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Defined by market needs; driven by social equity

A livelihood-focused intervention assesses market needs and suitably prepares disadvantaged youth for jobs and a new life. Venkatesh M Raghavendra speaks about the AIF's efforts for the same.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2008 11:55 IST

It was already dusk as we arrived at the vocational training in the town of Hazaribagh in Jharkand. The place was abuzz with young people chatting with each other at the near end of their work day. The distraction of our arrival was enough to bring about a hush. <b1>

Satish Girija, the Secretary of NBJK (Nav Bharat Jagruti Kendra), with whom we had driven in from Ranchi, walked us through the various training sections and introduced us to the trainers and trainees. The light bulbs in the classrooms flickered dimly due to "low voltage". But the energy in the building was indeed high voltage, enough to probably light up a football stadium! It was charged with the aspirations of these 18-28 year olds wanting to become "professionals" and realize the dream of a secure economic future for themselves and their families.

Admitted there are plenty of job training activities happening around the country. A walk through any metro reveals all kinds of enticements for skill building and potential jobs - from IT to hospitality. But how many of these are really accessible to those young men and women from the lower economic strata of our society? How many guarantee a decent job and handhold the trained graduates even after the training? (It is another matter that most of these guarantees cannot be taken at face value) What if you are not living in one of the booming 6-8 top metros of the country?

Enter the concept of market-led vocational training - the model that systematically identifies labor market shortages and prepares youth for these opportunities. As a result, high-growth industries connect with the human capital they need and youth gain high-value employment. Could be retail jobs in Ahmedabad, electricians in Ranchi or hospitality professionals in Hyderabad. <b2>

What NBJK is doing in collaboration with Andhra Pradesh-based CAP Foundation is a case in point. It is equipping young men and women of Jharkand with those kinds of skills that will land them well-paying jobs and simultaneously fill an acute shortage of professionals in that geography. The American India Foundation (AIF) is an investor and partner in this endeavor. At AIF (www.aif.org), we have chosen "livelihoods" as one of the key pillars of our work and continue to work with different NGO partners around the country in this key track of "market-led vocational training". Our formula has been to enable market opportunities intersect with a dedicated, and in many cases underutilized and unutilized, work force.

In terms of sheer employability and earning capacity, the impact has been dramatic. Take the situation of 21-year old Amrita Kumari from Okni near Hazaribag. Amrita does not worry about having not completed her Matriculation. Trained at the Kalibari Centre earlier this year, she has secured a job as a receptionist/computer operator in AXIS Bank.

The Airtels, the DTDCs, the Big Bazaars and the Café Coffee Days are grabbing these graduates fast. "The collaborative relationship the NGOs have developed with employers is a real win-win. Our job placement rate has been 90%," beams Girija Shankar.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in one of his recent speeches alluded to the issue of disconnected and disgruntled youth being one of the biggest challenges that the country faces, leading to social upheaval and unrest. India's success story is not going to be a sustainable one if this young demography is left out of it.

The training itself is short (3 months), intense and focused. Besides the technical skills needed to become an air-conditioning mechanic or a courier professional the intervention provides the 'soft skills' needed to succeed in a workplace. Interpersonal skills, communication, and work ethics - all this is built into the training curriculum. Arvind Singh of Jagdishpur village, a graduate of 2007, employed as "tele-caller" in a Reliance BPO reaffirms the value of the conversational and language skills he picked up.

Having made a significant dent in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the intervention is now poised to take off in Rajasthan, Bihar and a host of other states. State governments are showing keen interest to re-jig their current vocational training programs and agenda and adapt them to this proven model.

Partners like the Wadhwani Foundation are helping include segments such as people with disabilities. With a realistic goal of impacting the lives of 100,000 young people by the year 2010, the initiative is on track working with strong allies across the country to accomplish this target.

The overwhelming success of this intervention and the potential it holds is the key message of our Annual Gala in New York being held on April 30th. Guests of the evening Mukesh Ambani of Reliance and Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric are already enthused by this.

We are hoping that mega employers like Reliance and GE will take notice of this success story and help it go to scale. AIF is reaching out to the Indian diaspora and Indophiles in the United States to lend their weight and resources to this effort.

Together we can ensure that India's success story trickles down to those geographies and segments of population whose boats have not been lifted with India's rising tide!

Venkatesh M Raghavendra is AIF's Chief Philanthropy Officer.