Mayank Kumar, Co-founder and MD, upGrad

“You need to learn to unlearn”- says Mayank Kumar, Co-founder and MD, upGrad

“Skilling and upskilling are happening in sectors where skill obsolescence is very rapid.”- says Mayank Kumar, Co-founder and MD, upGrad in an exclusive interview over Zoom with Namrata Kohli.

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

One notices that a lot of younger people are warming up to the idea of undertaking programs at EdTech platforms like yours. But what happens to the experienced lot. Why are most people upskilling younger- is there lack of motivation, awareness, job growth or mid-life crisis for those who are 35 plus?

When I look at our data broadly, I break it into three broad segments – people who have 0-3 years of experience, 3-10 years and 10 plus years. When you are coming out of college, the general tendency in the mind of Indian consumers is whatever you can manage in terms of studying in one go, you must go for it. So, they study and get as many skills as they can. Even parents encourage if you want to study then just study and finish it off and that’s one reason why 0-3 years are far clearer of upskilling themselves because they don’t want to get stuck in the rut of low increments and low hikes. That’s the reason why we see the MBA enrolment are mostly by freshers with 0-3 years’ experience as against in say US where the business school, you have students with 5-10 years’ work experience. There has been a difference in India versus the rest of the world. But today its changing. You have people coming to do an online MBA with 10-15 years of experience. If I am having a dinner table conversation, I cannot tell my kid to study and take up higher education until I myself have done it.

So you mean the average age of a person doing an MBA has been steadily increasing even in India? What is the psyche?

Definitely – the MBA average was 0–1-year work experience earlier and today it is inching towards 2-3 years in full time offline MBA. Earlier for people born in the 70s and 80s, parents could only take care of them to an extent- not your first 5-10 years of job life. So you had to get to work as soon as you possibly could. A generation prior to this generation, i.e., those born in the 50s and 60s – our parents’ generation, things were even worse because they had to take care not just of their own expenses but that of their parents, their children.

Today we are getting into an ecosystem where parents can take care of themselves plus, they can take care of the first 5-6 years of job and work life. That is why people try their hand dabbling at start-ups or after graduation, some go on a sabbatical of 3-4 years. Parents can take care of financial part much better than ever before.

What kind of courses are experienced professionals going for?

In the 35 plus category, the broader thought that they have is how do I position myself well in front of my children and society. How do I give back to society and reach something like a CXO level position. The kind of program that a middle-aged person wants to take up is very different. If a 0–3-year work experience (work-ex) person is focusing on hard skill, a 10 + work-ex person will focus on how to publish a paper or put across something in a journal. We see a lot of traction for people coming for an online executive doctorate program as they want to become a CXO and for that, they need a good paper being published. They often want to do a master thesis.

Mid-life crisis does hit them. In India you get into the trap which is called the 1.5-2.5 trap. This means that your salary becomes 1.5-2.5 times the number of years of experience. In the early stage, you have the ability to move up 3x, 4x, 10x and those with 3 years’ experience or so, want to get out of the rut and not get stuck at multiplier range.

One hears of AI, Data Science as being the most sought-after courses. But why is upskilling happening mostly in the tech sector? Are there any other courses with widespread applicability across sectors?

India moved from an agrarian to a services-based economy. In today’s times, within a particular generation you change your career 3-6 times. For instance, if you are a journalist, you become a social media manager then switch to digital marketing and so on. Skills are becoming redundant very fast. Skilling and upskilling are happening in sectors where skill obsolescence is very rapid.

In industries where technology is coming and disrupting it at delta level there is a significant transition. Ther skills have become redundant at a fast pace… AI, Data Science, product management, Machine Learning, social media marketing – those kinds of prog are picked up a lot more. There are ten million people employed in the tech space. For them, the challenge is that entry level salaries have not changed, and people are still earning high salaries at entry level. Increments are 5-7 percent. So this sector built the middle class of India.

Today a working person comes for two purposes to edtech- one is skill and other is credential. While skills like AI, ML are sought after, credible courses like MBA will remain MBA, Masters in Law will remain Masters in Law and a Masters in Computer Science will retain its own value. Credential based programs are equally in demand.

Let’s take a case study like the media industry. With social media, every individual has a voice of their own. What is the upskilling required in the traditional media sector?

You need to learn to unlearn. You should be OK letting go of your past. And this is applicable across industries, why just media. The transition from typewriter to computer has changed the ecosystem. A media person needs to know how the consumer is behaving in the digital world, where do consumers search for the articles, how to make it SEO friendly, how do you position yourself so that you rank up higher in searches or you start tagging along with the right kind of article to be able to be discovered faster than getting stuck in a page 3 bottom corner etc. A mediaperson today needs a complete understanding of the digital ecosystem, what are the preferences of the consumer and what is the best way to communicate with them. So, if you are doing a long form article, there will be the co-existence of what I call a ‘TikTok journalist’. The format of consumption of articles is changing dramatically. A lot of tools are available at your disposal such as ChatGPT, generative AI. Will ChatGPT take away creativity – that is the biggest worry because creativity is a human beings’ most valuable skill. If creativity gets automated, then what is the future? But finally, you cannot replace the credibility of traditional journalism with anything else. For anyone to stay relevant, one has to be data literate and digital literate.

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