Free courses can help close digital divide: Krishna Kumar, founder & CEO, Simplilearn

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May 24, 2021 3:45 AM

Currently, 99% of our learners are working professionals—those who already have a job but are looking at a better job, either outside their organisation or within.

Krishna Kumar, Founder & CEO, SimplilearnKrishna Kumar, Founder & CEO, Simplilearn

During the lockdown, Simplilearn launched a new product called Skillup, in which it is offering the most in-demand technical skills for free. Krishna Kumar, the founder & CEO of Simplilearn, says that Skillup gives learners an opportunity to identify the upskilling option that works best for their specific career goals. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he adds that edtech companies can make people job-ready and even help close the digital divide to an extent. Excerpts:

Which all courses at Simplilearn saw increasing demand during the pandemic year?
In 2020, when the first lockdown was announced, companies weren’t sure how the job market would behave; there were job losses in certain sectors, appraisals were delayed and bonuses were put on hold. But over the months we saw the demand for digital/tech talent going up manifold. A lot of start-ups got funding and a large part of those funds was used for building tech talent. A year later, we know that the world has completely changed and digital skills are in demand.

The pandemic brought to the forefront the digital divide…
That’s correct. The UNICEF recently noted that schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to Covid-19 lockdowns. In addition, a lot of rural kids (including in India) might not be able to go to the school again because Covid-19 has created poverty for their families; the worry is that many of them could be forced to work as child labourers. In addition, even as the more privileged kids were able to continue learning digitally, millions in India still don’t have access to digital devices. While at Simplilearn we are in a good phase in terms of business, I am very concerned in terms of this disparity.

Did you start any new courses that were a direct result of the lockdown?
While our courses are linked to the market, during the lockdown we launched a new product called Skillup, in which we are offering the most in-demand skills for free. While Skillup doesn’t provide live classes, projects, labs, exam vouchers, teaching assistance or course completion certificates like our paid offerings, learners can take free online courses, and this gives them an opportunity to identify the upskilling option that works best for their specific career goals. The average cost of our courses is Rs 35,000, and by using Skillup leaners know the exact course they want to do to further their career. Since we launched it, Skillup has gotten great traction.

What kind of global reach does Simplilearn has?
Over 65% of our business comes from outside India; we have paying customers from 203 countries and a lot of global names buy our courses for their employees. We have about 8 million visitors on our website every month, of these 100,000 leave their phone numbers every month, and 20,000 end up buying our courses.

Today, soft skills (behavioural skills) are almost as important as hard skills (functional and technical skills). Do you plan to teach soft skills as well?
So far we have not done so, because we don’t want to end up doing everything. We are good in providing digital skills, and we want to become the best in that.

Which is one major job role that became really popular over the last few months?
There are many, but as an example I would say DevOps, which has become quite popular over the last two years. Courses in DevOps are one of our biggest selling ones.

Do you cater only to working professionals or also to students?
Currently, 99% of our learners are working professionals—those who already have a job but are looking at a better job, either outside their organisation or within.

There have been reports that many engineering colleges in India are not producing job-ready graduates. Can companies such as Simplilearn help?
We have started experimenting in this area; there are a couple of universities that are using our curriculum to train their students. We are offering our digital and software certification programmes to computer science engineering students of KL University (Vijayawada). Through this, students will be equipped with the relevant skillset required to be job-ready.

Should a working professional take a full-time course at, say, an IIT or a digital course from an edtech company such as Simplilearn?
I would recommend that instead of attending, say, a one-year full-time programme that costs a bomb, a course from Simplilearn will give you much better RoI any day. Our degrees and certificates come from credible names, such as IIT Kanpur, Purdue University, Caltech, KPMG, Microsoft, and so on, and such a degree on your resume definitely adds to your chances of getting a better job.

One teacher can teach hundreds of students online. Will edtech lead to job losses for teachers?
On the contrary, I think it will lead to more jobs for teachers. While obviously offline teaching will get impacted, what edtech has done is that more and more people are taking courses, and that means more teachers are needed for teaching. An analogy is e-commerce. Earlier, some people thought that e-commerce will take away sales of offline retail, but we have seen that with e-commerce people have started buying more.

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