Can the existing education infrastructure satisfy the talent demanded by the booming start-up ecosystem in India?

Arvind Thoopurani

By Arvind Thoopurani, Head of Corporate Relations, OdinSchool

India’s start-up ecosystem has witnessed remarkable growth in recent years, emerging as one of the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic landscapes for entrepreneurship. According to a report by Knowledge at Wharton, India’s start-up ecosystem has gone through three waves of evolution.

IT services drove the first wave, while the second wave was driven by e-commerce, and the third wave was driven by deep tech. This third wave is characterized by start-ups using cutting-edge technologies such as Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Web development and Blockchain to solve complex problems.

India has a large number of start-ups, with 13% in IT services, 9% in healthcare and life sciences, 7% in education, 5% in professional and commercial services, 5% in agriculture, and 5% in food and drinks.

These start-ups are present in 56 various industries. According to the acknowledgement provided by DPIIT (Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade), as of May 31, 2023, India has around 99,000 startups, spanning over 670 districts across the country.

Over the last six years, the growth of startups in India has been remarkable, positioning the country as the third-largest startup ecosystem globally, trailing behind the United States and China.

These startups play a pivotal role by frequently innovating new products and services that address emerging or unmet needs, laying the groundwork for the growing industries. In their quest for excellence, these startups actively seek out employees with the best skill set and talent levels.

In today’s startup world, prospective employees are expected to be adaptable to new technologies, show problem-solving solid skills, and be comfortable with flexible work. Startups value those who can learn quickly, take initiative, and bring fresh ideas to the team.

Working efficiently with limited resources, collaborating across different tasks, and communicating are also essential. Candidates with an entrepreneurial mindset and a willingness to embrace challenges in a fast-paced environment are highly sought after in today’s startup landscape.

The big question to ask here is this: Is the current education infrastructure in India equipped to produce talent that meets such dynamic requirements? Here are some aspects that need to be considered.

Practical application of skills: Start-ups usually have a limited scope for training after hiring. They require employees to hit the floor running as soon as they join. Hence, they require individuals who can apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios, think critically, and solve complex problems quickly.

Unfortunately, the existing education infrastructure often falls short of providing such practical exposure, with more focus on theoretical aspects of the subject.

Pedagogy and methodology: Many educational institutions in India follow a traditional and outdated curriculum that does not adequately cater to the fast-evolving demands of the start-up ecosystem. As a result, students often graduate without being equipped with the latest industry-relevant skills.

Curriculum: The technologies in the industry change rapidly. Existing tools and technologies get updated very frequently. The curriculum in our academic institutions does not usually pace up with the speed at which the industry evolved. As a result, students graduating from college do not come with the latest skills required by the industry.

Limited Industry Exposure:  Without proper internships or industry interactions before joining the company, students might not fully understand the challenges and requirements of working in a dynamic start-up.

Addressing the challenges:

Industry-Academia Collaboration: To bridge the gap between the education system and the start-up ecosystem, greater collaboration between industry and academia is crucial. This collaboration can take various forms, such as internships, industry visits, and projects.

By involving industry experts in curriculum design and delivery, educational institutions can ensure that their programs are aligned with industry requirements.

Access to resources: Educational institutions need to provide students with access to the latest tools and technologies. This can be achieved by investing in modern infrastructure and equipment.

Empowering Through Upskilling and Reskilling: In the dynamic landscape of startups, constant upskilling and reskilling are imperative for learners to maintain relevance. Educational institutions can play a pivotal role by offering upskilling programs or collaborating with the new-age ed-tech platform, which offers industry-aligned bootcamps, catering to those seeking better careers in the early stages of their journey.

Entrepreneurship Education: To foster entrepreneurship and nurture the next generation of start-up founders, entrepreneurship training modules should be integrated into the existing education system. This can include courses on entrepreneurship, mentorship programs, and incubation centres within educational institutions to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and provide the necessary support.

Startups are prioritizing skills over degrees, seeking individuals who align with their company’s needs and possess the necessary expertise. The startup community prefers a skilled person with practical knowledge.

However, changes are underway, albeit slowly and steadily. The National Education Policy 2020 aims to transform the education system in India by focusing on skill development, multidisciplinary education, and technology-enabled learning.

The Indian startup ecosystem is booming, and the demand for skilled talent is growing. The only way to bridge the skill gap is to bring in significant reforms in the existing system or open up the field to quality ed-tech platforms that are more dynamic and aligned to the requirements of the industry.

With the right kind of talent being available for start-ups to hire, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in India can see exponential growth in the near future.

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