They may be making a living by digging earth under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), but lakhs of workers are aspiring for upward mobility in life.
In a first-of-its-kind data collected from the panchayat level by the rural development ministry, as many as 17 lakh workers have shown interest in moving to skilled employment. Their vocational interests vary from beauty and hairdressing to hospitality, construction, accounting, and garment making.
While the official data did not register their education levels, it’s a well-known fact that many such workers have good educational qualifications. About 31,000 of them want banking and accounting-related skills, while over 15,000 want to train in fashion designing.
Over 6,000 workers have shown interest in information and technology-related training, while many look at marine engineering skills and media as options.
Lakma Ram, former sarpanch of Chandela panchayat in Rajasthan’s Sirohi district, said MGNREGA workers were eager to acquire skills and move up the social ladder.
“For the past nine years, all we have done is dig ditches. This is a huge opportunity to leave that behind and do something substantial,” he said, referring to the ministry’s skill training project, Livelihood in Full Employment (LIFE), launched in April this year to promote self reliance and improve the skill base of MGNREGA workers.
“The idea is to provide livelihood opportunities to the poor so that in the next ten years, there is no demand for unskilled employment. Those who acquire skill training will also get placement assistance by the government,” a senior ministry official said.
Of the five crore active workers, the ministry zeroed in on those who had done 100 days of work in any financial year and forwarded the list to the states, who in turn asked the gram panchayats to prepare a list of workers willing to join the LIFE project.
The government will provide skill training through the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, a livelihood programme, under which private sector training providers are roped in.