Training in India has come of age: The choices, range of courses, price points, geographical spread, availability of trainers, have emerged, carrying the industry a long way off from the duopoly of NIIT-Aptech days. However, despite the progress, two problems seem to afflict the industry still: One, most companies are still trying to be like NIIT or Aptech, and talking about fast, franchise-led growth; and, two, the training is still dominated by derived content from one Western fad or the other, and very little research and development is actually being done in India.
Training in India is an exciting industry. It sits right in the middle of growing population, rising industry demand and a sub-par education system. The opportunity in the sector is, therefore, exciting: It can, and should, play an important catalytic role in helping the Indian industry move to the next level.
This role, which will indeed come with increased profitability, demands new thinking, which is in short supply. The leadership of the industry is still beholden to the golden days of NIIT-Aptech, mostly because they may have cut their teeth in one of the two (as I did too), and want to emulate its successes. The usual theory is that these companies created an winning business model, indeed, how else can one explain the formation of two world-leading companies in a sector in such a short span of time, but lost their way in poor implementation. This is one error all of us seem to be fixing all the time, and the industry is replete with examples of reliving the NIIT experience.
However, the business models of these two companies, however successful, were grounded in a specific social reality. If they were starting the business today, when capital is more available and workforce is more mobile, I wonder whether the leaders of NIIT would have chosen a franchise-led model. In fact, they did a lot of franchise buy-out in the middle years, and are painfully aware that their success in franchising actually spawned the proliferation of small local training companies (which came from, mostly, franchisees turning independent), a case of Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians.
Franchising remains a good way to grow in India, a country of vast regional differences, but the socio-economic context today is vastly different from the 1990s, and proliferation of franchising, just as NIIT did then, and particularly the creation of regional Master Franchisees, which led to even looser control systems, may not be choicest growth path for a new generation training organization. Instead, they may look at technology, where vast progress have been made, and other flexible form of facilitation, such as monthly events in smaller cities, or collaboration with the existing educational institutions (a model much in vogue).
All this, indeed, need to be supported by indigenous R&D. This is the mostly overlooked part of the NIIT-Aptech story. These companies became successful not just because of their franchising prowess, but also because they were serious about design, and invested heavily in the intellectual property. Besides, the context again has changed: The employment opportunities in the last twenty years were mostly in the sectors faced outward, IT, IT Services etc. The employment opportunities now, and going forward, are mostly elsewhere, in sectors leveraging India's domestic demand, and are inward facing - in retail, telecom, insurance etc. What worked before - lifting of smart models from the West and motivational stuff from English language materials - may not be entirely suitable now: Suddenly, knowing the geography of Maharastra may be more important than knowing the nuances of American pronunciation. This shift may not have happened yet in the Indian training industry, which more or less undermined the design and development functions so far.
As with many other things, I believe the industry is at an inflection point, in the great chasm between great opportunity and great waste. This is the space where winner emerge and losers are defined. The winning formula, it seems, lie in the combination of new business and content models, apart from the usual stuff like great people and astute leadership.
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