Jobseekers across the country are turning to niche edtech players like Airblack, Simplilearn and AbleJobs for upskilling/reskilling
As the growing information overload and shrinking digital attention span hurt most users, edtechs are reinventing themselves to engage with learners
WebEngage claims to help edtech companies grow the number of subscriptions/paid course enrolments by 15% on average
The global job market witnessed an unprecedented structural shift in the past couple of years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A 2020 IBM report said that more than 59% of organisations accelerated digital adoption to reduce drops in profits and productivity in the peak months of the crisis. In reality, almost every enterprise had to lift its technology play to the next level to ensure business continuity. And many traditional businesses sank as they failed to grow a tech backbone.
It was a pivotal moment. Before the pandemic, Industry 4.0 was growing sedately, and those on the cusp of a technology transformation had the luxury of time. Not anymore. Businesses are now hurled forward into a never-before state of technology dependence, but coping with the new normal has not been easy.
Nearly 87% of the companies worldwide say they are facing huge skill gaps or will do so within a few years. India, too, is not immune to similar skill shortages as manufacturing and business processes have adopted new-age technologies in the wake of the pandemic. According to the global think tank Observer Research Foundation, 60% of Indian companies have identified skill gaps as their biggest challenge in 2022.
Due to the fast-evolving technology-job landscape and the rising shortage of suitably trained human capital, there is a growing need to learn and relearn professional skills to stay relevant in one’s career. But very few academic institutions teach the young workforce all the relevant skills they will require to succeed in the new normal. On the other hand, training interns on the job and paying for it, too, is a rare corporate practice nowadays.
Aware of this knowledge gap and how it hurts career prospects, a handful of Indian edtechs have risen to the occasion and started upskilling/reskilling fresh graduates and working professionals.
Among the key players are upGrad, Simplilearn, AbleJobs, Udemy and Great Learning, aiming to equip young people with industry-ready skills. Their offerings include short- and long-term courses in trending technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI and ML), data science, full stack development, Web3 and more.
“Job hunting is a journey full of hardships, especially in these uncertain times. So, we empower jobseekers with the right solutions that will help them find good openings, improve skills and perform better at the workplace,” said Siddharth Srivastava, cofounder of the Bengaluru-based AbleJobs, a job-prep app.
However, tech skills tend to get outdated fast, and one must be open to new trends and developments to survive career upheavals, said an industry insider. The much-revered C or Angular.js of the last decade seems to be passe now, while LinkedIn’s recently released Skills Evolution 2022 report marks Cloud, Python (language), Jenkins (software) and Spring Boot (tool) as the new in-demand skills. So, skilling must happen fast in a tech-driven world that is constantly evolving. And the faster the edtechs bring these skills to their users, the better their chances of success, the expert added.
More importantly, new-age pedagogy has shifted from test-based learning to adaptive methods where content is tailored to meet individual needs after determining the areas of improvement through data-driven assessment techniques and predictive analytics.
This also means edtechs are no longer limited to their traditional trope – that of reaching out to remote learners en masse – a value proposition that saw every online player thrive during the pandemic days as physical facilities went out of action.
Now that life is returning to normal, but livelihoods are getting impacted for good, onboarding users for need-based training requires ‘hyper-personalised’ engagement. In simple terms, brands need to build meaningful connections with users across multiple communication channels to provide a heightened sense of context and value addition.
“What we are witnessing is the evolution of edtech from K-12 learning to outcome-focussed systems,” said Nitya Shah, lead of the WebEngage Startup Program.
The Mumbai-based full-stack customer retention platform has been working with edtech startups for more than three years now, with a client portfolio containing the likes of Simplilearn, AbleJobs, Airblack, Toppr, Cuemath, Testbook and Dublin-based Shaw Academy.
“Edtechs in India have realised that it is crucial to focus on better value creation, user engagement and retention to beat the competition and reduce customer acquisition cost (CAC). WebEngage helps these startups simplify retention and achieve more sustainable, engagement-led growth,” said Shah.
How Evolved Edtechs Are Empowering Bharat
Focus on non-metros, diverse learners: According to the government’s Youth in India 2022 report, the country has the youngest population in the world at an average age of 29. Furthermore, India had a youth population of more than 371.4 Mn in 2021, and the majority came from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (among the poorest states as per NITI Aayog’s Multidimensional Poverty Index in 2021).
This underlines the importance of upskilling and reskilling the young demographic across Tier 2 and 3 locations, and several edtechs are working hard to bring parity between metros and non-metros.
“We focus on helping people improve their socio-economic conditions. That’s why a large number of young graduates from Tier 2 and 3 cities leverage our platform to prepare for jobs,” said Srivastava of AbleJobs.
The Bengaluru firm offers more than 96 courses in business development, sales, customer support, banking and more and helps industry behemoths like Accenture, Amazon, Infosys, Myntra and Axis Bank with recruitment. Others in this space include Scaler, Newton School and Imarticus Learning.
However, tech-skilling is not the only area young Indians are currently exploring.
Take, for instance, Airblack, a client of WebEngage since 2020. The Gurugram-based edtech platform is on a mission to empower people with all sorts of income-generating skills and transform them into microentrepreneurs. It also claims that 85% of its user base comes from Tier 2 and 3 cities.
“A major chunk of our users looking for increased business outcomes come from Tier 2 and 3 locations,” said Vaibhav Raj, cofounder of Airblack.
The platform hosts workshops and interactions in a community-based learning environment and claims that more than 100K people attend its workshops every month. Airblack did not disclose its earnings, but Raj said that the company’s revenue saw a 5x jump in FY22, which is now growing at 15% MoM.
Retention is the key: Like all other digital businesses, retention is a significant challenge for upskilling platforms. Users often drop out at the end of the free trial or a few weeks later in their journey. Also, the products on offer are usually short-to-medium-term specialised courses, and companies rarely charge hefty, one-time fees to safeguard their financial interests.
Given this scenario, many of these startups have built learners’ communities on their respective platforms for better engagement and full-term retention of candidates.
“Post-Covid, learning has moved from an online-first mode to a hybrid format. However, the challenges of retention and engagement remain the same. Edtech platforms should focus on building communities of like-minded learners for long-term retention,” said Shah of WebEngage.
AbleJobs’ Srivastava told Inc42 that the startup regularly holds recruitment drives to help users find relevant opportunities while they learn. It has also built a community of working professionals who provide professional feedback and help newbies find good jobs. All these work as a sticky factor and the number of dropouts have decreased.
In contrast, Airblack leverages an omnichannel marketing strategy and offers a hyper-personalised user experience to minimise drop-offs. “We send out a welcome kit, product kits and a personalised certificate to our users,” said Raj.
Cutting the noise, rekindling interest: In a previous conversation with Inc42, Krishna Kumar, founder and CEO of Simplilearn, said, “You need a deep understanding of each learner and drive individualised experiences and outreach based on exactly where they are in their journey. Having a deep reservoir of high-quality and relevant content is also critical. The final piece of the puzzle is understanding economics at every stage.”
With the information overload increasing and the digital attention span decreasing, brands need to deliver the right information at the right time to retain interest and heighten engagement, Raj pointed out.
Srivastava of AbleJobs concurred, adding that reinventing offerings is critical in a world where learners get distracted easily. “Most folks do not trust online education due to their earlier (bad) experiences. Edtechs need to motivate and nudge them to rekindle their interest in learning,” he said.
“There is a lot of noise and distraction these days. So, personalisation and contextual messaging have become necessary to cut through the clutter. Building engagement across multiple communication channels like WhatsApp, Email and SMS is the need of the hour. If you look around, the best of the brands, including edtech brands, are doing multichannel user engagement,” said Shah of WebEngage.
Can Marketing Automation Boost Conversion?
It can be achieved if one has a data-curated strategy in place to build omnichannel experiences, according to WebEngage.
Founded in 2011 by Avlesh Singh and Ankit Utreja, the full-stack retention platform offers a bouquet of marketing automation solutions, including push notifications, email and WhatsApp marketing, Google Ads, Facebook remarketing (ads targeting past visitors to a company site) and web personalisation, among various other services.
It also agreed to work with the edtech platform Airblack in 2021. Their journey together reveals how startups should develop a long-term customer engagement narrative to convert first-time users into loyal customers and retain existing ones.
Airblack used the martech’s customer data platform (CDP) to get a centralised view of its customers across various touchpoints. For instance, it could monitor how many people viewed its videos, booked free trials, attended workshops and so on.
“We leveraged this solution to target users on a free trial and converted them into paid subscribers by sending them personalised messages on WhatsApp and through email,” said Raj.
After targeted communication and hyper-localised engagement with different customer personas (segmented using CDP), Airblack converted more than 15% of its free-trial users, and the number of its paid subscribers jumped by 13%, the cofounder said.
For AbleJobs, customer pain points dictate its engagement strategy. “Jobseekers are looking everywhere [for suitable openings]. That is why we see so much job-related content on social media platforms,” said Srivastava.
The edtech player leverages a multichannel marketing strategy based on WebEngage’s solutions to reach out to job seekers and educate them about the startup’s offerings. “Since our educational videos and testimonials form the core of our content strategy, we share them across platforms,” he added.
The platform has also introduced an immersive introductory course to prevent dropouts.
“Our colleges do not educate students about job functions in the private sector. So, we developed an immersive experience for handholding nervous students and ensuring optimum career outcomes,” said Srivastava.
The startup also uses the CDP solution of WebEngage to identify indecisive students who switch courses frequently. It then nudges them to opt for the most suitable introductory courses to help them in their learning journey.
According to WebEngage, its tech stack allows edtech startups to increase initial subscriptions/paid course enrolments by 15% on average. Repeat transactions can go up by 12% due to its strategic intervention post-onboarding.
Survive And Scale Through Personalisation: Will It Be The New Success Mantra?
Lately, the edtech sector in India has suffered a double whammy. To begin with, it is bearing the brunt of the frothy market situation created by the pandemic. As schools and colleges reopen and life returns to normalcy, online learning has been compelled to take a backseat, and sales have dwindled.
But the rot might have gone deeper. The predatory marketing practices of a few companies led to a trust issue and drew flak on social media. A government advisory was also issued last year after Parliament member Karti Chidambaram called for regulatory guidelines and quality monitoring. The sector was hit harder due to low investor interest amid the ongoing funding winter, and most players had to reduce their cash burn to stay afloat.
The downturn was amply reflected in the mass layoffs and cost cuttings across several startups such as Vedantu, Unacademy, Toppr and WhiteHat Jr. A handful of edtech players, including Udayy and SuperLearn, had to shut down due to lack of funding.
However, niche skilling platforms like AbleJobs and Airblack are optimistic about the skilling industry, which is estimated to reach $750 Mn, growing at a CAGR of 24%.
“The country’s youth will adopt online learning to upskill themselves. Upskilling will not just complement the existing education system but also become an integral part of higher education,” said Srivastava.
Shah of WebEngage also thought this niche sector could help people with good job opportunities.
“A lot of these (edtech) startups are helping people learn new skills, stay relevant in the job market and land better jobs,” he said.
Due to their relevance in the job market, upskilling startups will continue to thrive, although uncertainties continue to hover over the industry. But to survive and scale, these platforms must reach people through personalisation, create engaging and immersive experiences and connect with them one-on-one.