Corporate Training in India: Opportunities and Roadblocks

I have been working on Corporate Training market in India for a while, though it is strictly not in the scope of the business that we do. Our primary offering is English Language training, and I am often reminded that the language of business in India is English - hence, anyone with a decent job should have an understanding of English anyway. In essence, the message is that there is no market for English Language training in the corporate market in India and I should basically stay off the turf. Right?

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.


jhonyparker said…
Great Article. After going through your article, i can clearly have a picture, the drawback of Indian corporate trainingIndustry. The analysis has been really good and it will make everybody to think about this issue.
Jane Hamilton said…
You have a really informative blog here. I am interested in training, English Communication Training in particular, and this post is just what I was looking for. Your 'Useless Knowledge' adds a nice zing! Keep it coming!

Good Luck.

Jane Hamilton
Anonymous said…
Hi Supriyo,

I read through your Mar-09 post on the corporate training market in India and found the text was a pleasant reflection of your views on the industry.

I have never been in the HR or the training profession but have been the consumer of these training programs that my company used to get me to attend. Some imminent problems -
1. Only 50% of the people approach the training program with any excitement. For others, it is a waste of time.
2. Most programs were 3 days but surprisingly the trainer would always announced on the day before last, that the last day would be a half-day - what a waste of time.
3. The last day's excitement was only when the training ended and you are handed your certificates.

What is amiss in the above process?
a) There is no motivation before attending the course or while attending the course
b) There is too much information fed - a lot of which is irrelevant. Hence users lose focus and end up remembering nothing.
c) The entire process of training is a set of covert intentions -
1. the training team wants to fill in it's log-sheet of training days completed
2. the employee (mostly) needs it because it is mandatory
3. the trainer earns his/her livelihood
d) There is no follow-up on how many people are using these skills

Training in India is treated like a class - go from class 1 to class 12. Most companies donot even link the skill with the job. There sure is a long way to this industry maturing.

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Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Next to China, India is the place of rapid development, these roadblocks can be overcome with proper corporate learning solutions and people implementing them.
NIIT said…
Very informative post, the analysis as well as the opinions mentioned drives the point home.
Unknown said…
As the article is from 2009 I am curious about the progress with the English Language Training. I am setting up a training center to address a similar gap.
One of the comments refers to the gap between the training and application on the job. I completely agree with the comment.
It would be great to connect and discuss these issues.
Thanks Anand. Indeed, things have moved on somewhat (but may be not that much) and the opportunity has changed. I think there is slightly less enthusiasm now about BPO jobs as there was back in 2009 (these jobs have become downmarket) and there is a lot more openness to technology-based solutions than there was then. The Foreign chains did not work well in India, primarily as they failed to appreciate Indian market dynamics and take a long term view: With their margin centric thinking, their business models were wholly unsuitable to India. Besides, remember Indian Higher Education sector has gone through an unprecedented expansion, with 5000 students joining and 10 new institutions set up every day on an average for last five years. This has changed the dynamic of the professional training services a bit, because there is a huge excess capacity in education and often players tend to overlap. So, in short, the patterns of demand has changed, technology has arrived and the supply side equation somewhat morphed.

All the best for your new venture. I shall be in India for a few days starting next week. If you drop an email (which is on my profile), I shall pass on my phone number to you if you wanted to have a chat.

Shefali said…
Hi Mr.Chaudhri

Indeed a great article and this comes just in time when i am thinking to shape up my career in same domain. I am a professional with over 6 years of work experience in industries like Hospitality, retail and travel & tourism. I am 25 now and want to do a higher degree and foresee myself as a corporate trainer and commit myself to this.

Would be great if i am able to get your guidance.

Unknown said…

I think when people do realise that there is a skill gap, they dont really trust training to fill it up. mostly the companies or say the higher management are ignorant to per `'training`` their employees. its more of a HR target that so many hours of training per employee should be done.
Its a bit surprising that companies generally think that the culture of training and being upgraded should be from bottom to top. But it works wonders if the same comes from top to bottom. The leader drives any culture.
trainings cant be of 2-3 days. there has to be the 6 d´s involved, which are: define the business outcome, design the content, deliver, deploy support, doccument results.
Companies need to focus not just on soft skills trainings, but technical, functional and leadership also.
hope to see a goal focused talent in companies soon.


smita lanke

Completely agree that in most companies, the 'training' is a peripheral activity. However, I would like to believe that this is changing, though unevenly across different parts of India and at different rates across industries. The usual thumb rule is that the more global and the more competitive the business/ industry is, training and development are perceived to be that much more important. As a whole, India is still in early phases of development though in HR practice maturity, and one would hope that new benchmarks will be established and new practices will evolve soon.

Hi Supriyo,
I came across to this site and read your article and thread of comments as well. Your progress review is well analyzed. I do run a organizational training firm, have great passionate ideas giving customized solutions with backward integration model. But sadly,most of the training managers are not thoughtful and passionate towards the positive swift in employees, rather focus on vendor's commercials. They collect all sort of information from various training companies just to provide the matrix to her/his superior. And pick someone and for the sake of completion on budgeted training delivery, they execute. Though few are quite modest and knowledgeable, I see many training Managers especially these junior executives carry huge attitude issue and possess lack of maturity. In some cases, J.Exe don't allow us to interact with senior training heads. Passionate, true training consultants and strategic thinkers like me forced to just get into same loop of commercial submission for the sake of survival. We are forced to approach few freelancing trainers as soft skills or IT training requirements are unpredictable and unclear vision on their project. Just a chicken egg story! Thinking seriously how my nice ideas can be implemented. Please share your email id, we can connect up to see, any productive solutions we can come out of discussion. Regards Lakshmi, Bangalore, India

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