Bridging Skill Gap
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“I feel I was never cut out for a job,” says Abhishek Gupta.
The 28-year-old was bitten by the metaphorical entrepreneurial bug quite early in his career. As a second year student at IIT-Delhi, Gupta founded Zumbl, a social application for strangers to chat and make friends, which later got acquired. “The acquisition gave me financial stability and early success,” he says.
But, it also made him question his relationship with money, Gupta points. So, when he went on to build his second Venture Frankly.me, backed by heavyweights like Matrix Partners, Gupta called it quits within two years to find his calling in social work.
“I couldn't find much use of the money I was making and after introspecting further, I realised that I actually want to work towards creating a strong impact in the society and not for money or success,” recalls Gupta.
Soon after, Gupta took up a role with Delhi’s government’s Education Task Force, where he found the problem he wanted to solve.
“I realised that the students who are doing well in school virtually end up not getting higher education and subsequently, in poor careers,” he says. “I wanted to work on that problem - to ensure fair representation.”
In September 2016, Gupta collaborated with Rishabh Verma, former co-founder of Airwoot, to establish NavGurukul, a non-profit that offers a one-year residential programme for youth from humble backgrounds in software engineering skills to help them get employment. Verma exited the company in November 2019.
The program is aimed at young adults aged between 16 and 25 with a family income below INR 8,000. The organisation has tied up with several NGOs and schools to identify and reach out to potential students, who are then required to take a test basis which selections are made.
NavGurukul offers training in vernacular languages through its e-learning platform SARAL to solve the language barrier that often keeps higher education (mostly available in English) out of reach of children from low income groups.
The organisation spends an average INR 1 lakh on each student annually. Students are expected, and not mandated, to pay within three years after getting the job to pay forward for the education of the current students.
"We call it pay-forward and not paying-back as the student is donating for more students to join the institution and not paying for their own education," says gupta.
As for job placement, every student enrolled in the one-year program gets placed, says Gupta. “Some students get a job in six months, most in a year's time and some take up to 18 months,” he explains. “We support every student until they get a job and ensure that they are growing every day on campus.”
Over 100 students have landed jobs so far in companies including Mindtree, Unacademy, Gaming Monk and Directi, among others, with monthly salary ranging between INR 20,000 and INR 60,000, as per the company.
Apart from the residential program, NavGurukul offers two remote, online courses - Code Stars, a three-month online crash course that teaches the basics of programming and Meraki, a mobile application that offers several self-learning courses. However, currently the one-year software programming residential course is the most important offering for the company as it guarantees a job.
Enabling Representation of Marginalised Sections in Tech
Though the ultimate aim behind NavGurukul is to offer employable skill training, Gupta makes it clear that the organisation is not a vehicle of giving jobs but about ensuring fair representation of marginalised and disadvantaged people. By marginalised, Gupta does not mean just those from economically weaker backgrounds.
“I believe it is very important that a crucial sector like tech has solid representation from different sections of the society, including women, transgenders, HIV positive people, differently abled people and sex workers, among others.”
For this reason, the many successful stories of students from diverse backgrounds who enroll in NavGurukul serve as high points for Gupta’s entrepreneurial journey. “Only recently I was informed that a girl who works as a ragpicker and was rescued has cleared our test. Knowing that she would come out with strong financial and social mobility after this course is a high point in my mission,” he says.
“It always tears me up to know the great work being done in our team to reach out to people near and far, and create a diverse group of students.”
Currently, NavGurukul has three facilities--two for women in Pune and Bengaluru and one for men in Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh)--and is soon going to launch one more.
The company has raised a total of about USD 1 million from Microsoft, Accenture, KPMG, Wingify, Games24x7, DCX Technologies, Macquarie, Dunnhumby for the upcoming financial year. Many of these corporates also provide volunteering support to NavGurukul.
On being asked how was the pandemic year 2020 for the company, Gupta informs that it has been a lot of work and scaling up to their visions and dreams. “From 80 students, two centres and a team of four in March 2020, we now have three centres, we have launched a mobile application which has registered 2,000 installations, our capacity has increased to train 600 women and 60 men annually, we are a team of 22 members and work for launching three more courses is underway,” points Gupta.
Over the next four years, the company aims to increase its residential capacity to atleast 5,000 women for five different courses and onboard more than 2 million learners on its android application that will enable employability of the learners across sectors of IT, design and management, as per Gupta.