A global play on skill development

A global play on skill development

Centum Learning, a skill development and training company, is gearing up to touch revenues of Rs. 200 crore, next fiscal. Its business model is focused on selling to enterprise and government customers and the company currently has operations in over 20 countries



For a minute, let us imagine the operations of a large telecom, automobile, banking or retail company. Almost all of these companies, in each of these sectors, will have a huge distribution network, customer service teams staffed by tens of thousands of people and domain specialists in the thousands. Additionally, these companies will constantly need to hire more people as they implement their expansion plans across India. The challenge they often face is the lack of availability of a skilled workforce. Enter Centum Learning (Centum), a skill development company that has over the last few years built a robust business model around skilling people in India and in several other developing countries.

A customer-centric approach

Currently, over 50 per cent of the company’s revenues come from India and the remaining from countries like Philippines, African countries and GCC countries (including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, among others).  Sanjeev Duggal, CEO and MD, says, “As of today, most of our business comes from two segments – enterprise and government. On the enterprise side, we specifically serve companies that have a large number of moving parts (which requires a large workforce) in sectors like telecom, retail, banking and automobile, among others. On the government side, we work with state and central governments across countries to improve the conditions of the labour markets and overall, partner with them in helping solve major political, socio-economic issues around employability and employment.” Centum is also gearing up to launch two new verticals – curriculum development and skills and vocational training for schools and colleges and training people and helping them find jobs globally.

We’re working towards becoming the world’s largest, diversified skill building company with revenues of US $100 million over the next few years.

At a customer level, Duggal says the nature of engagement is one focused on problem solving. He says, “We first start with the definition of the problem. It could be a key metric for the client, say, customer satisfaction scores or improving the number of distribution touch points.” Then, Centum conducts some company-specific research (from a customer, markets, internal perspective) and comes up with a solution. Duggal adds, “The solution, usually, is something that is the coming together of several aspects. At Centum, we can solve some of these aspects, not all. We then work with the client on solving the skilling and training related parts of the solution.”

Once the training need is identified, the company puts together a team of domain specialists and experts to build the curriculum. In most cases, Centum recruits a team after a specific project is clinched. A project leader is put in place and trainers and domain specialists work together to skill the client’s work force. The effectiveness of a training programme is continuously measured and published back to the client. For example, if the problem being solved is about customer satisfaction scores, related metrics are measured and published back to the client.

Recently, Centum worked on a project for a major telecom company to help it train the non-performing sales staff in rural areas. According to a case study published on the company’s website, the first step was to identify the non-performers. Then, the company went on to prepare a curriculum to be imparted over 40 days to the non-performers. Three areas of focus were identified – teaching the marketing basics and go-to-market strategies to the participants, suggesting a plan to convert mobile phone recharge outlets into brand activation outlets and skills to clinch more recharge outlets. The 40-day training programme was a combination of classroom sessions, followed by hands-on training with territory managers. According to the case study, over 60 per cent of the participants turned around to become performers. As this case study suggests, almost all of Centum’s projects goes through a similar life-cycle, all focused on enhancing skills that result in measurable improvements for a company.

For government projects, the process followed is more or less the same except that there are a few additional aspects to it. Centum takes on the role of mobilising people to enroll in its skill development programmes. It also plays a role in organising placements for people skilled through its training programmes. Duggal says, “The overall operational process is fairly complex and intense. I would say, over the last few years, we have cracked this process to be efficient.”

A focus on partnerships

Considering the company takes on projects in multiple domains, Centum does not shy away from roping in partners for curriculum development. For example, it established a partnership with KPMG, to build its curriculum of finance and accounting. Duggal says, “It is not possible to have all kinds of knowledge inside the company. So, we often work with individuals, universities and companies for curriculum development.”

Outside of content creation, the company also has partners in various areas including placement, field implementation and global expansion. In Bangladesh, for example, the company has partnered with Pinnacle LLP, which is the local delivery partner for Centum in the country. “This model of having a local delivery partner who understands the geography is something we look at very seriously in various countries,” says Duggal.

The top five priorities

Duggal emphasises that the biggest challenge for Centum today revolves around maintaining quality as the company scales up. As of today, the company skills people in over 20 countries. Duggal adds, “Think about it – we deliver programmes in several countries, in multiple languages and across sectors. As we go about building scale, the ability to be effective for our clients and participants is crucial.”

In addition to the quality challenge, Duggal also realises that it is crucial to understand the working style in various countries. “In India, the government has a clear-cut budget for skilling purposes. We win a bid from the government; the focus will be on training. However, in Africa, after we win a bid, we will have to partner with the government and go pitch to a funding agency. It is these finer differences in the process that we need to master as we scale up our business in newer countries.”

Today, Centum is also grappling with the problem faced by several Greenfield businesses – the need to hire people who have not necessarily done something similar before. “The tricky part here is we need to hire several people on a regular basis, but our business is such that we are attempting something that is very different from what is out there,” explains Duggal.

On the sales side, Duggal says, while the company has done very well, the crucial factor he always reminds his sales force is about how Centum must work with the right individuals. Eventually, on the client side as well, there are people who have to be convinced about the company’s capabilities and effectiveness. Finally, Duggal says, “It all boils down to the bandwidth of the senior leadership team. There are all these opportunities, all these scaling up challenges, the trick lies in spending our own time thoughtfully.”

From the revenue standpoint, the company closed last fiscal at about Rs. 170 crore and is looking to reach Rs. 200 crore by next fiscal. On a concluding note, Duggal says, “We are working towards becoming the world’s largest, diversified skill building company with revenues of US $100 million over the next few years.”

Centum Learning

Team: Sanjeev Duggal, CEO and MD; Rakesh Bharti Mittal, Chairman

City: Delhi, NCR

Focus: Diversified skill building for government, enterprise customers

Reach: Services offered in 20 countries globally

Revenue: Rs. 200 crore (next fiscal) 

What Next?

Expand beyond enterprise and government customers. Serve schools and colleges helping their students pick up various vocational skills. Also, skill/train people in India and place them abroad

Touch revenue of US $100 million within the next few years by becoming the world’s largest skill building company

Scale globally through different strategies – directly and through partnerships

Place focus on quality to ensure that effectiveness of the training is maintained as the company scales up

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