The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on lives and livelihoods. But no other ‘black swan’ has brought about so many irreversible changes to how businesses operate to stay afloat and how people work in sync with unpredictable times. The current wave of digitisation and automation is but the tip of the iceberg. While traditional, low-skill or resource-intensive jobs are made redundant to speed up processes and minimise operational costs, agile companies (both startups and big corporate houses) make it a point to hire for dynamic roles covering many specialities.
In brief, the future of work will be tech-driven and extremely non-linear in an increasingly networked world. And multiskilled professionals with a long-term understanding of things are likely to succeed in this new normal.
Take, for example, how the role of a backend developer is evolving. These tech professionals are now expected to have a fair understanding of the front end, UI and UX (user interface and user experience design) to be precise, for holistic product development. Similarly, a full-stack developer with some experience in automation is given preference as the world moves towards AI and ML-driven smart work and the Internet of Everything (IoE). Looking at this bigger picture, it is not difficult to understand why today’s workforce needs to learn multiple coding languages and agile methodologies to generate value across changing work environments.
Now, compare this emerging scenario with the ground realities, and the portents will be extremely gloomy. Although the job market is constantly evolving, the existing education system in India has not been able to cope with the current challenges. To start with, there is a constant loss of quality jobs as technology takes over. Add to that the employability issue that seems to be plaguing India over the years. On average, the country produces around 3.7 Cr graduates every year. But according to the latest India Skills Report, 45.9% of graduates are employable in 2021, a decline from 46.2% in 2020 and 47.4% in 2019. Further, the World Economic Forum estimates that at least 133 Mn new job roles may emerge globally by 2022. So, it will be safe to assume that the majority of the employees will require significant reskilling/upskilling.
Given this scenario, India’s employability challenges are almost as severe as unemployment issues, and the solution lies in effective upskilling in sync with market/industry demand. Although the government is trying its best to address these issues through various initiatives, the core nature of the problem requires timely interventions — namely, a better focus on learning skills instead of mere academic goals. Consequently, the upskilling space within the Indian edtech sector/traditional education system has witnessed a big push as job hunters and working professionals make a beeline for remote learning and online study groups. Companies in this space are currently offering multiple courses, ranging from technical to soft skills essential for today’s evolved job market.
How is the upskilling segment positioned right now? According to People Matters, a Delhi-NCR-based HR solutions firm, the global upskilling market is worth $370 Bn and growing exponentially. As mentioned above, startups in India, especially those in the edtech sector, have already sensed a huge opportunity here as learning and development (L&D) remains the need of the hour. Leveraging digital convenience and an influx of easy-to-use tech interfaces, many edtech platforms such as Udemy, Skillshare and byteXL are now offering upskilling opportunities for learners and helping fill the gap in the education system.
“The corporate world witnesses many graduates entering their first jobs with inadequate skills. They begin their career with training on the job, prolonging the onboarding process. It is critical to supplement their college education with IT industry knowledge in emerging technologies, assistance from industry experts and digital tools preparing them and giving them a head start to their career,” says Karun Tadepalli, cofounder and CEO, byteXL.
byteXL’s Continuous Learning Model
In December 2019, brothers Karun and Charan Tadepalli (CEO and COO, respectively) joined hands with Pavan Gorakavi to set up IT upskilling platform byteXL, after they recognised a significant gap in skills between academic learning and IT industry needs. In a bid to prepare students for the emerging jobs in the tech industry, the trio created a multiyear structured learning model where students can continuously upgrade their skills through theoretical training and practise the same hands-on in the startup’s virtual labs. It also helps students acquire soft skills and grooms them for job interviews. But unlike many companies in this space, Hyderabad-based byteXL follows a B2B model and ties up with colleges and universities for onboarding students.
The platform currently offers 20+ courses that cover 12 programming languages, four advanced topics (AI/ML, DevOps engineering, Cybersecutiry and full-stack development) and four more courses specialising in soft skill training. Besides upskilling, byteXl also offers personalised career counselling and interview grooming.
As the new kid on the upskilling block, the startup faced its share of challenges when it came to building brand awareness. The edtech platform signed one client in January 2020 but failed to progress further in the next six months amid the pandemic. Finally, Karun decided to launch an SMS campaign in April 2020 where the company offered free courses to 1,000 students. As revealed by the cofounders, this campaign aimed to solve two major issues. First, it was meant to help them with traction and word-of-mouth marketing. Second, it would give the platform a unique opportunity to get real-time feedback to know how it was received by its target audience.
The campaign was successful, and quite soon, byteXL partnered with the Andhra Pradesh government for free webinars on skill and faculty development. ByteXL has now tied up with 42 institutions and onboarded 23K paid students across India, while its grooming courses have helped 5K students get placed in several MNCs such as TCS, Infosys, Accenture and Amazon. The startup raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding in June 2021 from angel investors led by Joy Family Investment.
“Their scalable approach to education, ability to embrace technology to provide what the sector needs in these difficult times and the strength and dedication of their leadership team impressed me the most. I want to bring my years of experience in the domain and help the company grow,” says Joseph Joy.
Dealing With The Unemployability Challenge
Recently, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) chief Mahesh Vyas said India had witnessed the loss of 2 Cr+ jobs during the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in April and May this year. Of course, it had resulted in unprecedented layoffs, but the country had also seen a rise in skill-based jobs due to large-scale tech adoption and a lack of the right talent to fill those roles. It means there is an urgent need to integrate skill-based learning into the existing education system. But given the large classes in schools and colleges that often hinder the customised nature of skill-learning and a lack of experts appointed for this purpose, it becomes difficult to ensure seamless integration to benefit students from an early stage. That is why byteXL and its ilk are playing a crucial role in helping learners develop job-worthy skills at a suitable pace and through their preferred methods.
In fact, byteXL is a case in point here as it offers a hybrid model, allowing students to opt for recorded videos or online, instructor-led training as per their convenience. Besides, the trainers on this platform are multilingual and capable of explaining in the learner’s preferred language, helping them grasp things faster by removing the communication lag. The edtech platform, through its innovations in the learning model, states that it is moving from a service platform to a learning product.
What’s more, byteXL’s account managers and the respective institution’s training and placement cell work in tandem to keep a tab on students’ attendance to ensure better student engagement. The platform also provides varied exercises on a daily and weekly basis to keep up the engagement so that mundane tasks will not bog down its users. Finally, it provides constant counselling to help students understand the challenges and the bigger picture. Thanks to all its proactive efforts, byteXL has managed to clock an engagement rate of 75%, that is higher than average edtech platforms, and a course completion rate of 56%. Facilitated by the partner institution model, byteXL has come out with a model that has low acquisition cost and attrition rate.
After starting out in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and building its customer base in the rest of the southern states of India, the startup is now targeting a pan-India clientele and has already started collaborating with universities outside the state. The company states that it is on track to clock a revenue of $300K in FY20 and FY21 and expects even better results due to a 40% growth rate month on month.
The edtech platform intends to evolve its product platform into a self-learning model leveraging AI and data analytics. Through the current hybrid model, the platform collects data around effective methods of learning. Highlighting the scope of the same in present times, byteXL has a reporting tool that showcases the performance of the students and helps the company understand the patterns that work.
Edtech platforms with a finger in every pie have also come up with upskilling/reskilling offerings in recent years. But byteXL founders are not worried about it. “The competition only inspires and motivates us to build a better platform for the future. We aim to bring in personalised and agile tech training across trending technologies in the IT world,” says Karun.