Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Training in India: Time to Shift Gears

I often get asked about training business in India. This is a summary advice that I shall give, based on my experiences so far, on where the opportunity is.

I think too many corporate training businesses in India try to ape the western companies. Often, they are offshoots or aligned to some Western publishers or training providers. The problem is - this alters their agenda. Rather than being driven by the markets and its needs, these businesses become tied to targets set by their Western partners. I have been in situations myself, and also asked around other entrepreneurs, why they follow these targets so unthinkingly. Two reasons are normally given. First, these Western partnerships are viewed as crucial to competitive existence. Second, it is assumed that Western companies have a better business model for corporate training that India needs, and hence, it is not about servicing the market but about introducing a 'high-quality' product or an idea.

The problem with this approach is that this is completely misdirected. For all the talk, most of these Western publishers or training companies have little to offer the Indian market. This isn't about their intellectual shortcoming, but their attitude towards this market: They are keen to recycle their existing products in this 'underdeveloped' market rather than taking the effort to develop new solutions.

This is where it goes wrong - India isn't an underdeveloped market any more. Agreed, most Indian training providers are not thinking enough, but Indian companies have not waited for the training providers to come up with solutions. Most of them made significant internal arrangements, in some cases set up extensive corporate universities, where their employees go through extensive preparation programmes before they start actual work. Training providers, so far, have taken a dim view of the client's capability of training their own staff: But this is a Western conception which does not apply to India at all.

In my view, such 'Corporate Universities' will grow in India rather than getting outsourced. The employers who use them are increasingly finding them handy to instill some sort of culture among employees, which help them develop a common identity and stay in the job longer. A training business will do well aligning themselves to this employer-led training paradigm than trying to compete with it. Undoubtedly, specialist training companies have much to offer in terms of innovation and skills, as long as they are not only about recycling some dated Western concepts and ideas. Successful training companies will operate with a sort of 'humility' which will help them partner with employers successfully and play a complimentary role to the corporate universities.

There is, of course, another area to play for budding training entrepreneurs. The inner cities in India are already supplying most of the people in junior and middle ranks in the companies, but the education provision in these cities remain limited. They are under the radar of professional companies, and most large companies prefer to leave them to franchisees and below par operators. However, these are not underdeveloped markets. Satellite TV and mobile phones have completed the integration and the inner city youth is currently driving the Indian corporate growth. I am certain that budding entrepreneurs in India will soon move in to bridge the gap by setting up high quality education and training facilities in these cities.

One has to realize that despite the perception driven by chaotic, crumbling high streets, the inner cities are bustling with energy and hunger of good quality education and training. So far, not many has got the model right, because of their sales orientations and limitations of imagination: These markets need new and innovative thinking. The solution may lie in an outlier model, may be one of social entrepreneurship, rather than the conventional corporate model, which invariably passes on the control to assorted financier types. But, if anything is to change India, it will be this 'Train The Inner City' movement than the swanky offices in big city suburbs.

4 comments:

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

Couldn't agree more with you regarding the attitude adopted by the training segment in India.

The challenge of the Train the Inner Cities solution lies in the customer mindset and cost model that is peculiar to the inner cities, that costs are lower, disposable incomes are lower, and expectations are lower. This tempts entrants to fall into the trap of believing that if quality of deliverables is low, it will neither get noticed nor rejected.

Of course, history tells us that the customer cannot be taken for granted anywhere, not in "underdeveloped" market, not in inner cities, and that neither a wrongly positioned product nor a substandard delivery model will ever create lasting value.

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

A case in point is the practice of some of the leading IT training companies to send their obsolete course materials, on Office 2000 for example, to inner city training centres. There is an unspoken arrangement among the big city boys, as you say, that the inner cities do not deserve the cutting edge offering because of the lower price points.

This is one of the things I shall predict will change. The trend so far has been biased in favour of larger cities in India, the governments tended to develop bigger cities and throw resources at it, at the expense of everyone else. But most Indian large cities are becoming unsustainable, their public services breaking under the pressure of population. Besides, the companies are seeking to explore the less conventional markets outside the city limits and therefore seeking the small town talents more vigorously than ever.

This should lead to a renewed focus on developing smaller towns as talent clusters, where talent is developed and retained. Someone has to take the lead, the government has to facilitate it. One would hope that the leaders will see sense in the idea, however optimistic this may sound.

Gopal said...

Supriyo, I fully concur with your insightful views. Also agree with Subhorup views.

I think the key is, as referred by you, Social Entrepreneurship. "The Value" needs to be established before " gradually shifting the gears" to routine entrepreneurship. The volumes is the surety that it will not be "only social" for ever.

Munesh said...

Your article hits the nail on its head. I am into IT education for the past 12 years. I had been into various private universities teaching varied IT courses at different levels. For many years I have been struggling to open a IT training center that enhance the employability of the IT engineering students. I did try once in Dehradun which otherwise is considered as an education hub of the north but that was not successful.
I had noticed that the students are more keen in getting those kind of jobs where skill sets are not much in high demand. This mediocre ambition among our young minds is really going to stagnate India'a development in the longer run.

I am still in search for an IT training venture that is viable in small cities...

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