Aspiring Minds Want to Know

Will bridging the employer/job-seeker divide with an employability test pass stateside?

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Aspiring MindsAn estimated 5 million U.S. jobs – the most in more than a decade – are unfilled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while 8.5 million people are looking for work. With U.S. headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., leadership ties to MIT and Harvard University, and investment from Omidyar Network, an India-based global company has developed the AMCAT, which they contend is one of the only standardized assessment tests that accurately measures employability and predicts performance in 90 percent of available jobs. The company, Aspiring Minds, uses patent-pending technology involving advanced machine-learning algorithms, adaptive assessment and statistical methods. The cloud-based, data-driven AMCAT evaluates more than 200 skills, spanning language, cognitive and functional competencies; personality traits; and situation handling. Billing themselves as one of the world’s leading assessment companies, Aspiring Minds

Technology is helping scale assessments, which can in turn help scale learning.

helps organizations (over 1,100 including dozens of Fortune 500 companies), governments and institutions (more than 4,000 higher education institutions) measure and identify talent (since 2008, they’ve facilitated more than 200,000 job matches). Their leadership has a vision to create a level playing field in education and employment by introducing credible assessments, and their mission is to develop a merit-driven labor market where everyone has the access to talent and opportunity. Himanshu Aggarwal is CEO and co-founder and his brother, Varun Aggarwal, is CTO and co-founder. More than 2 million job seekers in Asia, the Middle East and Africa have taken AMCAT and received millions of credentials since the test became available. A credential is awarded for each competency, such as a skill or personality trait. Credentials are integrated with profiles on LinkedIn, Monster, and other job sites. Meanwhile, Aspiring Minds is scaling rapidly, adding over a million job seekers every year. Their next test? The U.S. market, which we quiz them on in this interview.

What prompted you to start Aspiring Minds? What is your vision, and what was your motivation? Did formative experiences play a role?

Himanshu AggarwalHimanshu Aggarwal: Young people with potential were left outside the mainstream recruitment ecosystem while industry globally has been complaining about a talent crunch. While most solutions were based on throwing more and more training at people or getting youths into expensive colleges, there was no means to objectively measure readiness of individuals for various jobs (employability), leading to no feedback and little guidance. We envisaged that something similar to a GRE — but way more comprehensive and targeted to job skills — for jobs could create immense value.

What problem does your company solve?

Himanshu: We help make matching between individuals and jobs more scientific, accurate, and most importantly highly scalable. We have created AMCAT – a multi-dimensional employability assessment that evaluates a variety of competencies based on an individual’s education and job aspirations. Based on the AMCAT, individuals are able to get job role-specific credentials that they can use to signal their job readiness to employers. We work with employers to help them validate the AMCAT credentials in their organizations and improve recruitment efficiency and workforce productivity. Also, based on the assessments, job seekers get to know their improvement areas and connect to various training resources, both offline and online, such as MOOCs, to improve themselves.

How is AMCAT different from, and better than, similar assessments?

Himanshu: Candidly, there isn’t a similar solution that works for both job seekers and corporations. Most tests today are aimed at helping corporations reduce recruitment load. Stated simply, there isn’t any test in the market that a candidate can take to assess his or her job readiness and match with various jobs.

Varun AggarwalVarun Aggarwal: Technologically, AMCAT combines extensive research from across fields including assessment design, machine learning and simulations to create a highly accurate, reliable and valid test. The tool is adaptive, responding to each response; works with large question banks; and is integrated with sophisticated online and mobile delivery technology. Most importantly, AMCAT tool is data-driven and predicts job success.

Our technology is innovative and unique. While we have multiple patents, we have published our research extensively in such leading machine learning conferences as KDD and ACL and such assessment conferences as AERA. We also co-organize an annual workshop on assessments, to be held this year at ICDM in New Jersey.

What benefits does AMCAT offer educational institutions and their students?

Himanshu: AMCAT is immensely valuable to students who are looking for a career after their education. It not only helps them get credentials, which makes their job search easier; it also gives them detailed input on their skill gaps early in their education/job search, providing an opportunity to bridge the gaps through openly available training options, such as MOOCs and vocational courses. The holistic offering makes AMCAT very valuable to the students.

Hence, university career offices find AMCAT very beneficial for the students. Not only do the students get the above benefits, using Aspiring Minds’ campus analytics report the career office gets a good macro understanding of the students marketable skills as well as skill gaps, making their effort to work with industry in hiring its students and as well help the students bridge the skill gaps making them better ready for their career.

How do you work with educational institutions?

Himanshu: We typically work with career offices in institutions to help them offer AMCAT to the students. AMCAT is generally taken by students in the junior and senior year, for diagnostics and credentials. We also work extensively on analytics to help the institutions better understand the macro-level gaps so that the institutions can plan appropriate interventions.

Why have you launched in the United States? Are you looking to address any particular U.S. needs or issues?

Himanshu: The U.S. education market has evolved quite drastically over the last five years. While the higher education debt burden is being pegged as the next big crisis, free education and training through MOOCs is changing the way people learn.

Higher education as a signal to employability or job readiness is too expensive for a large number of roles. Credentials based on AMCAT can help give credibility to skills acquired through work experience or alternate means of education, such as MOOCs, and act as a signal albeit more accurate than higher education.

We see AMCAT very ably providing credentials to job seekers in the U.S. and addressing the ever-changing skill and talent needs of corporations.

What’s your take on technology in education, and on education in general?

Varun: Technology is changing the way education is going to be delivered. Technology has a promise of scale, reach and reliability where some of the traditional mechanisms fall short. Technology will help scale education with quality, and it will help make education more personalized and adaptive, increasing the efficiency of the learning process. At the same time, it is important that the impact of technology is scientifically measured and the right interventions are scaled. Standardized assessments of outcome is one key way of making sure technology is having the intended impact on learning levels and also finding where there is scope of improvement. Simply stated, one that cannot be measured, cannot be improved. Technology is helping scale assessments, which can in turn help scale learning.

What advice do you have for education and technology leaders?

Varun: We feel technology in education will succeed when we build and apply tech to solve real problems in education rather than best fit existing technology to education. Also, in education, measuring impact takes time and can sometimes get ignored as we go about building a business; we shouldn’t lose sight of the impact. Long-term impact in education is very effective in creating a good and lasting company.

Finally, do not just concentrate on how large the numbers are, but focus on the real measurable impact on every individual.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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