As more and more processes become automated, the need for “real” experiences will increase too. Since social skills and community learning are equally important parts of the early education experience, traditional physical environments like schools will not move entirely online but will find a balance between cloud and classroom. Similarly, training in complicated medical procedures may require in-person observation and correction, at least in the short term. While theoretical concepts can be imparted effectively through digital platforms, certain practical elements of the same skills may be easier to teach in person.

As robots, automation and AI perform more tasks, and there is a massive disruption of healthcare jobs as well, do you think a wider array of education and skills-building programmes need to be created to meet new demands in healthcare?

Some of the major challenges to the healthcare industry in India are scale and accessibility. India has only eight doctors for every 10,000 people as compared to 41 in Italy. A majority of medical facilities in India are available in urban areas. Telemedicine can play a significant role in bridging the gap and make affordable healthcare accessible to everyone.

As we have witnessed during this crisis, telehealth is already gaining momentum. Healthcare providers across the country are experiencing a surge in demand for digital care, with hospitals and clinics scaling virtual consultations and e-visits faster than ever before. Post COVID-19, as people remain committed to their health and hygiene and wary of crowded places, telehealth will become a norm, and cutting-edge technologies like AI, ML, data analytics, robotics, etc. can help deliver e-health services effectively.

However, to enable this at scale, training of medical staff in e-health technologies and continually upgrading their skills is crucial. They will also need to be trained in managing patients and making diagnoses digitally, necessitating the development of robust skilling programmes that can be made available and implemented at scale.

Now with digital technologies taking precedence, there is great uncertainty. Will well-prepared healthcare force be able to keep up in the race with AI tools? 

Technological advances are already changing the nature of healthcare, with artificial intelligence fuelling change during the ongoing crisis worldwide. Innovative applications of AI and robotics are cropping up in the industry globally, to not only monitor the current situation, but also push the envelope of digital healthcare post-COVID-19 as well.

However, the role of technology in healthcare is to arm skilled workforces with tools to extend better care to patients through any device, gain access to a much broader base of patients unhindered by location, and prepare for and manage crises in the future. I believe that technology will not replace, rather will aid providers in their quest to assist those in need much more effectively.

Tell us about your initiatives in training healthcare workers. 

At Cisco, we have been helping the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) in conducting large-scale online training of health professionals, as a part of their COVID-19 preparedness strategy. RGUHS has been providing resources to healthcare workers in remote locations across the globe. As the team began utilising remote training tools at scale, it was vital for them to have a sound technical understanding of the operations and administration of video conferencing solutions. We supported the RGUHS team through the initial setup, with Cisco’s engineers being on the ground for over two weeks and personally assisting the team with WebEx Event Management and Online Classroom setups.

Additionally, several government departments are leveraging Cisco’s cloud-delivered solutions to connect with citizens, frontline healthcare providers and officials. Currently, over 80 hospitals in Gujarat are using WebEx to stay connected and train 4,000 doctors and paramedics.

What kind of response have you received for RGUHS initiative, and how far has this initiative been effective?

Through this initiative, we have trained over 25,000 health workers on COVID-related methodologies, and over 3 lakh students have undergone training across Karnataka, Nepal, and the US.

So far, we have conducted 8,300 meetings through Webex (of which almost 2,500 were held over video), and an overall 350,000 minutes of training. On average, we have seen 50 participants in each meeting. We also helped in setting up online classrooms for all the colleges that come under RGUHS – medical, dental, ayush, nursing and pharmacy.

The online classrooms were used to train RGUHS health workers and students in urban as well as rural areas and saw the tremendous response, with students joining in from all over India, and some even from outside the country.

Do you think online learning for healthcare workers as a concept will survive in the future, especially after we attain normalcy?

During this time, digital platforms have allowed governments and hospitals to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic, not just for monitoring and tracking the crisis, but for remotely training medical staff in COVID-19 management and treatment. In addition to the ability to travel across geographies and reach a larger number of healthcare workers in remote locations, online learning offers flexibility and ensures that education is more accessible.

In the future, while digital training may not completely replace in-person education, I do believe that we will see the adoption of blended learning, which will integrate online activities and classes with traditional face-to-face instruction. This shift promises a positive impact on healthcare, especially in countries like India, that are constantly battling a shortage of medical professionals, and lack of access to proper medical care in rural areas.

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