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DEEP KALRA (CEO-MAKEMYTRIP.COM) ON THE FUTURE OF SCHOOL EDUCATION

Vega Schools : Is it easy for you to find talent in your area of work?

Deep Kalra – You know high quality talent is the scarcest commodity for sure. For us, we need to hire a lot of bright young people in technology, in product and then, in online marketing and marketing. Of course we have a whole travel vertical too but scarcest places where we don’t easily get resources or there’s a big fight for resources between us and some other cutting edge companies in (the) online world are definitely in tech and product.

It’s hard. (But) I think we manage to get them, we are known to be good employers, people stay. But then, every now and then, after (a) few years the youngsters are lured away with more money, the promise to go overseas or things like that. So that’s very frustrating, because we spend a lot of time and energy training them up and I believe it takes at least one year to settle in fully, to understand the rhythm of an organisation, to learn to start giving back and, some guys will do it in 6 months, but by and large it’ll take a year.  And then if you are going to quit in 2 years you’ve actually really contributed heavily only for a year. So it’s nice when people come with a longer time horizon for 5 years, they are ready to give. I think if they cross a few (years), like 4- 5 years then they stay even longer. So we have people who have been with us for 5 years, 6 years, 10- 12 years, a lot of them. So I think we do okay but there is a big war for talent, especially in the tech side…big war!

Vega Schools– When you are hiring people, do they have the skill sets which really are required for them to be successful at their work? 

Deep Kalra –  So we hire two kinds of people. So we hire fresh from college and I think we know very well we are getting into this where they have never worked before so it’s a bit of a gamble but we love their energy and the excitement. So then they are like wet clay. It’s our job to mould them and I like that part because then you can mould them but we also get laterals, people who have worked in other companies, who have their own way of thinking. Sometimes there is an unlearning. So it’s hard to say across the board, do they have the skills. 

The skills that I would really like to see much more of is out of the box thinking, is creativity and is a problem solving approach. So for me maybe out of the box thinking, creativity are quite linked but the approach is problem solving. So I am constantly telling my young colleagues – go out and talk to consumers. Talk to consumers to understand what they like and don’t like about us, what they like and don’t like about competition. Also talk to customers and try to understand what they would love to have. Also talk to your partners, your hotel partners: What can we give them that they don’t have in terms of technology and tools.  And I really want people to understand that you will get your answers there, much more than you will get sitting in the office. So go out there, be ready to talk. Of course be smart and be able to form a pattern when you are hearing inputs across these different areas. So I am not sure we get that so easily because of the very regimented education system. But we get bits and pieces and then you have to mould them. So there is no other way. So in a way we are also a training academy. 

Vega Schools– Question which is linked to this question about skills again. Which are the critical ‘missing skills’ that schools need to focus on according to you? 

Deep KalraYes, so today if I was to start up a school or if I could devise the curriculum for the school I think I would put a lot more focus on the work you can do for yourselves. So lab work, innovations, making little inventions, you know solving problems like giving people real life problem solutions. We all know, anyone living in NCR today, pollution is a huge problem. Now we can take it and just keep grumbling or take the set solutions. But can we put these bright young minds to say no? You know, go out and find better solutions, interesting solutions which we can all do. So something which can also be fairly democratic. So it’s not just for the elite to buy purifiers etc. I think that would be really encouraging and I think that we’ll see exciting outcomes.  Similarly there are problems all around us right. There are people with disabilities. Are we doing anything for them? Water is a big issue out here. Even disease.  And you know I think the real change starts coming when young minds apply themselves and then spread the word because it gets into homes through the young minds. So I think the curriculum should be far more focused on real problems around us. You need to give them a background to the world that it is today. Why it’s like this, the laws of nature, what’s happened before us, the history etc as a backdrop. But where you need them to start thinking is, what if it happened differently? What if this didn’t happen? What if this turn around battle didn’t take place? What do you think would have happened? That’s what gets them excited because every individual has got the power to think but we don’t often do that and we, by not doing that, we are committing a grave crime because we are lulling the mind into saying I am just going to receive info as I have got and spew it out but where is your value add? So your value add will come when you are challenged and said what if you could have changed one event in history, in Indian history. What would that have been?  It would be very interesting to see the kind of answers that we get and then of course the teachers are going to push them and then debate is a great point. So our school was big on debating. I find debating is definitely doing well even today. See things like MUN (Model United Nations) etc. and I think that’s a great step because in life you will need those skills, so I would like to see more of that. 

Vega Schools– Which skills will be at premium in the workplace of the future (in 2030)? 

Deep Kalra – Now that’s a great question. I think if we look out in other ten years or so, which is the time frame, ten twelve years, I think what we are going to find to be the most important skills are the ability to navigate the uncertain. So things are going to be changing at a dramatic pace. Obviously there is going to be technology in a lot we do, but we are not going to be in this regimented way where we are like mundane tasks will probably be rendered completely towards you know, robots will be doing a lot of them. Artificial intelligence will be used. 

So a big hirer in India today is call centers that may change dramatically. So you must actually need much more talent of people to actually write code and write solutions for machines which will do the mundane. So you have got to be the creator and not just the ‘order taker’. So I think people will need to be ‘order makers’, decision makers and that’s going to be very important going forward. I think ‘solutioning’ will be a big one. Solutioning in very disparate ways. So I don’t think you’ll be (dealing with) very linear kinds of problems, I think you’ll have problems with no set kind of tracks or guardrails. So (the) solution can come from anywhere. So we must understand by 2030 resources like capital will be a commodity, so there will be tons of capital available for good ideas, what do you do with it?, how do you differentiate? People will demand a much higher level of quality and finesse and all the devices and software that they react with. So I think design will be important, unless that can also become AI.  Today AI is doing art, paint work and they are making paintings. So, I think that those are the skills that we’ll be looking for. Communication should always be important. So it will be interesting.  These are the skill sets that will be at a premium.

Vega Schools– This brings us to our last question of the session. Any suggestions or advice in terms of how schools could teach differently? 

Deep Kalra – Ok ya. I think, probably said this earlier also, I think schools need to reassess the age and the times in which their students will come out and be young adults. So they need to look at that. They need to see, like you asked me, what do you think (of) the work force of 2030?I am speaking from a Makemytrip perspective. I am speaking from an online perspective. But then, there are so many industries which will still be relevant. So schools need to understand that and say listen, how can we now make the right transition and the bridge over thirteen years? So we have a lot of years where we can get the child ready for college. But then, what are the skills we need to give the student? And then the answer should flow through from that. I think we got to almost ‘junk’ the fact that it’s being done this way… therefore. And it might need a complete overhaul. So we should look at some of the most progressive boards. How are they doing it? Is IGCSE a good board? If it is, then what can we pick out? We can make our own Indian standard, but I think we’ve got to re-evaluate the entire system of teaching and learning. I think, you know, we haven’t changed much. Some of the books are still the same and they are taught probably in the same manner.