Tell us about your team…
At Pragya, we are committed to building a lifelong career compass for the workforce of the future. The Pragya team has decades of experience in Education, Healthcare, AI and content delivery. Ramji Raghavan, Founder & CEO, is an experienced entrepreneur who has founded multiple venture funded companies and held leadership roles in Digital and Motorola. Ajay Sharda, Founder & CTO was the technical leader behind market-defining Ed-tech products like Cengage MindTap, WebCT/Blackboard and Experience.com. Ashish Cowlagi, VP of Product Management, led the product teams building the world's first Clinical AI products at IBM Watson and is a pioneer in using AI, big data & IoT to achieve societal impact with technology. Our team includes first generation college graduates and we are strong public advocates for AI fairness, inclusion and equity, and have served in leadership positions on corporate diversity groups.
Why are your team’s efforts important now, and how do you see them scaling up in the future?
In a world where the half-life of skills is 5 years, and middle skill jobs are being disrupted by AI and tech, employers need ways for workers to be continually and rapidly reskilled. Learning pathways are not mapped exactly to job requirements, nor are they personalized to individual working learners. It is a huge challenge for job seekers, particularly those pursuing middle skill jobs who have no support system, to navigate the complex landscape of credentials and identify the ideal training option based on their personal skill profile, goals and other constraints.
For a reskilling solution to have maximum impact, it needs to be scalable on 2 dimensions: a) Address a broad segment of learners across a wide range of occupations. b) Personalize training pathways regardless of the learner’s constraints - geography, modality, time, cost etc. Pragya’s approach is designed for scalability on both fronts. Pragya’s proprietary deep linguistic AI-based solution analyzes each learner’s profile and makes precise skills-based matches to high-growth careers across the full spectrum of occupations.
As we demonstrated with the Clinical Research Assistant job during the Field Test phase, Pragya will continue to work with regional employers across the country to identify emerging jobs, which are not covered by O-Net and traditional labor market analysis. Secondly, Pragya’s platform makes learning pathway recommendations from across a wide spectrum of options - college pathways, employer and private training, as well as Pragya’s “Precision Skilling” programs. Pragya’s Precision Skilling programs are job aligned, certification oriented, competency-based training designed for at-your-own pace learning. Learners focus only on skills they don’t already have mastery of, and are not constrained by the time and geographical constraints imposed by traditional training options. While Pragya’s initial focus is on healthcare and life sciences, as we look ahead, Pragya plans to work with more employers and colleges to create more Precision Skilling programs across a broader segment of training pathways.
How has the XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling competition furthered your success? How has it changed you?
The XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling competition has served as a big catalyst to expand the scope of the Pragya solution from addressing learners pursuing college pathways to independent working learners and job seekers. In particular, it has sharpened our focus to leverage our AI-based solution to meet the needs of middle skill pathways. These pathways, like the entry level medical occupations we are currently targeting, often do not require a college degree and constitute a large portion of available high growth job opportunities. The XPRR competition has given us the opportunity to work with learners most in need, as well as large employers in the healthcare / life sciences sectors who have the biggest requirement for skilled labor.
How is your solution tailored to reskill workers in the pandemic? What have been the unique challenges or benefits of launching your solution during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic has accelerated what was already a significant disruption in the workforce driven by AI, automation, technology and the emergence of the gig economy. The majority of new job losses have been in middle skill pathways. Displaced workers are making ends meet by working in low paying jobs, while trying to figure out the best path to a new job that is sustainable, pays well and has a good career growth path. Their personal constraints, ranging from having to be at the workplace during the day to transportation and day care, often prevent them from accessing traditional college options. Competency based, individualized training options like Pragya’s, meet working learners where they are, within their personal constraints. Furthermore, a skill-based training program that lets learners spend time only in areas where they need to master skills cuts the overall training time, without sacrificing job preparedness.
The first step in reskilling workers is to figure out what they want to be reskilled in. Personalized career guidance which takes into account prior skills, human skills and learner aspirations is a necessary and crucial element in rapid reskilling. This is the first hurdle that workers from disadvantaged backgrounds face, since they often don’t have access to the same support systems to guide them that more affluent learners have access to.
Pragya’s AI-powered, labor market intelligence based Lifelong Career Compass accomplishes this. Secondly, there is always a lag between emerging employer demand and community college programs. The pandemic and the XPRR competition have given us the opportunity to test out another important benefit of the Pragya platform. We worked with local life sciences employers to identify an entry-level job need for admin jobs in Clinical Research trials, and worked with subject matter experts to create a competency-based, job aligned program in a matter of weeks. We have spoken with community colleges, who have expressed interest in offering this curriculum within their campuses. We believe this is one way to build a more agile bridge between employer demand and colleges.
What are you looking forward to in the next phase of the competition as a Semifinalist?
We are really looking forward to working with our learners to place them in jobs and ensure they are on a stable pathway to a lasting career. This will require us to work more closely with employers as well as in preparing our learners for job success. This involves working with them to reinforce their training on job-ready human skills, providing them training they may need during job on-boarding, as well as learning more about any other wrap-around support they need for job success.
Lastly, outside of your work, what aspect of the future of work excites you right now?
While technology has driven some of the disruptions we see in the workforce today, we believe technology has a big part to play in also addressing some of the endemic problems that have plagued workforce development. We are excited about technology’s transformative impact to the future of work and society, from lifelong learning to health. There are 2 examples that come to mind.
In our discussions with employers in the life sciences and medical tech sectors, entry level manufacturing job training is a big requirement. It often involves prohibitive up front investments to create job-specific training centers. AR/VR has a potential to bridge this gap and make job-specific manufacturing training far less expensive, and far more accessible. We plan to work with leaders in AR/VR tech to incorporate their technology into our skilling platform.
The second area has to do with lifelong, unbundled education. The future of work and education will involve learners stacking many short-term training programs and credentials together as their career progresses. A more scalable method for Prior Learning Assessment for credits in colleges, as well as blockchain based credentials that give learners an agency in managing their own credentials will transform this ecosystem.
Learn more the rest of the XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling semifinalist teams in the race to the finish here.