Startup India: On the Road to Build Skills

A robust startup ecosystem

There has never been a better time to be a startup in India than now. According to a recent NASSCOM-Zinnov report, India added 1,200 startups in 2018 and startups received $4.3 billion funding in the same year. Startup India projects there are a total of 8,625 recognised startups in the country, as on March 30, 2018.

The unprecedented growth of startups has raised a few pertinent questions. Are startups doing enough to ensure the country’s youth have the foundational and job-specific skills to drive economic growth and stability? Are entrepreneurs working in tandem with other stakeholders to close the skills gap and make the unskilled workforce employable? And — crucially — what are the barriers preventing the young demographic dividend from accessing opportunities for socio-economic progress?

Since India is projected to have the youngest workforce in the world by 2020, startups are working hard to harness the country’s vast talent pool. If India’s youth has to be provided with gainful employment, startups have a role to play in hiring, training and upskilling the workforce to prevent a skills crisis in the future.

Startups: Fuelling Skill India

As we are celebrating World Youth Skills Day today, it is an opportune time to examine if startups have fostered the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship among India’s youth. Across industries, entrepreneurs are training the unskilled workforce through their vocational programs and workshops. They equip the workforce to secure a livelihood and enjoy the dignity of labour.

Hyderabad-based Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions aims to provide quality pre-school education to underprivileged children. The startup trains budding women entrepreneurs — currently working as teachers, or running their own tuition centres and grocery stores — in the areas of education and school management. Sudiksha has partnered with IL&FS and Future Group to run a skill training program in soft skills, marketing, leather manufacturing and sales, aimed at empowering more local women.

As per government estimates, another 109 million skilled workers will be needed in the key sectors of the economy by 2022. Also, only 2.3 per cent of India’s workforce has received some level of formal skills training. Another Hyderabad startup PositiveShift was founded to address the skills gap in India’s workforce. Its Skill development platform caters to Indian youth and trains them in vocations across sectors like retail, telecom, electronics, healthcare and banking, among others. PositiveShift has a mandate to make one million youth employable by 2025.

Care24, also a Hyderabad startup, enhances the skills of unskilled or semi-skilled healthcare workers to boost their monthly remuneration. Since highly skilled nurses and lab technicians are available in limited numbers, the startup is doing its bit to train and retain talent. Further, the fragmented nature of India’s healthcare ecosystem has pushed Care24 to add more skilled workforce to the industry. MyMedicineBox, Netmeds, 1mg and PharmEasy are other healthcare startups that have ramped up hiring, including for positions like customer support, IT development, delivery personnel and diagnostics.

Healthcare and Fintech are often viewed as the blue-eyed startup sectors, India’s fading handloom industry needs a helping hand from innovative startups. Hyderabad-based Inde’ Loom is one such startup that aims to invest in providing skilling, upskilling and training programs for weavers. The startup helps artisans and weavers to earn more wages and profits by availing government schemes. Through such startups, the biggest takeaway for the innovation ecosystem has been making grassroots weavers become entrepreneurs. Undoubtedly, this is the power of skills development.

Joining hands with stakeholders

Startups also collaborate with corporates for innovative skill development. For example, UrbanClap, a leading startup in the mobile-based services category, is the assembly partner for Ikea’s first India store in Hyderabad. Ikea will train and upskill carpenters via the UrbanClap app to make them professional Ikea assemblers.

The government has also given an impetus to India’s skill agenda through its flagship Skill India Mission launched in 2015. It has spearheaded several initiatives that promote entrepreneurship and augment skill development, especially in rural areas. For example, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and the Tourism and Hospitality Sector Skill Council (THSC) partnered with Airbnb to provide hospitality skills training to local hospitality entrepreneurs. The partnership ensures that the benefits trickle to the underserved communities.

Thus, the thriving startup scene in India is adding to skill building for the nation. Startups aid in employment generation, skilling new workers and building skillsets in niche technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, IoT and big data, among others. With an eye on the global EdTech market, several startups in this sector are providing employment-oriented skills. For example, Bengaluru-based Foxmula upskills young engineering graduates to get global certifications, internships and training in advanced technologies to meet the demands of a changing job market.

Banish the bottlenecks

Despite the giant strides made by startups to drive Skill India, certain challenges impede their progress. The lack of resilient infrastructure and inadequate access to training centres are common issues faced by startups in the skill development industry. Limited internet connectivity also hampers access to the quality training provided by startups.

Since over 90 per cent of India is part of the unorganised sector, many of the workers are illiterate and semi-skilled. They lack adequate opportunities to reskill and upskill, to make them ‘employable’. Various studies show the quality of existing skills programs should be enhanced and new public-private partnerships forged. Gender and age stereotyping are also barriers to skill development.

New training institutes that solely cater to women and the youth must be established to address such challenges. Also, India’s tech startups are demanding a clear government policy on AI and other emerging technologies, which is essential to build the next level of technical skill sets generating more employment in the country.

Skilling forward

As we enter the fourth year of the Skill India program, it is time to chart the way forward for our young population. If India has to become a global powerhouse, it must create more jobs, and provide skilling and training opportunities for the youth. In this regard, India’s startups seem to be on the right track. It is critical is for the startup ecosystem to come together to innovate, facilitate the growth of new industries and usher in a new and improved era of entrepreneurship. Only then can we say India’s youth is a ‘workforce’ to reckon with.