Dusting his blue overalls, 23-year old Narendra Kumar smiled when asked what he was doing near Puducherry, 2,000 km away from his village in Jajatpur, Uttar Pradesh.
"I'm studying. I'm building my future", the class-three drop out said. Kumar and 42 other dropouts will at the end of October receive jobs as trained employees in industries that usually depend on unskilled labour.
They represent an unusual IIT success story.
Accused of not giving back to their nation enough in return for their world-class education, the umbrella organisation of alumni from all Indian Institutes of Technology has launched a unique job creation mission.
The Pan IIT Alumni Reach for India (PARFI) will form a component of the global conclave of IIT alumni starting Friday in Noida.
Pan IIT has started seven 'skills gurukuls' — where unskilled dropouts are receiving training and guaranteed jobs. It has tied up with NABARD to provide Rs6,000 loans — the fee for the one-month course — to aspirants tapped by NGOs linked with Pan IIT.
Each gurukul is started in partnership with a firm that designs the curriculum and guarantees employment. Once employed, students receive salaries starting R6,000 from which monthly installments are deducted from the second month for a period of six months to repay the loan.
The gurukuls — in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP and Rajasthan — cater to different skills such as construction, driving, welding and catering.
The PARFI idea emanated from a comment made by former President APJ Abdul Kalam. "He said IITians should evolve from just job seekers and become job creators. We saw this as an opportunity for the IIT alumni to give something back to India," said Hari Padmanabhan, Pan IIT president.
The nascent project is already throwing up challenges – scaling it up will not be easy, Padmanabhan conceded. At the Puducherry gurukul, four of the students enrolled in Kumar's batch dropped out, returning to their villages.
But the firms that are tying up with Pan IIT aren't complaining. "We depended on contractors who brought unskilled labour. Now, we are guaranteed skilled workers without needing contractors. It's a win-win," said D. Devarajan, joint managing director of TN-based construction major URC Ltd. which has tied up for the Puducherry school.