Runway to Skilled India by DARLIE O KOSHY aims to provide relevant insights for policymakers, skill missions, state governments, sectoral skill councils and for youths, jobseekers and job creators. The effort, as the author says, is intended to facilitate a focused strategy to confront and conquer the disruptive changes in employment patterns and employability requirements not only in India but around the world, so that in the decade ahead India scales greater heights to achieve the status of 'skill capital for the world'.

Fashion Industry And Scope For 'Multiplier - Impact' On Employment

Fashion and Design Education need to engineer a paradigm shift for the millennials and the Gen- Next, considering 2030 as not too distant being the tipping point when the demographic structure of India will begin to change. At the beginning of the economic liberalization from 1991, when India's garment exports were just over Rs. 6000 crore, having crossed Rs. 60,000 crore by 2018, the Textile and Apparel industry hold the potential to reach US $ 300 billion in exports and USD 350 billion in domestic retail by 2024-25 potentially capable of creating additional 35 million jobs as per the Ministry of Textiles' own vision and strategy as described in the Action Plan Document of 2014.

No other manufacturing industry offers so much of employment potential especially in rural India and for youth especially for women. Apart from 17 NIFTs, there are over 500 Fashion Design Colleges and Departments across India. On an average, 3000-3500 students now pass out of the 17 NIFT centers which is still a tiny percentage of the number of high-quality professionals required, by this huge Textile-Apparel-Fashion-Lifestyle- Luxury value chain with huge potential of growth while using India's traditional skills and creativity to a great extent.

Just as IT Industry is struggling to move from "BPO and Body Shopping" to product development and innovation, India's apparel exports need to move from Cut, Make, Trim (CMT) approach to marketing of FOB packages and with 'Designed in India' brands at better price levels in tandem with India's economic growth.

Let's examine the Textile-Apparel-Fashion- Lifestyle sectors with maximum employment potential to understand the dynamics of changing job profiles as a result of the exponential technologies with the covid-19 pandemic ravaging the industries, to a great extent during 2020:

The FICCI - Ernst & Young Report "Future of Jobs in India - a 2022 Perspective" in the chapter of Textile-Apparel indicated the following salient points:

?The report estimated the size of the apparel sector in 2022 as US $ 136 billion with 12-13 per cent growth. The report argued that 15-20 per cent of the current jobs would be threatened with its existence by 2022. Up to 2022, 12.1 million additional jobs are likely to be created making a total of 31.4 million in the Apparel Sector out of which about 15 per cent would be totally new jobs and 35-40 per cent jobs would call for major changes in its contents. In view of this, the new skilling will need to focus on emerging job profiles like that of Digital Merchandiser, Digital Pattern Maker, Laser Cutting and Assembly Operator, Apparel Data Analyst, PLC Maintenance Specialist, Environment Specialist, E-Textile / Apparel Specialist, Online Retail Specialist, etc. These will require new cognitive abilities, process skills, IT & Hardware skills and complex problem- solving skills. The "TI UK Fashion Business Specialist Course '' being offered by ATDC available in 8 Modules in a hybrid delivery model of both face-toface classes and online is a good example of a new skilling approach. Replacement of jobs like helper, material handler, packer, checker, folder, even basic Sewing Machine Operator (SMO) will need new type of multitasking operators, which also may be part of new skilling rather than just upskilling since this requires a different mindset related to Automation, Robotics, Cyber- Physical Manufacturing etc.

?Increased sophistication in markets will require a purposeful transition towards greater design and innovation inputs and a consequent demand for skilled designers and merchandisers exposed to digital technologies. Marketing and sales staff will also increase in their proportion of the workforce in a parallel process, so will the demand for digitally-savvy staff who can raise the bar of companies' online and social media capabilities. This will not be simply an e-commerce process but will be an entire e-business drive involving different types of staff. Some of these staff will require web-marketing skills while others will need to be skilled in such areas as direct sourcing of materials, just-in-time responses and online integration of the entire supply chain.

?The other skills required for a manufacturing environment are teamwork, communication, decision-making and problem- solving skills. The industries have identified technical and advanced IT skills as of critical importance in their future plans for employee development. As the industry becomes polarized between 'physical-brick and mortar' models and the on-line 'direct to consumer delivery' (DTC) modes, there will be new opportunities for a range of new skills. The scenario since the lockdown due to covid-19, for the likes of DTC, e- Commerce, and other on-line platforms are expected to leapfrog to another level altogether.

?In addition, the post covid-19 scenario with focus on simple living, work from home (WFH), remote working and increased emphasis on health, hygiene, immunity and a host of other factors may also result in totally new job roles and skills which may include:

?Fashion Communication - Social, Virtual, Digital Media: This includes new job roles like Fashion Content Writer, Fashion Social Media Specialist, Fashion Bloggers, Digital Fashion Show Technicians, Scenography and Spatial Designers, etc. Similarly, for following areas, new job-roles can be devised and curricula need to be developed looking at the future requirements.

?Fashion Photography, Digital Photography and Special Effects including Animation and Graphics

?Digital Media Marketing y Fashion Consumer Data Mining and Analytics

?Environment Management / Sustainability dimensions for Apparel Production y Logistics and Supply Chain Specialist

?Apparel Production Processes / Automation / Robotics

?Artificial Intelligence Driven Fashion Systems

?Post-Pandemic Social / Health and Hygiene based Compliance

?3D Printing for Apparel

?Wearable Technology Specialists

?New Health and Hygiene-focused Fashion Accessories

?Home Linen and Lifestyle Products

?Disposable Apparel Made of Nonwoven Textiles

?Self-Healing and Medicated Textiles and Garments.

?IoT Monitored Sewing Machine Operations

Above all, with the migrant-labor crisis triggered by covid-19 lockdown, the garment industry would need a multitasking workforce, who could undertake operations on not only sewing but also on new types of bonding-fusing machines. The new skills required to thrive in the new normal, being in short supply, would force companies to evaluate their workforce capabilities in depth and breadth.

The wide skill gaps in the existing workforce in Indian garment industry is a threat to business growth. Reskilling, Upskilling and New Skilling (RUN) could be an important solution to bridge the skill gaps of the existing workforce. The way forward is to go for a structured reskilling, upskilling and new skilling programs for existing and newly inducted workforce to enhance productivity and quality. The RUN program could be a first step towards Reskilling, Upskilling and New Skilling (RUN) revolution in India.

Though, exponential technologies will make far reaching impact on availability of jobs and job profiles, there are also new opportunities as an article in 'Mint' pointed out recently:

"Sure, technology will displace jobs. But automation also increases productivity and lowers production costs, increasing demand in the economy. It could also lead to new jobs. When Electrical Trade changed the trade workers' job titles as Computerised Numerical Control (CNC) Operator for machining there were many new opportunities for a large number of youth. We have to seize the opportunities by raising the bar and advancing the skills of our population."

Need for Aspirational Nomenclature

A self-employed tailor can be re-named as a Fashion-Maker or even a Fashionist for the aspirational candidates. Similarly, Hand Embroidery can be renamed as Fashion Surface Ornamentation or Fashion Value Addition Technique. It has become important to initiate changes in nomenclature for a smooth transition from.

Apparel to Fashion and Lifestyle in sync with the aspirations of today's youth who desire to join the industry with flexibility of horizontal and vertical mobility. Various new job roles and the contents need to be seen in a contemporary context of career progression of the new workforce. The Sectoral Skill Councils (SSCs) need to take a proactive role along with the NSDC and MSDE in this regard expeditiously.

As the types of skills needed in the labor market change rapidly, especially after the covid-19 realities of manufacturing, the individual workers will have to engage in lifelong learning if they have to get fulfilling and rewarding careers. For employers, reskilling and upskilling strategies will be critical if they are to find the talent they need and also to contribute to socially responsible practices, for a better future of the industry itself.

Fashion Industry And Entrepreneurship

In the recent Higher Education Summit of FICCI, it was emphasized by various Vice-Chancellors and Directors of IIT, and other institutions. that, one out of every three students, today are seeking entrepreneurship avenues. The shift from job seekers to job providers is evident.

Entrepreneurship is the need of the hour for India, to create jobs for the growing number of youth who enter the world of work. The role of micro-mini enterprises and nurturing of entrepreneurial culture have become an urgent necessity. The fashion industry needs entrepreneurs to instil new energy and creativity into the fashion ecosystem. 21st century India offers the smartest opportunity for the NIFTians, NID-ians and ATDC-ians with the right skills to become an entrepreneur in Design and Fashion Business. This will include areas like manufacturing, trading, on-line retail, services and a huge array of other uncharted areas. Having initiated the first National Design Business Incubator (NDBI) in the country, at NID during 2003-05, I am aware of the need for more incubators in the country. Unfortunately, even after 33 years of Fashion Education, there are still no Fashion Business Incubators for the design and technologists trained at NIFT.

With the digital world erasing all boundaries, the opportunities now abound for 'designpreneurs' to create wealth. There is a need for developing new age 'designpreneurs' and fashion professionals who can combine left and right brains and create both incremental and disruptive innovations to push India to a fashion leadership position. The fashion fraternity is disparate like our fragmented Textile- Apparel value chain and a more holistic and transdisciplinary approach supported by applied research and focus on advanced skills especially Digital and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Skills will help in shaping aspiring students as entrepreneurs and managers with the ability to imagine and innovate.

It is important for every industry to meet global standards and leave a mark in global competitions. With the digital revolution, it has become easier to keep track of global trends in fashion and clothing. If our fashion industry strives to meet the global standards of quality and trends, then it could become aspirational for the youth. It is important to keep the local flavour alive, but it is equally important to make it appealing to the world, to make the world recognize the creative power and quality.  WorldSkills Competitions and performing well at the global stage increase the social value of the fashion industry, and would attract the best of talents to the industry. Let us look into how India's fashion industry fares at the world stage.

Fashion industry and worldskills competition

Fashion technology education has completed three decades in India, whereas, India had joined the WorldSkills Organization only in 2006. The WorldSkills competition placed India's position at 18 out of 55 countries, in Sao Paulo 2015 in terms of number of competitions in which India had participated. In 2013, WorldSkills Meet in Leipzig, India's Fashion Technology contestant got 441 points against the topper with 540 of Finland and 535 of France. In Sao Paulo, India's representative got 492 while the Gold Medal winner got 537 from Chinese Taipei and 535 of Brazil.

In WorldSkills 2017, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, India's contestant got 693 on an 800-point scale against 749 by the topper from China and 741 by the runner-up from Brazil. In WorldSkills 2019, Kazan, Russia, India's chosen candidate got 697 on an 800-point scale against 733 by the topper from China and 730 points for the runner-up from Brazil. This indicates that India, though, is maturing as a fashion technology education hub, yet it needs to travel a very long distance in skills to reach world class standards. After all, haute couture means the finest expression of skills.

Need for research, imagination and creativity in the fashion industry

Albert Einstein's words "imagination is more important than knowledge", apply well in the context of the rapidly changing fashion industry. The need for research is most imperative and only in-depth research, technological inputs, and consumer insights can bring out true innovations and create Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The Business of Design and Fashion today expect an originality-seeking mindset, which can also crunch numbers and accept change as the new normal and spur continuous incremental and break-through innovations.

Most importantly, Deep Data Mining, Analytics, use of Artificial Intelligence and seeking constant feedback from the target groups not only on social media but also through individual customized settings has become extremely important. Diffusion of fashion and design has become more democratic. Design democracy is a word I had coined to explain this phenomenon in my book 'Indian Design Edge' (2008). 'Trickle across' has become the norm. A distinct wavelength has to  be established with the ultimate consumer to coinnovate and co-create for a sense of fulfilment and customer loyalty.

The management of the institutes and those who manage companies need fertile imagination and a distinct point of view as we are living in an imagination and innovation- led economy, encompassing a digital life wherein, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and social media greatly influence the consumer choices.

The students, faculty and the employers and even venture capitalists need to collaborate to strengthen the Fashion-Lifestyle ecosystem. It is, thus, critical to increase the brand value of the entire fashion industry; make it aspirational for the youth; skill and upskill employees; make products that match global standards; create entrepreneurial opportunities; and help in taking the skilling efforts to the next level. With the merging of skills with exponential technologies on digital platforms, the fashion industry must reinvent itself for the future. The future is now. It must lead the way for the other industries to emulate in innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

It’s a ruthless world out there. You have to be strong or fast or first or clever, preferably all, to survive. A brand in a post-pandemic will need to be all that, and transparent as well.

This article was first published in the March 2021 edition of the print magazine.