India’s massive human resource is often touted as its trump card. And yet, we see companies struggling to find the right candidate, and candidates struggling to find the right company to work for. Though there are lakhs of qualified professionals pouring out of colleges, very few are readily employable.
“Our vision for Aspiring Minds was to help objectively define “employability” and be able to reach employable talent pan-India in a scalable and efficient manner,” explains Himanshu Aggarwal, co-founder and director. Aggarwal, a B.Tech in computer science from Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, has over eight years of experience in technology and operations. In September 2007, he and his co-founder, Varun Aggarwal, established Bengaluru-based Aspiring Minds in a bid to create technology that could help them see their vision come to life. With the help of their mentor, Prof. Tarun Khanna of Harvard Business School, the duo built a prototype of the technology that they piloted with a few candidates and corporates.
The resultant technology that was introduced to the market was AMCAT, a standardised set of tools that helps define employability and works on a statistical measurement platform that gives detailed input on every candidate in a variety of dimensions. Aspiring Minds assesses around 30,000 people every month, adding them to its pre-assessed database for its corporate customers to hire from. The success of AMCAT has helped Aspiring Minds build relationships with over 1,200 colleges and 60 leading corporates, in turn leading to a year-on-year growth rate of 300 to 400 percent in the last 36 months. It has also seen Aspiring Minds go from a two-man team to a 110-people strong company with teams split across Bengaluru and Gurgaon with pan-India operations, including places such as Srinagar.
Using the tool
“We had initially focused on engineers and those with a masters in computer application (MCA), whereas, today, AMCAT is also used to assess MBAs, graduates and diploma holders,” says Aggarwal. It is used across levels with predominate usage being at the entry level where the employability problem is severe and needs most attention. Progressive organisations have deployed these tools for mid and senior level hiring where the competencies evaluated vary based on the role.
AMCAT’s technology benchmarks ensure that rejection of a good candidate is minimised. The tool also has different benchmarks for different job profiles and industries. It helps candidates become aware of their suitability to a job, the kind of jobs they are fit for and areas of improvement. Corporates use AMCAT to ensure they have high quality, standardised and consistent hiring across the country.
The tool also helps locate talent from across the country, giving corporates a platform to find talent easily. “Now our corporate clients sitting in their office know the exact size of the potential pool of employable candidates available in a particular part of the country,” says Aggarwal.
The key selling point for AMCAT is its ability to find candidates whose probability of success in the organisation is very high. “We help reduce “bad hires” from happening and ensure selection is customised towards attributes essential for success in the role,” says Aggarwal. “One of the key benefits of using AMCAT as a standardised tool is that once organisations know the benchmarks they want to hire from, they can map those benchmarks back to Aspiring Minds database of assessed candidates and reach directly to qualified candidates. You cannot do the same with a customised assessment,” points out Aggarwal. The benchmarks against which candidates are hired are customised as they vary based on job profile and organisation. “We help our clients come up with these benchmarks either through the internal knowledge of AM’s analytics team or by conducting pilots on current employees,” he adds.
Frequent updation of the tool happens based on market input, new areas of expansion and analysis by research teams on how to improve the efficiency of selection.
Reaching the market
Aspiring Minds has two sets of potential customers – institutions and corporates, and dedicated teams to cater to each. The campus and retail sales team markets and sells AMCAT to institutions and students across the country while the corporate solutions team works with corporates to help them use AMCAT, build benchmarks and help reach and recruit talent pan-India.
“It is important to interface with the right people in the organisation to find acceptance for AMCAT. In most progressive organisations, leaders are keen to bring objectivity to quality and also to standardise the quality and process across the organisation,” says Aggarwal.
He adds that resistance from potential customers has helped the company grow and innovate. The company discovered that typically, large organisations and multi national corporations look at solutions at a national level and are interested in the depth of the current and future product offerings. “Based on this feedback, Aspiring Minds at a very early stage expanded to various parts of India ensuring that we can offer our products and services across the country.” Also, it expanded its product offerings to provide different assessment modules covering nearly 20 domain skills.
Ahead of competition
While there are customised tests available for corporates, Aspiring Minds differentiates itself through quality of assessment, depth of standardised product portfolio and a very strong analytics team.
Its main competition is other standardised tools offered by international players, but the advantage AMCAT has is that it is statistically constructed based on Indian norms, contextualised to Indian situations and culture. “Our tools are built in an Indian context, sampled on large Indian population, available in Indian languages (Hindi, Telugu, Gujarati) and even has the capability to give state level talent quality norms,” explains Aggarwal. Adding to this, there remains a cost advantage for clients over international players.
Three ways to grow
In its initial phase of growth, Aspiring Minds raised U.S. $ 5 million in 2008 from the Oman-based Ajit Khimji Group. Going forward, the company is looking to improve its job matching algorithms and add sophisticated technology products to its portfolio to enhance the depth of its knowledge about both the talent it assesses and job profiles it caters to.
The company is also looking to expand into newer industry verticals. Aspiring Minds started with catering to the information technology services and product industry. Over time, it has diversified to other industry verticals including ITeS (Genpact), knowledge process outsourcing (Evalueserve, ZS Associates), banking, financial services and insurance (Larsen and Toubro Finance, Tally, iTrust), fast moving consumer goods, hospitality and retail industries. It plans to expand to industries like insurance, hospitality and healthcare to not only provide these industry relevant tools, but also give candidates taking the AMCAT an opportunity across industries.
The company truly believes that with improved technological support, an enhanced database and expansion in industry reach, it will hit the right formula not just for growth, but also to become a meaningful matchmaker between corporates and people graduating from institutions.
Concept in Brief
While unemployability is a huge problem in the country, a potential sub-set of this problem is to match available talent with job openings. In some sense, it is actually a “matching” problem more than an unemployability problem. Aspiring minds’ big idea is that if a large number of people across the country can be assessed for certain skills and put into a database, then companies can tap into this database to make the hiring process more efficient. Even before a company starts its own process, it has a decent idea about the skill level of the people who have been assessed. Aspiring Minds has built a multi-modular employability assessment tool known as AMCAT to do just that. AMCAT, in addition to helping companies access a pool of pre-assessed talent, provides feedback to people who have taken the test on which areas they need to improve on.