UpSkill Management - Designing Training and Placement Models for the Youth Using Technological Interventions

UpSkill has developed a technology platform called NARAD that fills the gap of connecting the different stakeholders of the skilling industry on a real-time basis.

UpSkill Management was established in 2013 by six students of Kellogg School of Management, U.S., who wanted to make a mark in the education sector through impact investment. The brainchild of these six students, UpSkill was initially born as part of a college project. However, taking shape eventually, UpSkill was formed as an impact investment organisation with the goal to make vocational (skills-based) education more accessible to the underprivileged youth in India.

In an interaction with Sujata Sangwan of BWDisrupt, Mansi Agarwal, CEO and Co-founder of UpSkill Management, shares her entrepreneurial journey and future plans of the company.

Share the startup journey from inception to till now

UpSkill Management is a social impact venture with more than 3 years of expertise in the skill development industry. They have been training underprivileged youth in rural, semi –rural and urban areas of India and helping them find gainful employment. UpSkill has trained and placed over 2500 students since its inception in 2013.

With multiple organizations implementing skill development programmes across the country with different curricula and daily operational issues of data management Upskill felt the need to create a unifying technology platform called NARAD. NARAD is the outcome of realization to create a single platform that would cater to the essential objectives of all stakeholders of the skill development industry through easy and standardised learning, seamless tracking and monitoring and efficient placement and career management.

With recent developments and increased focus on the skills industry by the Indian Government as well as industry leaders, UpSkill has evolved further by creating a deep impact at the grassroots levels. This has been made possible by working with different ministries such as Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) and Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) in setting up residential and non-residential vocational training centers across Gujarat and Rajasthan. The current focus of UpSkill has been on designing innovative training and placement models for the youth using technological interventions.

Upskill has also been involved with NSDC in creating a web and mobile application for streamlining the mobilization process for the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana.

Upskill Management has won several accolades for its great efforts and dedication. Besides winning the 2012 Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at Kellogg India Business Conference, Upskill also won the runners up position at 2012 International Impact Investing Competition - 13C ( San Francisco). In 2013, the venture was invited to present at the prestigious Milken Global Conference. Additionally, their DD-GKY Suratcenter was awarded the best residential training centre by MoRD in 2015.

What are the unique features/services?

• Increase the employability of India's youth
• Alleviating households below poverty line
• Empowering the future generations so that they can shape their own future
• Reach out to rural India to help them be self- sustainable
• Bridging skilled labour gap for the industry
• Upskill develops end-to-end e-solutions for vocational training using best-in-class multimedia E-learning platforms, integrated with back-end analytics to ensure seamless training, monitoring and reporting

How is Upskill different from existing portals?

UpSkill has developed a technology platform called NARAD that fills the gap of connecting the different stakeholders of the skilling industry on a real-time basis.

NARAD has the following unique features-

• All stakeholders including the funding and monitoring body share the platform so information sharing is efficient and continuously monitored
• Easy Adhaar-linked enrollment and on-boarding process allows for authenticated data collection
• Continuous engagement allows for automated, real-time tracking of student progress, successful graduate placements and post placement
• NSQF accredited/aligned E-Content marketplace provides a comprehensive and diverse range of courses
• Students receive traditional classroom training in addition to experiential learning through digitized content and gamification
• Reports (about # students trained, placed etc.)readily available for schools to communicate externally
• Platform helps vocational schools remain compliant with government standards
• Real time data tracking and analysis includes built-in performance indicators
• Single view database authenticates candidate (Adhaar), allows country-wide mapping of candidate availability and enables employers to plan their hiring process
• Insight in other training programs on the platform allows for easy access to Re/Up- Skilling content
• All stakeholders on a scalable mobilization through career management platform that caters to all common norms

How do you monetize?

NARAD’s business model is SAAS based wherein the monetization occurs from per user license fee for the use of the platform. The users of the platform are –

· Training providers who train students for vocational skills
· Individuals who wish to skill and up-skill themselves
· Industries that need to hire the pool of trained manpower available on the NARAD platform.

What are your future plans?

Upskill’s mission is to look ahead for training partners and E-platform development & marketing

• Students to be trained in 10 years- 17,200
• Students to be impacted in 10 years- 43.5 Million

What are the challenges your startup faced while setting up the business?

The challenges in the industry are the exact opportunities that UpSkill aims to seize.

The skill development industry in India is very nascent as compared to countries in Europe and also Australia. While vocational training has existed through government institutes like the ITIs and has been tied back to the industry through the apprenticeship law, given India’s demographic dividend and increase in the number and variety of job roles the focus on skill development by the current government is very much the need of the hour.

To fulfill NSDC’s mission to train and place more than 500 million by 2030 will require the genesis of a lot of companies, institutes and organizations to provide different functionalities within this new skill ecosystem. Some of these functionalities include-

· Development of industry (NSQF) aligned curriculum - there are more than 6 lakh job roles that have been identified by NSDC through different sector skill councils covering over 40 developmental sectors (retail, automobile, healthcare, hospitality, BFSI, capital good, IT/IES etc.). High quality curriculum that meets the requirement of the industry is the back bone of providing skilled labour force and hence is a huge opportunity.
· Last but perhaps the most difficult to attain is the sensitization of the Indian youth towards the value of skill development. While 64% of India’s current population is in the employable age bracket of 18-36, in my experience only 30% of them value the training being imparted to them through funded and subsidized training projects. The mind set of sustenance through odd- jobs, inertia to migrate, societal pressures (specially for women) and mostly ignorance and lack of mentorship are a huge deterrent for this youth population to enter the organized work force. There is a steady and consistent effort to bring about this change through the organization of Kaushal Melas (PMKVY), inclusion of local and district teams to mobilize, formation of self- help groups for women in rural areas and forming PPPs in executing skill development project across India.

Besides the above there is a huge opportunity that exists in the consolidation and monitoring of the multiple skill projects going on across the country. Besides the obvious operational management through monitoring and data collection there is potential to use this data for future planning and optimization in the funding of upcoming skill development projects. With the use of technology, data analytics and AI it is possible to consolidate all training data, monitor the quality of training, manage placements as well as plan future projects. With 70% of Indians still in rural areas and their data lie many opportunities for other development related opportunities in healthcare, primary education, housing, banking to name a few.

What is the market size?

Almost 64% of our country’s population is in the working age group of 18-65 and presently only 2% of our population has undergone any skill training. The Ministry of skill development and Entrepreneurship along with the NSDC has set a target to train 500 million youth by 2022 to bridge this gap.

What has been the biggest learnings so far?

Any growth sector has operational challenges but this is exactly what lends it the potential too. While it is interesting for an entrepreneur to leverage this potential it is important to improvise to stay on track with all external factors without losing the ultimate focus.

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