CEO Wall: Ambrish Sinha

One thing that keeps you motivated

The massive and transformative opportunity in the ed-tech space to build and scale our organisation to have meaningful impact on the lives of our learners and employees

One thing that is the biggest driving factor of your success

Working with a team that has a bias for action

One thing that inspires you every day

Believing that today will be better than yesterday

One thing that you (as a business leader) must tell everyone

Build and plan for the long game and execute well in the short term

One thing that you (as a business leader) must not tell anyone

If someone is not doing well in a particular role, it’s the end of the road

One thing that future leaders must know

Constantly evolve and adapt to the new fast-changing world

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UNext Learning partners with Coursera to provide its students with access to high-quality learning in new-age skills

UNext Learning, India’s first ed-tech company that offers end-to-end online learning, professional skilling and assessment solutions, announced its partnership with Coursera to offer access to curated courses to their learners. With this collaboration, students who enrol in online degree programmes offered on UNext’s platform through partner institutions get access to over 7000 cutting edge courses that have been specially curated for each programme by Coursera for Campus.

Speaking on the collaboration, Ambrish Sinha, Chief Executive Officer, UNext Learning, said, “We at UNext are focused on building the next gen online learning platform for the higher education ecosystem. Our partnership with Coursera aims to impact the learning outcomes by bringing to our student and learner community the best in class curriculum and content from the best educators & colleges across the world. Students enrolled in our postgraduate online degree programmes can now acquire in-demand industry ready skills that will enable them to pursue careers in fast-moving domains like technology, data science, and management. We are committed to reimagine online learning for a better future for our community.”

The collaboration aims to create a flexible learning environment and sharpen the students’ digital and new-age skill sets. The courses range from new-age tech programmes focused on data analytics, AI/ML, and cloud computing to digital marketing, leadership, and management. Students will get free access to online educational study materials from Coursera’s partners to promote conceptual clarity and subject-based mastery.

“The pandemic has accelerated the speed at which education institutions are executing on their digital strategy,” said Raghav Gupta, Managing Director – India and APAC, Coursera. “We are excited to be a part of UNext’s vision to make high quality education available to its students. Our association with Manipal Group goes back a long time. We are humbled by the impact of this partnership and looking forward to the opportunities the broader access to Coursera will create for UNext’s students.”

Students have been compelled to learn in unexpected ways as a result of the country-wide shut down. Change isn’t on its way; it’s already here, and UNext, through this partnership with Coursera for Campus, ensures that academic processes are not compromised. The students will receive certification from Coursera on successful completion of courses.

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Why the pandemic-provoked remote proctored assessments may inspire a permanent shift in the education system

While the devastating ripple effects of the pandemic were felt across continents, economies, industries, and practically every aspect of life, the impact has been most acute in the education industry, depriving and displacing over 32 crore students in India alone. Today, educational institutes find themselves in uncharted waters as they continue to navigate the impacts of the pandemic. But this situation has also accelerated innovation and development in the industry and has changed the traditional structure of education as we know it.

In March 2020, schools and colleges were under immense pressure, forcing faculty to abandon the traditional classroom after a national lockdown was imposed. Students, parents, and faculty grew increasingly concerned about the profound implications this could have on the affected batches. This pandemic-induced education divide provoked the industry to conduct numerous experiments in remote learning and examinations to adapt to this global shift. The role of technology was quickly recognised as a critical tool in facilitating learning continuity and making education accessible to students worldwide. Institutes looking to overcome uncertainty and panic began leveraging new-age tech designed to combat these challenges. From classes to guest lectures, webinars and job fairs, fee payments to even exams – technology made everything possible remotely, securely. Finally, the education technology sector had created advanced automated, AI-powered systems that left no room for setbacks or hesitation in implementation.

Several institutes prefer remote assessments over offline examinations – and not just because of the situation of the pandemic. Virtual learning and examinations have proven to collectively empower students and institutions. This virtual alternative is favoured by many over traditional methods due to its flexibility, security, and ease of use. A study conducted by the World Economic Forum suggests that this digital-education shift has boosted student retention skills and makes for a quicker more efficient system. The scale to which the implementation of technology has been adopted over such a short period has provoked thoughts of (and quite strongly indicated) a permanent integration of aspects like online exams, online proctoring and result generation in the traditional system of education.

Though many are opting for remote examinations, shifting assessments digitally is still a challenge for some institutes that have resorted to cancelling or postponing examinations. This has resulted in student and parent distress about the negative consequences this could have on the future of students. Alternative methods of assessments have become a need of the hour to combat this crisis. There is evident health stress weighing on offline examination attempts. With physical contact posing a dire threat, online modes of examination have risen to popularity as a viable solution for our current predicament. It is a long-term solution to equip the industry for not just any future unforeseen crisis but also as a worthwhile option to seamlessly function in today’s digital age.

How does it work? Virtually proctored examinations innovated to meet pandemic constraints, allow invigilators or proctors to efficiently monitor students remotely through AI and ML-enabled tools. Designed to authenticate visual identity and biometrics, track body movement and ambient noises, monitor keyboard handwriting, and analyse system usage – advanced proctoring solutions allow for a higher percent of integrity and reliability of tests as well as the elimination of bias. AI-enabled technologies allow proctors to successfully supervise students via a webcam as they would in person. A report with detailed information is produced for the proctor when the exam is completed, allowing them to make a fair judgment on the integrity and credibility of a candidate. These tests produce remarkably fast, accurate, and informative findings.

Remote proctoring allows greater flexibility, eliminates bias, and enables data integrity by ensuring that only authorised personnel has access to it. These tests are foolproof as they prevent malpractice, are easy to use, and improve the overall productivity of the process compared to traditional methods. With the dawn of new advancements in education, like AI and other emerging technologies, for the first time, large-scale exams like NEET and JEE can be administered effortlessly across the country. The University Grants Commission (UGC) too has authorised a set of colleges to offer full-termed online degree programmes in India indicating a definite step towards a technology-powered future for the sector.

Despite the evolution of technology and tools we have access to today, it is surprising to reflect on how a shift of this magnitude was possible in mere months and was not proactively initiated pre-pandemic. Access to basic education has been a global crisis but we have only begun to feel the weight and intensity of it now because of how it has started to affect us at a personal level. This also changes the way we view international education – far from shelling on plane tickets, accommodation, and living expenses. Technology, if implemented correctly, can make online education and online examinations more accessible and affordable to students everywhere – not only to those in small towns and cities but also to those in remote areas who often give up pursuing an education due to various accessibility issues and other limitations. One lesson that has emerged from this situation is a global shift in perspective when it comes to allowing technology to innovate our traditional systems. As the dust settles, we can see that traditional learning and assessment methods are far from obsolete, but proctored assessments have proven to be a lucrative post-pandemic solution that could influence a shift in the traditional education system in the long run.

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Reasons digital upskilling becoming popular with mid- & senior-level professionals

According to TalentLMS, 74% of employees think their managers need reskilling and upskilling training.

Outdated beliefs and strategies are bound to greatly stifle the progress of an enterprise if its leaders are not on top of ‘what’s next’ and ‘what’s new’. Contrary to popular belief, experience is not the only factor that fuels the vision a strategic leader holds for the growth of a company. The key role of people belonging to C-suite levels of the management is to facilitate innovation and then align them to the organisational objectives.

According to research by IBM, 56% of CEOs emphasise the need to aggressively pursue operational agility and flexibility.

In an era where technology and skills are interdependent, we are witnessing mid- and senior-level professionals quickly identify the importance and actively get involved in the process of upskilling. Being directly responsible for the active growth of an organisation, leaders today have realised that they need to understand all the complexities and interconnections of their business areas. And this requires them to be digital savvy and up to date with the latest trends and technologies.

Here are the three Ds that are driving the C-suite professionals to become active champions of upskilling in today’s fast-evolving, competitive market:

Deal with the digital revolution

The 2020 Gartner Shifting Skills Survey for HR executives reveals that 60% of HR leaders report pressure from the CEO to ensure employees have the skills needed in the future. As much as employers are concerned with the upskilling of their existing workforce, it is necessary for them to also be involved in a conscious upskilling process. If they focus only on reskilling their workforce, they run a risk of lagging behind in the rat race as new-age technologies go about imposing irrevocable changes across all industries. Gartner’s research recently showed that only 44% of employees say they trust their organisation’s leaders and managers to navigate a crisis well. Forecasting trends and leveraging the latest technology to develop new strategies to adapt to the same are the biggest and the most prominent challenges faced by senior executives today. The most ideal way to tackle this challenge is to become accustomed to, if not master, the emerging technologies like analytics, data science, etc. and their adaptive applications. This is of prime importance as companies today no longer compete only on the basis of their quality service or goods. They also focus on adaptive advantage for a further competitive edge.

Direct focus towards constant learning

By 2022, 54% of all employees will require significant upskilling, according to the World Economic Forum. Owing to the sky-high competition and the pandemic-hit economy, most companies are in a constant state of struggle for existence. The process involved in the battle to stay afloat is completely focused on adapting. However, the operative word here is to ‘learn’. According to a recent report from Citrix, 82% of employees and 62% of HR directors said they believe that workers will need to reskill or upskill at least once a year to maintain a competitive advantage in a global job market. An organisation’s capability to adapt is directly dependent on its inclination to learn which will eventually increase its chances of survival way into the future. Therefore, it is necessary for an organisation’s mid- and senior-level professionals to be involved in the upskilling process as it will provide them with an accurate picture of the market’s upskilling needs.

Develop overall productivity

The Industrial Revolution 4.0 is primarily fuelled by the rapid rate of digitization of all aspects of the business. The pandemic only worked towards accelerating the adoption of these changes bringing to the forefront an acute skills gap. To overcome these hurdles the most primary requirement was for the growth leaders to identify and utilise technologies that would enable the easy flow of work. A report by LinkedIn states that to enhance their personal leadership, executives turned to online learning (29%), management consultants (25%), and executive coaches (23%) for help. Having identified and understood the gap in their digital knowledge, mid- and senior-level professionals today are actively engaged in increasing their emerging technology related competencies to become new-age digital leaders.

With advanced technology designing the market landscape, the need to upskill with emerging technology and stay relevant has never been higher. As more aspects of business continue to be influenced and undertaken by new-age technologies, we see more mid- and senior-level professionals being actively inclined towards upskilling themselves to obtain relevant progressive outcomes. Adopting operational agility and digital flexibility can only be achieved through skilled employees who are led by digitally intelligent executives.

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How critical are analytical insights for a recruitment cycle?

From dial-up internet and brick-like cell phones to ultrafast broadband and touchscreen smartphones, the evolution of technology has been remarkable. In today’s world, technological advancements are exciting and creating endless opportunities. Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics have grown in popularity and are currently widely preferred fields affecting many jobs as we move into the future. HR and recruitment are sectors that have been severely impacted by a slew of recent technology breakthroughs. Companies across various industries are now optimizing their recruitment processes by using analytical insights and the convenience of remote hiring. Technology has transformed the way jobs are advertised, how applications are tracked and shortlisted, how we communicate and interview applicants.

In a recent survey conducted by MeritTrac and Behavioural Economics and Science Team (BEAST), 87% of companies surveyed stated that their hiring efforts moved online during Covid-19. Companies responded to the change in three ways: some created ad hoc processes from existing systems and platforms, some hired external assessment companies to assist with the transition, and some leveraged more capabilities of existing platforms for the entire recruitment cycle – especially for interviews and onboarding.

Current challenges during recruitment

Presently, with innumerable displaced freshers and job seekers, there is a huge strain on recruiters to rapidly accommodate challenges presented by a dynamic economic scenario. Employers are struggling with mass quality hiring, especially when they have to manually operate systems and platforms that need specialization and reskilling. Tracking and sorting large-scale recruitment metrics produced by an overwhelming number of applicants is another concern that most recruiters face. Many organisations have difficulty devising an effective and structured selection process. Stakeholders find it difficult to make efficient, data-driven, optimum hiring or employee development decisions. Not to mention platform limitations like lack of centralized visibility to manage assessment processes, lack of control and coordination between departments, and so on. Recruitment and employee skill evaluation are being strategized around platform limitations.

Leveraging talent analytics to improve the hiring process

Recruitment analytics could be a game-changer in the hiring process. It is key to integrating data-driven talent sourcing in any organisation. Shifting to a data-driven system not only resolves the predicaments currently faced by organisations but can also make the recruitment process more effective and efficient. Analysing candidate and employee data helps pinpoint hiring bottlenecks, systematically structure and refine recruitment activities across the board. With the help of analytics, end-to-end recruitment processes can be executed efficiently and digitally, thereby optimising the operation cycle. It also increases the probability of matching suitable candidates to right jobs significantly. Analytical insights can help employers throughout the hiring process to find the most suitable candidates by generating reports, matching portfolios, and filtering candidates automatically. By eliminating manual processing, data-driven recruitment sets the stage for a more united, cost-effective, efficient and effortless system for the present and future.

Analytics help streamline and optimise the decision-making process

In the long term, in addition to assisting and planning the next hiring cycle, analytical insights help retain existing staff by reducing their workload drastically and making the hiring experience more rewarding due to its efficiency. Another impressive feature of data analytics is its ability to predict challenges and equip teams with appropriate solutions. This helps boost the appeal of organisations, both on a client and employee level. By tracking employee performance and potential, recruiters can guarantee more quality candidates and enhanced productivity for existing and potential clients.

The feedback loop produced by data analytics will create an efficient ecosystem and improve the relationship between recruiters and hiring managers. Data-driven hiring has the potential to evolve the entire recruitment industry by providing time for planning, in-depth strategizing and a more thorough result-generation process. What has definitely been lacking so far is a unified modular assessment ecosystem that could bring together the fragmented pieces of the hiring process onto a unified platform providing holistic end-to-end assessment solutions. Investing in a next generation digital assessment revolution will help organisations build powerful workforces, improve their decision-making process, and play an essential role in building up establishments.

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Jigsaw Academy: Training the modern workforce

There has always been a gap in our country between the theory taught academically and the skills that are needed by the workforce to function in the industry. This has caused professionals to seek education for the skills they need elsewhere, and this is where companies like Jigsaw Academy become relevant.

Jigsaw Academy makes education more practical and inclusive, opening up access to the skills that are needed by those looking for a place in the modern workforce. Especially in recent times, owing to the pandemic, there has been a surge of people looking to online courses to upskill themselves in times of uncertainty.

This exclusive Interview from Analytics Steps with CEO and Co-founder Gaurav Vohra, and COO and Co-founder Sarita Digumarti of Jigsaw Academy, delves into how the platform has been helping to build a modern workforce in India, industry-ready and equipped with knowledge of emerging technologies.

Focusing on Emerging Technologies

Award-winning online analytics training institute Jigsaw Academy is a part of UNext, backed by Manipal Education and Medical Group-MEMG. The company is known for the quality of its training programs. “We are essentially in the professional skilling space and we focus on emerging technology areas,” Vohra says about the premise behind Jigsaw.

He phrases their activities as “training the workforce of today on the skills of tomorrow.”

“When I talk about the skills of tomorrow I’m talking about technologies like data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, cybersecurity, IT full-stack…” Vohra explains. “These are all technologies that are in huge demand right now.” He also predicts that the demand for these technologies will grow even further in the next 18-24 months.

Vohra underlines the need for training on these skills by saying they are important today especially if India wants to be the global hub for IT services. According to him, the traditional IT skills and services that have been in demand for the past 15-20 years are now fading away, being replaced by new technologies. This is why they are focused on training the workforce in these technologies. “We are helping bridge the demand-supply gap in these new areas,” he says.

Things change at a rapid pace when it comes to technology, but in the case of the new and emerging technologies of today, things change even faster.

“Typically our academia is not able to keep up with that pace of change. We are essentially trying to bring the academia and the industry together, so students can have the best of both worlds. They can learn the concepts through a rigorous academic curriculum but they are also able to learn the most relevant and in-demand skills through some of the industry practitioners.”

Vohra explains that that is why Jigsaw programs are a mix of industry and academia. “As a part of that, we have collaborations with some of the top universities in India.” Jigsaw has three programs with IIM Indore and is on the verge of launching one more, with plans to launch even more in the next 6 months. They also have a couple of programs with Mahi University.

They are also closely linked with the industry. Jigsaw trains the workforces of companies including IBM, Infosys, McKinsey, Ernst and Young, and Deloitte, and so have a strong connection with them.

“We have very strong academic partners and we have very strong industry partners that we bring together,” Vohra concludes. “So our students can actually learn from industry practitioners, as well as academicians.”

Promoting Constant Learning

There is a general perception that studying is a task to be done when one is young. Platforms like Jigsaw Academy have broken this particular barrier and enabled people of all groups to study without any hesitation.

Digumarti observes that a large majority of the participants at Jigsaw tend to be people who are already working, mostly working in white-collar, functional roles involving engineering, technology, and the like.

“I think there is a realization for all of them that the way we work now is very different from how people used to work 30 years ago.” Continuing on what Vohra said earlier, the point rises again that there is a lot of change happening in technology, processes and domains.

She muses that the age when you used to have a certain set of skills which you used for the next 30 years in your career, is long gone.

“Our skill sets now probably have shelf lives of three and a half, four, five years at the most, you have to constantly keep learning, unlearning, and relearning.”

Digumarti thinks that people now understand that constant learning is expected, and so to a large extent, their audience comes in wanting to learn.

“Our job is to make sure that we help people who maybe have not stepped into a classroom for a long time,” she says, “and figure out how to make them learn in an engaging and interesting manner.” Jigsaw has a lot of experience in providing the pedagogy, platforms, and the right kind of environment that such people need to learn effectively.

They also have a lot of experience in providing online learning. Jigsaw started as an online company, even before Coursera. “How do you make sure that you’re able to give people the comfort of learning at their own pace, but at the same time being able to finish in a certain specific period of time?” Digumarti explains that they know how to ensure that there is no learner left behind in an online setup.

Relevance of Online Learning Today

With Jigsaw Academy’s experience in the space of online and digital learning, they are all too familiar with how the pandemic has caused shifts in the education system.

Digumarti affirms that Jigsaw has always been an online training company, and had started by being exclusively online. “Over time, we realized that it’s probably not fair to do an online versus offline comparison because they are different. There are places where offline works better, and there are places that online works better.” She firmly disagrees with the thought that online learning is a poor substitute for offline.

“The reality is that for many of our audience an offline course is difficult,” she says. Those who are working don’t want to spend another two or three hours commuting to get to a classroom.

“In online education, there are a lot of conveniences, there is a lot less stress, and there is also the fact that you typically have access to content in video format, so you’re able to review and go through the lectures when you want.”

If a student hasn’t understood something very clearly, having the option of being able to review the lecture again is very beneficial.

“I think the reality is that yes, there is space for offline and there is space for online,” Digumarti says, “and we do both, but for the vast majority of learning needs, especially with the rate at which technology is changing and the rate at which people have to learn new skills, online is really the most convenient and feasible option for people to learn.”

Vohra agrees, saying that it depends on the life stage of a person. He thinks that a classroom environment with interaction and an in-person experience is better for students in the earlier stages of their life where studying is their primary goal.

“But for us, the primary audience is not people who are in their life stage where studying is the most important thing,” he says. “For us, the audience is people who are now working. They have gone through the first 20 years of their life, they’ve done their studies, and now they are working professionally. And because the skills that they picked up are not relevant anymore or not as relevant anymore, they need to upskill themselves.”

These professionals also have a lot of competing priorities at the same time, he explains. They have their work, families, children, parents that they have to take care of, all of which demand a lot of time. “So with all those competing challenges, online education, in fact, is a far superior way of learning for them, than in person.”

Vohra talks about the advantages of online learning. “If you live in any big city, especially in Bangalore, commute times can kill you. And online education, of course, helps everyone cut down on their commute times. Even the time slot for studying doesn’t need to be fixed.”

There may be live online classes at certain times which you have to log in to, but there is a lot of space that you can go through at any time. Vohra talks of students who wake up at five in the morning and finish all their studies before anyone in the family gets up, and others who prefer to do it late at night when everyone has gone to sleep.

Online learning presents these options that offline learning cannot. “For a certain section of people- that section, of course, is becoming larger and larger and more important now- for them, online learning is easily the best way to learn.”

Digumarti adds that when comparing online versus offline, it is important to understand that there are very different ways of teaching and engaging with a class.

“Sometimes online gets a bad rap because you’re essentially taking methodologies and tactics that work for an in-person classroom and you’re trying to use it as is, in an online environment. And that’s not going to work. Online requires you to teach differently, to engage differently, to plan differently, to structure your content differently. If you do it that way, then, certainly, I think a lot of people will realize that there is a lot of value in online education.”

Vohra concurs with her, talking about the increase in the conversation around online learning owing to the pandemic. He points out that a lot of what we are reading about online education is more a knee-jerk reaction to how the last year has been. “What has happened in the last year is that a lot of people, a lot of institutions, that were not geared towards online education, that were not prepared for it at all, were forced into it because they didn’t have any other choice.”

“And because many of them were not prepared for it, they tried to use the same methodology, the same pedagogy that has worked in offline programs,” he elaborates. “And of course, that doesn’t work because online has its own challenges.”

But for Jigsaw Academy who’s been in the online training business for the last 11 years, Vohra thinks this has just shown people that done the right way, online education can actually be far more effective for learners.

The Most In-demand Fields

Talking about the programs that have the most demand, Vohra reiterates that emerging technology areas are at the top. Data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, and IT full-stack have been the most sought-after technologies for more than a decade now, he says, with the demand continuing to increase.

There is a huge demand for cloud resources, according to Vohra.

“Cloud computing in the last couple of years, especially post-pandemic, has emerged as the area which has seen the maximum increase in demand. Companies are begging us for people with these skills, and they are finding it very hard to fill their pipeline.”

Other than these, cybersecurity and product management are also areas with high demand. “For the last few months we’ve started seeing huge demand in IT sales, people who have the sales skills in the IT sector.” Jigsaw has recently launched a program with IIM Indore on Strategic Sales Management, which is specifically targeting this demand.

Vohra adds that although emerging technologies have been in demand for the last 10 years, what technology is in demand keeps changing. Within technologies like data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the kind of skills people need to pick up, the tools they need to master, and the kind of technologies they need to have experience on, have all evolved rapidly over the last 10 years.

He illustrates this change by talking about their data science program. “The first program that we built for data science, focused on a tool called SaaS, which was the most in-demand tool at that time. Now SaaS has very few takers- it has been replaced by open source technologies like R and Python, and of course, big data technologies like Hadoop. So within data science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, the mix of technologies that we teach has changed significantly in the last 10 years.”

The Growth of Jigsaw Academy

Digumarti reminisces with fondness on the history of their company. “Both Gaurav and I didn’t really have any prior experience of startups. Both of us have had corporate experience for quite a bit before we decided to start Jigsaw Academy.”

“And maybe we were very naive,” she says. “But our focus, at least when we started, was not really around how large the company can become.” She talks about how they saw a clear need for training for working professionals in application-oriented areas, which was not happening in the academic space.

“We started with data science because that’s our background. And we clearly saw the challenge there. So our focus was on just creating quality programs that people globally would appreciate.”

She also thinks that they were lucky with the timing, starting at a time when online education was just very much in its infancy, pre-Coursera. “Over time a lot of people saw the potential in this, we ourselves understood that there is a large market for quality education in these industry-oriented emerging technology areas. And so obviously, after about the first couple of years, then we also sort of focused on growth.” But she also insists that they have always been careful about putting quality and satisfaction over growth.

“Manipal [Manipal Education and Medical Group] was our first investor, we were bootstrapped for the first five years. So, while we’ve grown, and we’ve grown quite a bit in the last 10 years, I think one of the things that have helped us from an investment perspective is, I feel, the sharing of a common long term vision, which is to understand that in education it takes time to build a brand, it takes time to build growth.”

“It’s a little dangerous to sort of go after growth without focusing on what is the value of your product and the quality of your product,” Digumarti says, a point worth noting.

She talks about the ed-tech booms over the years. “We are seeing another boom, right now, lots of ed-tech players are raising money. And I think that is just a signal for how large it potentially is, especially in India, where we have a large set of people that are graduating that are not really employable. And we have a large set of working professionals that are working, but they understand that they need to constantly keep upskilling, in order to sort of stay in the job market and in order to build careers.”

Even when talking about the market she reaffirms the importance of building quality products. From the perspective of UNext, she thinks there is a lot of similarity of vision with MEMG. “As a group known for quality education, they’ve been around for a very long time and their vision is to build something that stands for reliability, for quality, for trust. And that is also what we want to do. We grow, but we want to grow in a manner that is satisfying for us and for our students.”

Vohra repeats Digumarti’s sentiments, saying that education is a very peculiar sector in certain ways. “Word of mouth, the quality of your product, the learning outcomes that you can provide to your students is very, very important. So you need to have very strong fundamentals, you need to have a very strong offering for the students before you can look at growing.”

He appreciates their luck in having a strategic partner like MEMG who has been in the education sector for many decades. “They understand the sector very well. They know what is required, they understand the peculiarities of the sector. And so we’ve worked very well with them because the thoughts and the vision have matched. And like Sarita said, ed-tech is going through another boom right now. Both on the UNext side, and on the Jigsaw side, we are seeing huge potential, and we have aggressive plans for the next 12 to 18 months to grow both of these companies.”

Staying Ahead of the Curve

The ed-tech field has changed a lot through the years, and Jigsaw Academy is facing tough competition. “When we started off, like Sarita said, in the pre-Coursera days, we were one of the very few ed-tech companies,” Vohra says. “Now, of course, the field is very saturated- there are tons of players- completely new ed-tech players, like us, or even older education players who’ve now gone the ed-tech route. So there is definitely a lot of competition, both from homegrown companies, as well as foreign competitors who’ve come here.”

He points out that companies like Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera, have raised huge amounts of funds and have much more resources at their disposal than Jigsaw. “So there are challenges in competing with such competitors,” he says, but is not worried about Jigsaw’s place in the market.

“I think one of the key things that we focused on is providing a very tailored, customized learning approach to our students, where the learning outcomes for them are clearly defined. And once students see those learning outcomes, we’ve seen that they don’t hesitate to spend that extra money with you. So because our focus has always been on providing superior learning outcomes to our students, I think we are in good shape.”

Foreign competitors are more focused on mass-producing, he says, with less customization, primarily because of the way they are set up and the scale at which they operate. “Whereas Indian consumers prefer a lot of hand-holding, a lot of custom learning that we are able to provide.”

Vohra also explains that while these technologies are geography agnostic in the sense that demand for data science is there not just in India, but in the US and Europe and everywhere else, at the same time, the specifics of that demand- what kind of tools, what kind of technologies, what kind of domains are in demand in particular geography varies.

“Because we work very closely with all the top Indian companies that are in this space, we have a very good sense of what kind of skills are going to be in demand 6 months from now 12 months from now, and we are able to tailor our programs accordingly,” he says. “I feel this staying relevant to what is in demand, what is sought after in the Indian industry is a key thing that is going to help us stay ahead of any competitors.”

Digumarti echoes Vohra’s opinions and says that there are a lot of ed-tech players, but there are a lot of different audiences as well. “I believe, we are very clear about the sort of experience or the target audience that we are going after.”

Their focus is on people who want to learn emergent technologies, which are essentially things that are rapidly changing and somewhat niche and complex. Digumarti says that people who want to learn them in order to generate very definite outcomes- either transitioning into a role that is based on those technologies or a promotion- those people are looking for, not just a high-level understanding, but something fairly detailed and fairly hands-on. They need a lot of help in learning.

She explains that self-service content only goes so far and if you want to learn some of these complex technologies, you do need access to people who can help you, resolve your doubts, and give you the ability to try things hands-on. This is what they focus on.

“We do this not just for individual students, but also for enterprises,” she says. “And because we work quite extensively with enterprise clients, we also have a good understanding and some sort of a leading indicator of what companies are looking for in terms of skill sets, that we are able to make sure we incorporate into our courseware.”

Digumarti concludes by saying that where the learning needs are complex and where there is technology involved, hand-holding becomes a necessity, and that is the kind of programs that Jigsaw delivers. “And therefore, I feel, that that keeps us differentiated.”

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Technology and the assessments landscape

World has shifted from offices to homes – in-person work has been replaced by remote working. The trend is no different when it comes to skilling and hiring. Although I feel this transition was inevitable, the pandemic has accelerated the speed of adoption.

The hiring and skilling sector is undergoing a digital leap. The pandemic has made it imperative for us to explore viable options to ensure work continuity for all employees along with necessary HR interventions. Moreover, Rapid technology changes, internet penetration & growing demand for skill-based workforce has led learners to adopt a flexible learning route which allows them to reskill at their own convenience.

From being a ‘good to have’ option for corporates, it’s become mission critical to have a technology play within the HR ecosystem. Most corporations have understood this reality and started digitizing some aspects of the value chain. Like any advent of technology, it must be channelised in the right way to ensure maximum benefit while avoiding the downside of it. We have to use technology to digitize various critical aspects of the employee lifecycle thereby enhancing productivity levels and ensuring first-time right hires.

The current assessments landscape

Over the last 12-15 months, assessment companies have continuously augmented their capabilities to provide an online examination experience that is as close as possible to an offline examination with the same level of integrity. The journey of remote proctoring is a continuously evolving one, as systems and platforms keep getting better and better. This is helping to increase the end-user confidence in online exams, and I do see increasing adoption as we realise that blended and digital modes of assessments are here to stay – both for their convenience and their effectiveness. As more and more drives are conducted online, this is going to ensure higher confidence and trust on online and digital modes of assessments as well, that can well continue even in a post-Covid world.

For employee appraisals, there is an increasing shift towards adopting a hybrid approach. Remote appraisals have mandated usage of technology which is one of the best ways to eliminate biases due to the nature of the tools and platforms used. As most companies moved to digital tools of measuring employee effectiveness and productivity, these data-points come handy during remote assessments as well. Some examples of these include data-driven appraisals done remotely with technology tools enabling a 360-degree feedback loop as well. The output of this exercise can establish data-backed robust employee profiles with respect to their personalized skill sets and areas of improvement and assist cross-functional movements and succession planning.

Restructuring with technology

When we talk about technology trends like AI, this is something that can be applied to all interventions at different levels. While still at a nascent stage, it has the potential to use data to customize and personalize learning paths at a module level. It can identify the medium of learning that is most effective for an individual and can ensure learning modules are nudged in such a way that ensures maximum retention for the student. As it evolves, even internal assessments can be made truly adaptive basis candidate competency with clear directions on improvement areas – to ensure that candidates graduate with holistic skills developed that are aligned and relevant to the industry. It will have a big role to play in assessments wherein Trust Scores for every candidate can be computed basis candidate body language and other factors while giving an examination. This will help ensure integrity of exams that will also add a lot of comfort to the corporates that are hiring employees through such modes.

One of the key human challenges in the flexibility to adapt and evolve. In a post-Covid world, while certain aspects of the learning cycle will continue to be digitized, the acceptance levels by the industry will take its own due course as well. Graduations happening online is a paradigm shift in the formal education sector. People have always been sceptical about delivery of learning and assessments online, but as the learning and assessment ecosystem is experiencing modern tools and methodologies, I believe that the comfort level towards adopting technology-backed digital solutions is higher than ever. We are seeing record hirings across industries in 2021, most of whom had paused hiring efforts in 2020.

This is a good time for organizations to go back to the drawing board and restructure their appraisal processes by incorporating a reliable assessment mechanism with the help of modern tools and methodologies. There are a range of tools available today to monitor and measure employee progress and performance on a periodic basis. These inputs should be utilized and incorporated in the overall assessment framework of the organisation to have a holistic employee profile and report in place. This can have other incidental benefits on career progression, cross-functional movements etc. Data-backed platforms ensure that more objective and data-driven decisions are made that can even help improve employee retention over a longer period. I believe that this shift towards digital tools for employee appraisals will lead to more efficient and effective ways of performance reviews across industries. As long as the end result of productivity enhancements is realised, it will be a win-win situation for HR as well as the last-mile employee.

We need to find the sweet spot for our organisations where technology can synergise with human interventions to make the entire process more efficient and effective. At the end of the day, we are dealing with human beings and there is a risk of making the process completely mechanical. We need to be cautious that we are maintaining the personal touch in whatever form possible, to ensure that the process remains humanized.

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