With the number of engineering students graduating every year in India on the rise, the skill gap problem that is currently threatening the tech industry seems to be getting worse. The discrepancy between skills acquired in colleges and industry requirements is so high that nearly 80% of these students either remain jobless or get placed in an entirely different industry. That’s according to edtech startup School of Accelerated Learning (SOAL), a hybrid learning platform, which is looking to fill the tech skill gap with its offline-online model.
The startup recently closed its first round of funding of $300,000 with Astarc Ventures as the lead investor. The round also saw participation from Srinivas Kollipara, founder of Telangana’s T-Hub, Ramki Gaddipatti, founder and CTO of Zeta and Krishnan Menon, founder of BeeCash.
SOAL Bridges Offline And Online Learning
SOAL is an offline and online educational institute that trains students on both technical and soft skills. The company’s product, Meta-Learning, is a hybrid learning method which merges online learning’s access with offline learning’s engagement. It majorly works on two things — education and employability, with a campus at the state-backed T-Hub incubator in Hyderabad.
The company claims a 100% placement rate with its graduates having recently started their jobs at tech startups such as ShopClues, ClearTax, FactSet, ThoughtWorks, NowFloats and Schrocken.
“We work with learners on their mindset. We focus on how we get somebody to create great products or contribute to great products. We ensure our learners become makers and self-learners. We create a student-first environment where programmes are designed from the perspective of students,” SOAL cofounder Desai told Inc42.
SOAL also offers workplace simulation learning spaces that are enabled by its tech platform called Delta which motivates learners to form a strong understanding of computer science principles. Built on the proprietary Meta-Learning framework, Delta is aimed to develop generalist thinking, self-learning and problem-solving abilities in users.
Using Delta, users build 12 software products over 14 weeks to acquire a real-world understanding of programming fundamentals. They also enter into huddles with educators and mentors to code new concepts and solve problems through code.
With its audience in the age group of 12 years to 50 years, SOAL is looking to monetise its platform in three ways.
First up, is direct payment received from users. Two, along with its financial partners, it helps users by offering low-interest loans for learners. And finally, it is also working on an income-sharing model which does not involve any service fee, but learners have to pay 17% of their yearly salary once they are placed through SOAL.
Can SOAL Bridge The Tech Skill Gap In India?
According to a McKinsey study, 25 Mn to 50 Mn jobs will be created in emerging tech worldwide and India alone will require 6 Mn to 12 Mn jobs in this space in the next decade. While globally there is a fear of artificial intelligence turning the existing jobs obsolete, for India the tech skill gap seems to be a bigger problem.
“We have an education system where not only content is slightly outdated, how we learn is a problem. We have been blindly following the spoon-fed concept that we don’t know how to think from the users’ perspective. Our exam-based education system is creating a gap. We should be moving from knowledge-based economy to skill-based economy,” cofounder Agarwal added.
“You not only have to be good technically, but you should also be able to understand problems from a holistic point of view and approach it. We need to know where to crack job interview and sustain long term high growth as well. That is what will bridge the tech skill gap,” added Agarwal.
SOAL’s Expansion Plans With The New Funding Round
SOAL said it would use the fresh proceeds to launch its second campus in Mumbai by December and beef up operations with programmes in creative-tech such as digital marketing, AI, blockchain and design. In the next two years, SOAL aims to launch its tech-enabled learning spaces in Tier 2 cities as well.
Bhambhani said that the capital would be used for inorganic user growth and team building. SOAL will be working and coordinating with people from companies such as Uber and UrbanClap to understand their needs in terms of talent and skills. “We will understand the need of big startups ventures and organisations, the skills they look at for hiring people and include that in our programmes in whatever suitable domain,” said SOAL’s Varsha Bhambhani.
The Threat And Challenges Ahead
SOAL founders said that currently, they are the only company working towards a hybrid programme integrating online and offline learning. “Learning is a mind-body-soul activity. However, it is 2019 and it should be accessible to a large number of people as a system. In terms of focusing on a mindset and creating a self-learning attitude I don’t think anybody is doing it,” said Desai.
But among its many challenges, undoing what the education system inculcates in students seems to be the biggest problem faced by SOAL currently. “We have to make people unlearn what they have learnt. To convince people that the real world doesn’t focus on marks, it focusses on skills. As the tech economy grows, the skills you have to learn have to be multidisciplinary. For example, if you are going to do marketing for Flipkart, you have to understand the tech and market aspects of it. That’s what we are working on,” he added.