Sonia | March 30, 2015

Fellowship diaries: Changing mindsets still the biggest challenge

Before Skillveri (co-incubated by RTBI at IIT-Madras) was established as a social enterprise, there were just the entrepreneur, an inspiring idea on a piece of paper and a handful of people who believed in his vision. Two years down the line, a young team of passionate and talented engineers designed and brought to life technology that enables correlation of the quality of skill with the quality of output.

Aura, a gamification solution for learning welding, allows for a threefold reduction in the time needed to gain basic welding skills through traditional training.

KamalKissan

Gamification as a learning tool is gaining momentum worldwide. The hype created around the innovation is definitely an advantage for Skillveri though not sufficient to prove the value in skill enhancement that the product can deliver.

Skillveri’s mission is to contribute to closing the skill gap in India. However, this is first and foremost a challenge of facilitating robust conversation between the stakeholders of the innovation: students, training centres/colleges and industry.

A study conducted by the Centre of Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, aimed at investigating student awareness, interests and aspirations around general and vocational education, reveals that there is currently a significant mismatch between student aspirations and the skill requirements of the Indian industry. Almost 50% of the students who named a career of choice said they would like to work in sectors other than those identified as high growth by the National Skill Development Commission. This is because they do not associate working in these areas with a career path that they aspire to follow. Students may not recognise that these sectors generate employment opportunities that require skilled workers with specific competencies.

As a next step, innovative ways to market high growth sectors need to be undertaken in order to generate awareness and make them more attractive for students. A right combination of building awareness, making the learning process more enjoyable and bringing high-tech tools to train welders might become a good solution for what appears to be an image problem. Bringing in elements of “serious gaming”, such as interactivity, performance scoring and live feedback, keeps the students engaged in the learning process, therefore enabling them to practice for extended hours.

India Skills Report 2014, published by PeopleStrong and Wheebox in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry, looks at the gap from the industry’s perspective: “The difference between the “Qualified” and “skilled” talent pool is a common problem across sectors. While every year lakhs of “qualified” candidates get added to the talent pool, the number of candidates with required skills is very low. While the growth opportunities for various sectors are very lucrative, the inability to meet the talent needs is a major hurdle.” The same report concludes, based on quantitative and qualitative measurement of skills across of a multitude of disciplines, that only one-third of the talent pool surveyed is considered employable from the industry’s point of view.

There is obviously a major disconnect between talent pool and employers. The entities supposed to play an instrumental role in improving this situation, namely training centres and colleges, do not appear to be making notable progress. A World Bank report published in 2006 is highlighting the same problems as India Skills Report 2014.

Skillveri has brought to the vocational education training market an innovation that allows for human-independent, objective rating of skill quality and performance measuring. But between constantly improving the quality of the live feedback system for enhancing user experience and dedicating considerable time to perfecting the scoring system, the greatest challenge remains influencing a mind shift in the way vocational skills are being taught today.

ATI

Therefore, the social enterprise has entered a new phase of its lifecycle. About 70% of the activity is now focused around business development activities, communication and raising awareness about the need to modernise the methodologies used in delivering training for vocational skills. The resources needed in this effort differ greatly from the ones otherwise wonderfully used to create a state-of-the-art technology product.

This is probably a scenario faced by many social enterprises. At some point in the company’s life, the entrepreneur has to ask and answer the question Am I selling a product or changing an ecosystem

With the high number of training centres and welding intensive industries, reaching quality conscious customers through traditional business development activities is an extensive and expensive process. Business development activities are still enjoying moderate success taking into consideration the constraints of a bootstrapped start-up, but the challenging sales conversion ratios and the long sales cycles limit the company to only a few units sold per month. And while the company can sustain itself from revenues, can it really consider itself a social enterprise when only creating limited impact

If the company were to sell only 7,000 units in the next 10 years, that would create an incremental effect of 700,000 additional students trained, as compared to traditional training methods. This is still a small number as compared to the 10 million welders needed by 2022, as per National Skill Development Corporation statistics.

Therefore, the only way to scale for Skillveri seems to be taking the necessary steps to determine a quality conscious approach to the learning process at ecosystem level. And these steps will be part of a yet another new journey for the entrepreneur.