In an interview with All Things Talent, Mayank Kumar, Co-Founder & MD, upGrad sheds light on the company’s in-house personalised employee assessments and how AI-driven assessments are changing the hiring process. He also talks about how upGrad is driving meaningful career outcomes and LifeLongLearning.
What is the talent and skills assessment strategy at upGrad – across hiring, retention, and L&D needs?
At upGrad, we have a diverse pool of talented employees across teams from Sales, Admission Counsellors, Marketing, and Technology to upGrad buddies, amongst others. And every employee is an active contributor to upGrad’s successful journey and pursuit of driving LifeLongLearning. In order to assess talent across different brackets, we have designed personalised assessments in-house to evaluate talent competencies including (functional, technical, and people) behaviours and values of our employees. The assessments are based on a competency benchmarking approach and deploy pre and post-measurement tools to determine shifts in skills or behaviours. We also use the Kirkpatrick model for the assessment of training effectiveness. On the L&D front, since we are the advocates of LifeLongLearning and we believe in democratising education, our employees across upGrad are offered the entire gamut of upGrad courses for free.
Does assessment also play a role in crafting employee experience, for making an informed decision on promotions and rewards?
Timely assessments help employers to understand employees’ expectations, their strengths, and how they are getting along with their work and reporting managers. It enhances employee passion and allows them to understand their contribution to the company’s mission. The process supports their engagement over time and helps identify employee skills and qualities in creating a growth path for the employee in the organisation. After all, it is employee experience that influences how long an employee wants to stay in a particular organisation. Assessment is also linked to promotions, or rewards and recognition for their contributions all of which contribute to the employee experience.
The great hiring drive also exposed the lack of desired skill sets in the job market. At times, they have led to wrong hiring. How do you think assessments can help?
The turbulence in the job market resulting from the great resignation and the economy bouncing back post-Covid has led to the need for speeding up hiring. To ensure the right fit, the assessment goes a long way in ensuring that hiring anticipates the skills needed for a job. The assessment should be strategically carried out in a systematic manner and provide information about current and potential future skills needs. It should match skill sets to jobs and take into account any imbalances so that organisations can develop measures and take action.
“Today, even as AI and ML are being widely used, predictive assessments and data-driven tools are largely under-utilised in assessment. Technology can help remove the bias in decision-making by creating a highly structured and standardised interview that enhances the predictive utility of the process. Mining of data by AI and ML algorithms can identify connections and interviewees’ actions and their personality, ability, or job performance. “
Assessment is still in its nascent stage where organisations are yet to warm up to it completely. What do you think will be the significant changes in hiring once it becomes a common practice?
Assessment helps to measure the capabilities and gather significant information about a candidate’s personality, skills, and ability. Assessment tools such as aptitude and personality tests will increasingly come into use for hiring. Organisations will also use data and analytics to identify candidates with the right skills, traits, and abilities required for particular jobs. Any misrepresentation is quickly found out. Assessments also allow candidates an opportunity to showcase their skills and demonstrate their competence, work ethic, and emotional intelligence. AI is becoming prevalent in many areas of business decision-making, including hiring. Automated scoring systems and computerised adaptive tests, along with the Big Data analytics to Machine Learning are already changing the hiring game. AI-powered chatbots are optimising the hiring process by reducing time and cost of hire while improving the quality of hire and improving the candidate experience.
How can the existing assessment platforms and tools be updated for the coming years, especially in the ed-tech industry?
As mentioned, AI will help make the assessment-driven hiring process objective and science-based by eliminating prejudice, bias, and discrimination. Today, even as AI and ML are being widely used, predictive assessments and data-driven tools are largely under-utilised in assessment. Technology can help remove the bias in decision-making by creating a highly structured and standardised interview that enhances the predictive utility of the process. Mining of data by AI and ML algorithms can identify connections and interviewees’ actions and their personality, ability, or job performance. AI algorithms can also leverage the same cues that humans do but do it better at scale through automation. AI in the assessment will help to significantly improve human decisions, especially when based on accurate and valid data.
upGrad is looking to hire 3000 professionals in the next three months. What kind of roles are you looking to fill?
We want to clarify that the 3,000 additional team members that we are waiting to welcome, will come from a combination of a couple of Mergers & Acquisitions which are expected to be announced over the next 60-90 days. While the growth of teams will also happen within their existing business lines, we can expect recruitments to happen for major functions like content and products across the Enterprise/B2B business.
Edtech is moving offline now. How do you see this trend and how much does it impact upGrad? There were trends about the war between edtech and coaching companies, where teachers are emerging victorious with higher salaries. Your view on this? What are the company’s retention and hiring strategies?
The pandemic accelerated the shift to online learning, creating a unique dynamic in the world of education, between students and teachers, which is both tech-driven and human-led. The global health crises could not stop the journey of education owing to this integrated learning architecture. Due to its multimodal and interactive delivery, the adaptability to enable learners to upskill in these rapidly changing times is supported by a well-built infrastructure that encourages active participation. It’s important to be sustainable and valuable to your customer, whatever the model is.
We are functioning in an era that is dominated by technology and the revolution has disrupted the very operations of the industry. upGrad has always been synonymous with flexible and LifeLongLearning. In the online higher education sector, we have developed a strong panel of over 5500 mentors and career coaches who are either employed by major corporations, domestic or foreign colleges, or MNCs and have strong connections to the ecosystem as a whole. These business leaders are evenly distributed to handle content development, delivery, and alumni support. They connect with our learners directly, drawing on their expertise to strengthen the topic foundation and provide placement support for optimal career acceleration. Industry specialists who employ visuals, animations, edits, and simulations to make the learning process more immersive and engaging are responsible for designing and delivering 70% of the whole learning experience.
While on one side startups are talking about big bountiful compensation and benefits to attract talent, on the other, there has been a series of layoffs in the industry, including edtechs. Reports peg over 2200 layoffs from this industry alone. What do you think could be the reason? What will be the long-term hiring and talent needs of the industry?
India has mammoth growth potential and skilled talent can add to the economy of the country, further strengthening its position. The past year has been a year for startups wherein, they have shown their potential and attracted handsome investments. But, every penny comes with its own share of high and low and in this disruptive ecosystem it is crucial to be mindful of how to allocate the funds and create a sustainable business model. Startups with full-proof business models and strong foundations will never let go of the employees that have helped shape them. Education is a path where no one will ever stop walking, whether it’s K-12 or higher education.
“Our focus at upGrad is always on career outcomes and LifeLongLearning. We are in a business to transform lives and our employees uphold this vision as they are our representatives who help learners choose their career paths, and guide them every step of the way to achieve their desired professional milestones.”
Our focus at upGrad is always on career outcomes and LifeLongLearning. We are in a business to transform lives and our employees uphold this vision as they are our representatives who help learners choose their career paths, and guide them every step of the way to achieve their desired professional milestones. A business or a product can’t work with only consumers, there needs to be a human layer, to make the masses aware and persuade them towards that product, and that chief work is done by the employees.
Do you think assessment tools can help an organisation secure a hire so efficiently that even during a downturn, the firm doesn’t feel the need to cut down on headcounts?
Organisations face unique challenges during a downturn. Data-driven hiring processes definitely help organisations to manage their hiring better and make it more efficient. But while the use of technology helps organisations to place the right person in the right job, we are yet to reach a utopian state. However, assessment tools leading to efficient hiring do help when organisations need to double down during an economic crisis. The right person in the right job can make all the difference with the person contributing positively to the organisation in crisis.
Negative economic news impacts the way in which employees, both present and potential, make career decisions with job seekers putting much more emphasis on pay and job security. It is then that the advantages of efficient hiring come to the aid of an organisation and help preserve its brand image during a recession. Today, employees share their experiences and opinions about their employer organisation on social media. A downturn does not last forever and organisations that maintain a positive employer brand enjoy a clear strategic advantage in attracting the best of talent when the economy picks up again.
-with Bruhadeeswaran R
Year of Incorporation: 2015
Number of Employees: 4,000
Founders: Ronnie Screwvala, Chairperson & Co-Founder; Mayank Kumar, Co-Founder & Managing Director; Phalgun Kompalli, Co-Founder
a. Arjun Mohan, CEO – India
b. Zubin Gandevia, CEO – International
c. Minaxi Indra, President – upGrad for Business
d. Rohit Agarwal, President – Finance
e. Dr. Sanjay Kumar, President – Corporate Affairs & Public Policy
Business Line: upGrad is one of the few Integrated LifeLongLearning Tech Companies in the world, spanning the college learner to the working professional from the age group of 18-50 years, across Undergrad courses, Campus & Job Linked Programs, Studying Abroad, short form to executive programs to Degrees, Masters and Doctoral
Workforce Growth: Headcounts have grown ~10 times between March 2019 and March 2022
Workforce Pie (in %): 55% in Sales and Marketing, 27% in Learner Experience,11% in Product and Technology, and 7% in the rest of the organisation.
Key HR Metric: We have also offered ESOPs to select employees in 2021 (right from entry-level to the leadership) to acknowledge their hard and commitment to the company and also for trusting us in our growth journey.
o As an upGrad employee, they and their family members can develop and upskill with up to a 100% fee waiver on any of the upGrad’s programs to further support them in their LifeLongLearning journey.
o Through our in-house Learning and Development and external training programs, they’ll have numerous opportunities to sharpen all of their skills and become the best version of themselves. We finally aid them with these external programs and encourage them to go learn beyond what our programs offer to them.
o With the multiplicity of career opportunities we provide at all levels and across functions, they’ll get to create various career streams and become holistic professionals.
o With our specially curated Leadership development journey, that involves psychometric evolution, 360-degree feedback, 1:1 mentorship, and interaction with industry CXOs, employees can learn, develop and grow themselves to become the ‘Leader of Tomorrow’.
o We’ve partnered with expert Doctors and psychologists who are available 24×7 free of cost for all the consultations and support our employees need.