Rural talent, untapped opportunities

By admin |

15th April 2008

By Meera Shenoy By 2020, India is estimated to have a surplus working population of 45-50 million people. It will also be the youngest nation in the world by 2020. With this surplus working population, it may appear that India has all it takes to bag the 40-million-jobs opportunity. However, the reality is far from that. India is facing a peculiar manpower paradox—while it is a young country (over 50 per cent of its population is below 25 years), it is facing a shortage of skilled manpower, even domestically. The manpower crunch in India is more serious than we think. The reason—while urban India has witnessed stupendous growth in jobs, many of India's children still drop out from school, girls are still not sent to school and youngsters are forced to take up jobs instead of completing their graduation. Providing jobs for unemployed youths, particularly, in rural India has become a Herculean task for the policy makers of the country. Armchair thinkers are already forecasting a "demographic disaster" if large number of youth face failure and frustration in getting jobs. The 11th Planning Commission plans to quadruple its budget for training BOP youth. But will large investments alone address this complex problem? Need of The Hour: Share Expertise Companies, governments and communities of the poor have to come together on one platform to make youth, especially the rural poor, employable. But different attitudes and perceptions of the agencies involved in the process have proved stumbling block. While companies think working with government is a waste of time those in the government consider all companies as exploitative. And the rural poor in their villages are unaware of the benefits of private-public partnerships. There is a common perception in the corporate sectors that a government program lacks quality and the rural poor may not fit into their high profile company. However, a close look at the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM), which runs an English and Computers Academy at Seetampeta in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh and the perception changes dramatically. An executive, from a rural background himself, shot the training program at this centre and played the video recordings before the bosses of the company. And the result: five business units were clamouring for the work-ready youth! It just shows, rural youths are ready to accommodate with the changing world and just can not be overlooked. Ills Are Many In the government, existing vocational institutes like the ITI's have outdated curriculum not linked to market needs. The employment exchanges are so outdated that only a "government" job is defined as a job in their bylaws. And there are three departments at the central and state government levels, which hardly converge, all involved on paper in creating employment, which makes dialogue with a second party in one voice virtually impossible! The rural poor, especially in remote and interior areas, are frustrated as degrees and diplomas do not guarantee a job ticket.  Andhra Pradesh data indicates the higher young people study, the less likely he or she is likely to get a job. At the intermediate level, 50,000 get employment while dropouts and unemployed number around 1, 50,000. At the degree level 50,000 get employed while dropouts and unemployed are 3, 50,000. Unemployed youth, watch on the TV images of urban youth with cell phones and motor bikes, and losing all hope in existing support systems and on many occasions turn to anti-social activities. Need to Break Ice For dialogue between the three stakeholders, government, companies and the poor, a facilitating mechanism is required. A small beginning was made in Andhra Pradesh where a pro-active rural development department set up a mission dedicated to this work.  Still in its infancy, EGMM identifies trains and links BPL rural youth to entry level jobs. In the last two and half years, 79,000 youth have been trained and 80 per cent linked to jobs in the organised sector. EGMM has been incorporated as a society to create an enabling eco-sphere for public-private partnerships. The institutional framework of having senior government officers and private sector on the Executive Committee allows the best of the private sector linkages to be wedded to the powerful muscle and machinery of the government. With this collaboration the seemingly impossible becomes possible. Seting up Facilities in Remote Tribal Areas The government machinery headed by Collectors takes over all existing unused infrastructure in their districts and convert them to English and computer, textiles, construction training centres. As youth who get jobs in McDonalds, Tatas, Reliance Fresh and other companies, share their joyful stories of getting out of poverty, the government accesses money from various programs to feed it into the Mission. Having a private sector composition in the core team allows for development of grass root products, tailor made for the rural poor. Much of the EGMM brand equity comes from two products developed from scratch with local teachers—the Rural Retail Academy and the Rural English and computer Academy. Companies see faces and a language they relate to in a government setting. So doors open; skills required for different entry level positions are unbundled in collaboration with companies. The result? The rural work- ready poor get fitted into positions beyond their imagination. Retailers, for example, began with the belief that only rural graduates could be recruited as customer service attendants. Today twelfth class youth trained for two months, work in air conditioned hyper-malls and retail outlets in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore. The rural youth that EGMM works with, are mostly children of the self-help groups (SHGs) created and nurtured, by the World Bank funded Indira Kranthi Patham (IKP). When mothers clearly stated they could not give their sons and daughters pocket money to see them through the first month in the cities till their salaries came, EGMM developed post placement support and half way homes. This reduced dropouts by half among rural youth who relocated to metros for jobs. The SHG leaders also participate in "exposure" trips to see their youth at work. This gives a momentum to the program with community buy-in, resulting in a bottom-up approach.  Joy For All The EGMM programme enables companies to get a ready made pool of workers from a large rural labour pool. These youth are motivated and eager to excel. For the family of the poor, a shift takes place from erratic incomes, due to a dependence on rain fed agriculture, to a steady money source month after month. Studies show the extra money is used to retire high cost debt, buy assets and a younger child gets educated. Recently, a manager at IBM was amazed to hear a security guard tell him it was his last day as he had learnt some computer programs in his spare time and was now switching careers. The company official led the security guard to their own computer skill testing centre for placement. Interestingly, aspiration levels zoom even in the seemingly low entry level jobs in which they are placed. And one organised sector job in a family, takes away the stigma and smell of poverty in a sustained manner. Youth in jobs relate incidents of relatives and neighbours, and those who once ignored them suddenly find reasons to connect up! Work in Public Private Partnerships in this sector of imparting market linked skills to youth is still in its infancy. By not forging these linkages, business may lose opportunity; government may loose credibility; but society loses most of all by not creating millions of skilled youths. —The author is Executive Director of EGMM, Rural Development, Government of Andhra Pradesh Editor's note: The private-public partnership mode for generating employment for those Below Starvation Line (BSL) has been undertaken in Bihar's Bhagalpur-Munger commissionaires by AAS Mission.
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