Corporate Training in India: Opportunities and Roadblocks
Resoundingly wrong, but that is not what I wanted to write about here. We are making inroads into corporate English Language training market. It was not easy explaining to training managers why their employees need English training, though there were these enlightened souls who patiently heard us out. However, what we have done so far is a different subject, as this is work in progress and sort of a privileged information inside the company. However, what I can put in public domain is what we learned about corporate training market in India as a whole.
Indian corporate training market is large and lucrative, as this is one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a huge skill gap which is hindering its forward march. The strategies to handle this are already being discussed - one can make a good start by reading this bunch of articles in HBR - and upskilling the workforce is one of the common sense strategies that one would pursue.
However, an interesting point is made about the nature of India's talent gap and it bears some significance here. India, in comparison to China, suffers from a gap in the mid- to entry-level talent, rather than senior management. India already has an entrepreneurial culture and that vision thing, it is the discipline of execution at the front level which often lets Indian companies down. Accordingly, Indian corporate training market is also skewed towards training mid- to entry-level employees.
This is not to say that there are not many opportunities in Senior Management training in India. There is, and this is also the most attractive segment in money terms. But this is where most competition is - the international franchises here compete with the Indian Management schools for market share in this segment. The catch, however, is that most of the training available in this segment is exactly the same as it is available in the West, and there is very little localization and contextualization done. This leads to a big problem by itself. As it is, India is a divided society, and there is a chasm between the well-heeled, who will primarily move into senior management, and the common men and women, who will fill the mid- to entry-level positions. This chasm is further accentuated by propagation of Western Business thinking in Senior Management training, making the Senior Managers think further and further away from the people s/he is designated to manage.
On the other hand, the offerings at the entry/mid level corporate training remains highly disorganized and unstructured. I had the opportunity of reviewing several materials offered to entry level employees on leadership, communication and culture. I do think that the companies offering them did little work preparing these materials, and the trainer delivering them had little qualification to conduct the training. This is the open-to-all bit for corporate training in India. Often, an entrepreneurial trainer from a large company will set up a venture herself and get started with her former employer and other companies in the same sector. There is indeed nothing wrong about it, and most training ventures in the West are also similar - one person entities who are mainly spin offs from large corporations - but since the industry is matured, one has to go through a bit more rigour to achieve that state than in India. In India at this time, this whole freelance training business is still in its initial stages, where demand outstrips supply and hence, almost anyone with a couple of years of experience of training gets into the game.
I must not sound that I have anything against this entrepreneuralism. India needs more of this, not less. But, there needs to be a bit of standard setting for the industry, accepted certifications, trade associations whatever. The American ASTD is somewhat popular here, but that does not really solve the problem. They are an American body with the usual hangups and what is needed is a standardization for India. I know I am talking about more bureaucracy which may stifle innovation somewhat, but industry bodies are somewhat in setting a bar. And, we definitely need such a thing.
Because, poor quality training gets us poor quality skills, which is worse than no skills. The problem is not with the person who does not know, it is indeed with the person who does not know he does not know. And, it is almost impossible to retrain people once he believes that he already knows the subject.
Part of the problem is also attributable to Indian view of education. Somewhat peculiarly, the outcome far outweighs the process and the need to learn. This is our colonial training, well embedded into our post-colonial structure. This comes from schools and colleges, where the degree or diploma is more important than whether the learning is enjoyable or worthwhile. In training too, you get to meet the bright guys who always want a certificate. And, once you got a certificate, no matter whether he learnt things or not, he is certified.
I, in fact, think the recession actually will provide a solution rather than aggravating the problem. Training has dropped out of the corporate agenda now, but will come back with a vengeance in the next 6 to 12 months, when, suddenly, the business performance starts getting hit by the lack of skills. What actually is happening in India is a correction now - industries are shifting focus and fine tuning their people strategies - and soon we shall all be ready to hit the restart button. The training fraternity will go through a bit of natural selection at this time and in the end, when markets find its legs, only the smartest will be left standing. It will be a painful but a necessary process, and in the end, we shall get a far more matured training industry in India.