Shobha Kavde, 36, a Class 10 dropout, has worked as a cook for three years. She dropped out of school as a child because her parents couldn’t afford the fees. A month ago, she signed up to study again, at a professional course for domestic help that starts on September 1.
As part of the six-month weekend course, designed by the Yashvantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Kavde is hoping to learn about nutrition and new domestic devices and technologies, improve her communication and language skills and even be taught a little child psychology.
“I can afford the fee of Rs 400 and I know that this course will benefit my work,” says Kavde. “With a certificate in nutrition and kitchen work, I can demand better pay, offer more services, maybe even work as a nanny and earn a lot more.”
Response to the course has been good, says coordinator Vijay Paikrao. A total of 700 students have enrolled, 600 from Mumbai and a total of 100 from Nashik, Nagpur, Aurangabad and Hingoli, the four other centres where the course is being offered.
“The aim of such a course is to instil a sense of confidence in women working as domestic help and equip them with better skills,” says Prakash Deshmukh, regional director of the Yashvantrao Chavan university.
Kavde is not alone is trying to improve her profile with an unusual part-time course.
Across the spectrum that stretches from blue-collar workers to white-collar executives, in fields ranging from housekeeping to architecture and social work, working professionals are signing up to acquire ‘allied skills’ that help them raise their profile or seek better employment in a crowded marketplace.
“Such courses are changing the way education is defined,” says Shilpa Sapre, chairperson of the board of studies in English at the Mumbai university. “And it is a welcome change. These courses do not end in a degree, but they encourage people to keep upgrading or updating their skills.”
The courses have become increasingly popular over the past five years, thanks to the global economic downturn, adds Sapre.
“People are realising that, often, degrees are qualifications in theory and do not ensure a job,” says career guidance counsellor Shilpa Pathak. “That is why even those with a degree are opting for such courses to enhance their skills or acquire special skills to make them more employable.”
New skills-based courses currently on offer in the commercial capital include puppeteering, aimed at social workers, counsellors, teachers and therapists; heritage conservation, aimed at architecture students, architects, engineers and contractors; proficiency in ‘business English’, aimed at white-collar workers; cinema and literature for children, aimed at content developers, writers, artists, teachers and counsellors; and skills-enhancement for domestic help.
These niche, needs-based courses have all debuted in Mumbai this year, introduced variously by the Mumbai university, city heritage conservation society, Yashvantrao Chavan open university, JJ College of Architecture, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum and Rachana Sansad college.
Though the courses are designed with specific professions and professionals in mind, they are open to all, with limited-module options available for the layperson.
The course in heritage conservation, for instance, is divided into six modules. Takers may attend any one module or the entire course.
Minimum qualifications, likewise, are variable. For the conservation course, the minimum qualification on paper is graduation, but those without a degree but with a ‘flair for the subject’ will also be considered, says Anupam Sah, director of conservation lab of CSMVS.
Meanwhile, the University of Mumbai, in association with the Rachana Sansad arts college, is offering a course conducted by celebrated puppeteer Meena Naik.
“Most people in our country think puppeteering is just about fun and entertainment,” says Naik. “I want to teach people how puppets can be used for therapy and to spread awareness.”
Naik’s course will teach puppet-making, scriptwriting for puppet theatre, presentation, and manipulation and how to use puppets as a tool for therapy and communication.
Among the takers are social worker Rekha Lele, 56, a volunteer with child rights NGO Swadhar for 20 years.
“The course will equip students with a skill that will help them in their jobs and ensure employability in the fields of social work and education,” says Naik.
As demand grows, the courses are becoming more comprehensive too.
This is the first time, for instance, that the Mumbai heritage conservation society has initiated a year-long course. Earlier courses were more in the form of workshop series. Over the past three years, the Yashvant Rao Chavan university also has introduced one such course each year, for everyone from chauffeurs to gas cylinder delivery boys and textile handloom workers.
“The university of Mumbai has witnessed an increase in interest in such courses of 20% to 30% each year over the past five years,” says Sapre.
The distinction and special skills acquired through such courses would likely help a candidate stand out in a crowded marketplace, says Vijay Ural, president of head-hunting company Naukri SMS. “Everyone does the generic courses. These could set a job-seeker apart from the others.”