About ACF

Saturday, November 17, 2018

INDIA: The Top 5 Challenges in Skill Training

Skill Training is the need of the hour in rural India, but at every turn there are hurdles to overcome in tackling youth unemployment and meeting the recruitment needs of industry.  

Ravi Nayse, General Manager at ACF's Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Institutes dissects the most pressing challenges faced in the skills training industry today, outlines the opportunity that they present, and explains how ACF is thinking outside the box to expand the quality and reach of their Skill Training program.

1.      Keeping up with Technological Change.

Technological change, particularly the development of information and communication technology (ICT), is occurring at unprecedented speed, requiring workers to have more and more complex, cognitive skills than ever. Whilst this has also brought opportunities for new jobs, the challenge is to train youth for those job roles, which do not in fact exist today, in order to ‘stay ahead of the curve’.

As we work to develop curriculum for courses at SEDI, we often find that by the time we formalise the curriculum (in such areas as Mobile Phone Repairing or Computer Hardware Repairing), the technology has changed - thus is the speed at which technology is shifting and evolving. 

It's a similar story in 2 wheeler repairing where today, everything is equipped with sensors, and our curriculum had to be quickly upgraded to cater for that.  In the Welding trade, there are a lot of changes coming in and now 'arc welding' is becoming redundant.  Even 'gas welding' is going out as more and more people seek 'MIG Welding.'  We had to evolve with the times here also, altering curriculum to stay relevant to the needs of the market.

The employment landscape is changing swiftly, and new jobs are emerging with rapid disruption in business models around the globe. Today’s job market and in-demand skills are vastly different from the ones of 10 or 5 years ago - and the pace of change is only set to accelerate. These new jobs require new skills which either do not exist or the population is very niche.

Building a skilling system to match the new requirements (a system that responds well to business needs) while creating opportunities for young people is the need of the hour.  To tackle this trend at SEDI, we generally interact with our potential employers and try to understand their current requirements in relation to skillsets, and what they expect from trainees in the workplace.  We personally visit employer's workplaces and talk to supervisors.  A lot of feedback is generated in these visits and we then incorporate changes into the curriculum accordingly. 

We also call outside experts as guest lecturers to talk about new developments and the latest trends in the marketplace. We take our trainees on field visits to workplaces so that students can get a feel for what exactly is happening in the workplace - also sending them for on the job training - a key component of our methodology of training, where students get practical hands on training.
Lastly we foster an increased appetite for learning among our students in order to build ‘life long learners’ - encouraging them to continually hone their skills over a lifetime.

2.       Integrating Skill Training at School.

A key challenge India faces, is that primary and higher secondary education is often outdated.  As such, whilst education is supposed to be the foundation for career development in young people, often it is not relevant to what the current job market requires. The result?  Many graduates coming out of schools and colleges are not employable.  

At ACF, we see this as an opportunity!  As per the data available from the education department, more than 95% children are in schools but as they progress, more than 50% fail to reach graduation level.  These youth drop out of education and do not benefit from being mainstreamed in society. There is a large chunk of such youth in our country who, if channelized in a proper way, can become a key asset for all.

The solution?  Youth who are not interested in formal education can be directed into vocational training whilst they are still engaged in Higher Secondary School. If awareness of vocational education is established at this level, then a second pathway opens up for young people - providing them with an alternative to tertiary education.  Thus, integration of vocational training from a young person's schooling days helps ensure that these children do not 'fall through the gaps.'

Similarly, a large pool of youth become immediately available for vocational training institutes who are at present spending a lot of time mobilising youth and understanding their interests in relation to skills training.

3.  Managing Aspirations & Expectations.

By 2022, there is a projected shortfall of 103 million skilled workers in the infrastructure sector in India, 35 million in the automobile industry and 33 million in construction. In stark contrast, a shortage of only 5 million is expected in the technology sector.

But as higher education has seeped into towns and villages across the nation, college enrollment has tripled, highlighting student aspirations to pursue white-collar professions such as medicine, teaching, business management, and software and electronics engineering. The result is that the professional goals of educated Indian youth are running ahead of the skills that the country needs during the next decade of its economic transition. The result is a large number of people with degrees in hand, but with no relevant skills to find employment.

SEDI tackles this mismatch during its community mobilisation phase where field workers spend time with both families and youth to educate them on the types of jobs and salaries available in the market, and the actual qualifications they require to attain them.  SEDI operates a 'Drop In Centre' where potential graduates can come in and learn more about training and opportunities for their career. Blue Collar role models are also showcased to prospective students to highlight their experience and enjoyment for work and career. Counseling is also provided to educate them on the potential presented by Blue Collar Jobs.  We call their parents into SEDI for counseling also, where we give information about the workplaces and the nature of jobs they will get if they join.

But even after training and placement, youth and family expectations can generate challenges.   Workplaces and employers demand more than a hundred percent from their employees - putting individuals under pressure of work and delivery of tasks.  Further, odd working times or meeting delivery deadlines becomes a regular feature that every individual must deal with in their career. Entry level jobs for youth who just started their career also face this situation, and if youth are not trained to handle the work pressure, s/he will always have a challenge in retaining their job.

The provision of a soft skills training component that focuses on managing work pressure and cultivating work ethics is necessary and is a mandatory component of all training programs at SEDI.   We also provide hand-holding support for every trainee for 2 years and track their placement in a systematic manner via a customised software, to monitor the growth and journey of each trainee. 

Additionally, in order to deal with 'real time' situations in the workplace, counseling and mentoring plays a critical role.  However, an institute like SEDI has limitations in providing day to day support to trainees in their workplace.  Hence a strategy was developed to place students in jobs in groups - to support one another and mitigate challenges and develop solutions as and when they arise. Retention rates have increased as a result. 

4.  Catering to Volume.

A survey of the labour bureau in 2013-2014 highlighted the fact that only 6.8% of people have received or were receiving vocational training in India, as opposed to countries like Korea, Germany, UK and Japan, where the percentage is much higher - 96%, 75%, 68% and 80% respectively.

Additionally, more than 12 million youth between 15 and 29 years of age are expected to enter India’s labour force every year for the next two decades.  The government’s recent skill gap analysis concludes that by 2022, another 109 million or so skilled workers will be needed in the 24 keys sectors of the economy.

India has grand plans to become the future skill capital of the world - capitalising on being the youngest nation with more than 62% of its population in working age group of 15-59 years, and more than 54% of its total population below 25 years of age. Additionally, India is the world’s fastest growing economy, expected to grow at 7.2 percent in 2017-18, and at 7.7 percent by 2019-20.   

But these ambitious plans are highly dependent on the quality of the labour force and availability of jobs. This has resulted in an increased demand for skilled labour over the past few years. As such, there is a need to provide 'easy to access' skill training - particularly for those youth who are deprived from accessing such facilities and are in remote rural areas. SEDI continues to expand its footprint in remote areas of the country and aspires to establish 50 SEDIs in the next 5 years. 

To meet the skilling needs of the nation, ACF is taking a partnership approach to expand the SEDI presence across rural India.  By joining hands with like-minded partners, we can pool our resources and strengths to expand our footprint to provide youth with access to skill training in their local communities and support the country in achieving its ambitious goals.

5. Retention: In Training & Workplace.

Skilling institutes face a dual challenge when it comes to 'retention.'  Whilst it is often difficult to ensure retention in the workplace once training is complete, it is also necessary to keep a sharp eye on retention rates during training itself. 

During training, students often struggle with classroom type of training.  The students typically targeted are high school drop outs, and are not accustomed to learning  - particularly when it comes to the theoretical aspect.  If training commences with a focus on the theoretical aspect, rules and regulations, it is typical for students to lose interest, as they are more focused on practical aspects and are eager to fast track earning.

There is also an expectation in skill training around the investment required.  In India, most primary and secondary education is typically free in rural areas, so students are reticent to pay for skilling. Additionally, they lose daily wages for every day of training - this is the opportunity cost of skill training - and they are not ready to do that, or bare the costs of travel and food.  The moment they start incurring these costs they can very easily lose interest.  Additionally, aspiration levels are also very low.  Many rural youth have a focus on labour related jobs, they want to continue doing that.  They do not aspire for a career path.

To counter all these aspects at SEDI, we start training with a large focus on the practical component from day 1.  Whilst there is a risk involved because safety issues are there, we take all necessary precautions and are willing to bear the cost of mistakes which may harm equipment.  We then introduce the theory along the way. 

At every turn we are promoting career paths for students - so that they can see the bigger picture.  This is all displayed prominently in our centres so that they can see the types of jobs, salaries, and opportunities for growth - to continually motivate them.

Retention is also a challenge after training is complete and students have been placed in jobs.  Sometimes homesickness is there and SEDI has commenced 'group placement' into jobs so that students have batch mates and peers from the same community with whom they can relate with and share living costs.

Culture different and a change in food habits takes its toll, and sometimes workplace politics plays a role in the new work environment. SEDI team members work to ensure family encouragement, conduct visits to the workplace to interact with supervisors and troubleshoot issues, and provide ongoing mentoring to students to improve retention.

Ravi Nayse is the General Manager, SEDI at ACF

Strength in Numbers: Reducing 'Homesickness' with Group Placement at SEDI

Dinesh Patodiya was feeling homesick.  He felt lost in the city of Jodhpur and whilst he loved his new job, he was struggling outside of work.  Within 3 months, he quit and headed for home.

In fact, many of the youth who enrol at ACF's SEDI have never left their village before.  They come from remote, isolated communities. Parents were also reluctant to send their daughters out alone for jobs. 

Team ACF knew that they must find a solution.  Because the bright future of their graduates was at stake.  They started brainstorming - why not try to place graduates in groups?  With similar backgrounds, they could support one another and share resources. 

And so they initiated dialogue with companies who would agree to take 2 or more graduates at a time.  But finding a suitable company was no easy task.  Finally, they convinced high attrition industries with the concept - Pizza Hut, Genus Electrotech and Kokilaben Dhirubha Ambani Hospital came forward to trial the idea.

Today, Ambujanagar SEDI alone has placed 170 electronic students in Genus​ via group placement - with trainees performing so well that in the last batch of 28 girls, ACF re-negotiated the starting salary (from Rs 7800 to Rs 8800 per month.)

And Dinesh? He moved to Mumbai with 3 batchmates, and after a stint at Ambani Hospital, progressed into a more senior position in Ganganagar. The security of the group helped him make the most of life in 'maximum city' - using it as a launch pad for his career.

The overall results? To date, a total of 3348 trainees have been placed through group placement, and retention rates have increased from 58% to 87%.

Electronics for Girls: Tackling Gender Stereotypes, One Trade at a Time.

2015 - It was a time of pushing boundaries to get equality for women, and there was a focus to bring greater 'gender diversity' into male dominated courses like electronics and welding.

Whilst there had been a 'breakthrough' in bringing male candidates into the Nursing trade, not one girl had registered for the electronics course. 

The SEDI team at Ambujanagar re-grouped. Surely an onslaught of community mobilization and awareness raising could turn some heads towards this career path for girls? 

They coordinated night meetings. Sat at length with youth. Sipped cup after cup of chai as they heard out the concerns of parents and appeased them. And still, not one registration.

Electronics repairing involves mostly physical hard work, and yet globally, women are taking up the trade with gusto and building viable livelihoods.  

How could the ACF team help these young girls see the opportunity? In a last ditch attempt to convince families, the team visited villages with laptops, and screened videos of females working in the electronics trade around the world.
The result? 5 female candidates came forward for enrollment. After completing training, the graduates were placed in Genus Electrotech, Gandhidham - the first females to work in the production line of the company! 
So what do employers think? Well, one batch of female trainees were awarded for completing 30 days’ worth of work in just 5 days!  Surely it must be a record. 
With the success of this first batch, many new girls have come forward to follow suit, and to date, SEDI Ambujanagar has trained 214 girls and all of them have been placed in jobs in the electronics trade.

Village Enterprises = Lucrative Futures

Idrish Joshi started his own successful enterprise, despite losing both his arms, after studying at SEDI.
Entrepreneurship is giving young men, women and the disabled from rural communities, lucrative, flexible careers, and status in the community - thanks to the work of SEDI who actively promotes the establishment of new businesses among trainees.

With trades such as Beautician, Automobile and Mobile Phone Repairing well suited to entrepreneurship, small shops are popping up across villages due to the low cost of investment.  Poor salaries offered in these trades, along with long working hours, provide added incentive!  With family obligations and a desire to remain in their home communities to save on commuting time and costs, students are opting to start their own businesses - and are prospering as a result.

      Rural Entrepreneurs are Thriving!

Omprakash Panwar is one such successful entrepreneur.  Born and raised in Barmer, Rajasthan, he only studied to grade 6 due to the family’s financial difficulties and the lack of opportunity in the remote community.  He started working in the steel trade as a daily wage labourer and faced several failures before he heard of SEDI and decided to study Automobile Repair.  In 2015 he started his business, 'Panwar Auto Parts, Repairing & Service Centre' in Barmer, which soon expanded into 2 centres.   Today he supports his wife and 5 daughters by earning 1-1.2lakh per month from the 4-year-old enterprise - and provides employment to 2 others in the community.

It's a similar story for Kala Tak.  Once a housewife with zero income, Kala Tak realized her dream of opening her own beauty parlour having studied beautician course at ACF's SEDI in Nagaur Rajasthan.  Today, her successful unisex salon in Jodhpur turns over
Rs 1.5 lakh per month in peak wedding season, and she earns a regular Rs50,000 per month in down season whilst providing employment to 6 other SEDI graduates.

SEDI also encourages entrepreneurship among the disabled and has launched an initiative across 2 locations where over 213 differently-abled students have graduated from SEDI with 169 earning via their own businesses.  Idrish Joshi, who lost both his arms in an accident at the age of six, has developed a standing in the community and his own independence thanks to his small shop, where he helps community members with computer work and documentation - dreaming of expanding into photocopying soon to take his profits from Rs. 3000 per month to Rs. 8000!

      Secrets to Fostering Rural Entrepreneurship

So what is the secret recipe for success in nurturing entrepreneurs?  ACF's Prashant Ranga, SEDI in-charge, Marwar Mundwa, Rajasthan, believes that a key component is found in selecting the right student for entrepreneurship, and of course, supporting them on their journey as an entrepreneur.

'When we promote entrepreneurship, we are looking for a mix of ingredients in a person - the right family condition, the thinking of the student, their motivation … ' Prashant Ranga said.

"We encourage them to do research on the competition in the area, the need within the community, and to of course do a cost analysis to identify break even points after investment.  But most importantly, we try to ignite the spark within potential entrepreneurs.  We get them to imagine the name of their shop or parlour, envision their shop banner and signage, to feel what it would be like running their own enterprise and helping the community. It works!" Said Prashant.

"And of course, a key requirement we help our students with is how to source 'start-up capital' - we teach them to develop a proposal for a bank loan, how to access grants from the Government, or how to motivate their family and friends to support them - asking them to invest between 15,000-20,000Rs." Prashant said.

"At the end of the day, entrepreneurship is a journey.  We have found that if we give them too much technical knowledge at first, students find it very difficult.  After they have started their businesses in a small way, SEDI nurtures them to grow - guiding them on things like book keeping - simple expenditure, income and profit analysis.  We share success stories and we provide training on how to acquire customers.  For some trades, such as Automobile we encourage students to start with a toolkit - servicing customers from their homes, which helps build confidence to start their own business and grow from there." He said.

"In this trade, most students find it difficult to retain their jobs due to long hours and poor salary.  Automobile sector graduates are only getting 5000-6000Rs whilst working 8-10hours, however, if a student services clients on their own they can earn much more, for less hours committed. Additionally, the commute time and costs go down to save time in the day - giving them more time at home to help and support their families."

"Many successful students have old parents at home and after starting their own businesses, they have more time to support them." Mr Ranga explained.

"Lastly, entrepreneurs provide a great service to the community - helping reduce unemployment, providing valuable services and acting as role models to other youth. They see the practical experience of our graduates - growing from SEDI, starting their businesses and developing financial status in the community, which helps change perceptions of skilling and develop more interest in pursuing skill training."

      Impact to Date

SEDIs Entrepreneurship Program has helped more than 11,000 graduates start enterprises in rural communities - helping curb urban migration and support young people in building prosperity in rural India.

Prashant Ranga - SEDI In Charge, Marwar Mundwa, Rajasthan

All-inclusive Guide to Establish a Skill Training Centre

With a goal to establish 50 Skill and Entrepreneurship Institutes across India by 2020, ACF has been joining hands with like-minded partners to expand our footprint and do our bit to help address the skilling needs of the nation. 

Most recently ACF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with AU Small Finance Bank Ltd for establishing a new Skill Development Centre in Jaipur - taking the total number of SEDIs to 27. Through this centre, the skilling needs of youth in 30 nearby villages will be effectively addressed. The first batch of the centre has in fact started, with 50 students being trained in Banking Correspondence.

So what goes into the establishment of a new Skill Training Centre?  It is no small feat, and to understand the complexity of the process, Mr Ajit Barad, SEDI In Charge at Ambujanagar (Kodinar) Gujarat, sheds light on the steps ACF follows in setting up a new SEDI - highlighting the fact that 'quality training' is the most integral component to ensure the success of a skill training institute and its long term sustainability. 

  1. Identification of a good Financial Partner - with 27 SEDIs already in operation, ACF has honed a self-sustaining model for skill training, and in order to meet the enormous need and demand within the country, seeks like-minded partners to pool funds to establish new centres.  There are many benefits for partners - not only do our centres make a significant impact to the lives of youth, their families and the communities they live in, but a SEDI can also be good for business.  Many of our partners have found that the 'good will' they generate from within the community is priceless.  A skill training institute helps build rapport and solid relationships within the community, and enables partners to understand the values and nuances of a community - all valuable outcomes that help support the growth of their business, whilst giving back to the community in a positive way.

  1. Skills Need Analysis - It is necessary to conduct a detailed analysis of industry and trade in the areas, along with gaining an understanding of the youth mindset and their abilities.  What interests do they have? Parallelly we need to identify industries for opportunities for placement and employment.  What opportunities are available to them post training?  The idea is to find a match of both youth demand for courses and employer demand for skills and employees.  Sometimes youth are not interested in a course because they don't have the proper information or education on the trade.  For example, once whilst doing an impact study for nursing training - there were very few youth who were willing to explore this field.  But there was a huge industry requirement for nurses in the area and lots of career opportunity.  Initially we struggled to place students in the course, but once we had a few good success stories, we promoted them and their stories, the opportunities available to others - and it is now the biggest trade in Ambujanagar!  We have to take a judgement call on whether to initially offer that trade, and in the end we made the right decision.

  1. Identification of the Right Location & Building - identifying the right location is an essential element in the success of any SEDI.  If it is in the right position in the community, a convenient place, you will succeed.  It must be located close to a bus stand or other transport hub, so that students can easily come and go from their villages and homes to the centre.  Secondly there is a need to find a large building, for example, 10,000sqft area (for full-fledged centre).  It is vital to have space, good amenities and quality infrastructure - it helps with student mobilisation in the long run, as young people use word of mouth to spread the word on the quality of the centre.

  1. Trade Equipment & Fitout - We need to fit out the interior of the centre with the necessary tools and technical instruments/equipment/machinery to meet the training requirements for the trades chosen at the centre.  Secondly, it's necessary to include safety infrastructure to ensure the safety of students, and to inculcate safety as a core value and approach to skills in the workplace. Simultaneously we find good, experienced trainers to deliver the courses - this is critical of course! Administration and Accounts staff are also required. We also need to fit out the centre with proper furniture and assets to ensure there is an impression made for prospective students - this is important to make an impact in the minds of the youth who in this day and age, are quite sensitive and responsive to these things. 

  1. Mobilisation of Youth - Whilst all this is going on, we do community mobilisation to generate students for the new centre.  This involves a variety of strategies which really help us enter a new area.  Firstly, we hold Night Meetings where we get large numbers of youth attending, because they are otherwise going for 'daily wages' work during the day.  Here families and youth come together, and our field officers go door to door to promote the meeting, where information on SEDI and its courses is disseminated. It also provides a good opportunity for probing to understand the issues of youth and what challenges they have in going for skill training.  Secondly, we have door to door meetings where we ask one girl in a community to gather her friends (i.e. 10-11 friends) and then our community mobilisers visit, share information and ask about the goals of the youth to understand what they aspire for.  The very next day we organise a workshop at our centre, so they can come and see the centre for themselves and learn more details on each course. We do not take a 'marketing style' approach at SEDI - our approach is to support youth and help them meet their goals.  We make it all about them.  And the word of mouth generated from this does the rest.  Within 1 - 1.5 months using these strategies we can form a good batch of 20-25 students.

  2. Knowledge & Placement Partners - Once a SEDI is in place and we have good amenities, staff and students, we then shift our focus to placement.  This is a 1-1.5-month task.  If our students are trained well, including developing good soft skills, they will get a job - placement will come.  In order to find Placement Partners we invite employers to come and visit the centre and motivate students for their jobs.  This generates excitement and enthusiasm among students and is also good for employers in developing a solid human resource pipeline for their businesses - a common challenge.  As per our surveys in each and every sector, there is a huge requirement for good skills and employees.  Whilst placement is not so difficult, retention is a challenge - and we therefore provide holistic training to students to help tackle this.  We highlight possible challenges, develop soft skills, help manage expectations, and interact with parents also - inviting them to discuss their child development, growth and career 3 times during training. We also facilitate 'group placement' so that graduates are placed in jobs with batch mates to help them support one another and combat things like 'loneliness'.  Our handholding program supports graduates for 2 years post their training to help them overcome the challenges they face in their new jobs and careers.

  1. Training & NSDC Affiliation - We start the first batches of training and then we apply to the NSDC to gain formal affiliation.  This is an online process where we input a variety of data and get a centre ID. Then the NSDC comes to take an assessment of the centre and the training.  This affiliation aids credibility of the SEDI centre.

  1. Centre Progress Assessment - In order to assess the success of a SEDI after it has been operating for a few years, along with the quality of training delivered and outcomes for students, ACF undertakes a number of reviews and assessments. Firstly, we track our graduates from SEDI for the past few years to monitor their salary levels, career growth, retention rates and feedback from employers on graduate quality, to highlight areas for course correction at the centre. For example, the integration of new machine skills or technology skills into the curriculum, at the request of employers.  Secondly, we go into the community to take feedback from Community Advisory Committee's to identify areas to be addressed.  For example, there is a need to promote 'Tobacco Free' training for tobacco control among youth.  We integrated this into our curriculum and culture at SEDI with great success. We also discuss with trainers and partners issues and challenges that need to be taken into consideration.

  1. Course Correction, Quality Assurance & Curriculum Development - We also conduct monthly reviews of soft skills training to assess the value of this type of training and to adjust the methodology of delivery for optimum results.  We conduct quarterly and 6monthly reviews of curriculum and training delivery and have a strong monitoring system in place to support this, and where necessary we undertake course correction to continually improve what we do.

  1. Expansion of Offerings - After a SEDI has been established for a few years and stabilised, there is a need to develop an expansion strategy.  We assess optimum utilisation of the centre to ensure that the maximum number of youth are being trained. For example when we first started in Kodinar, we ran one shift from 9-6pm, but then we looked to start training in 3 shifts to optimise the number of students - this helped us to take our numbers from 700 to 1000 students in a short period of time. We also keep a finger on the pulse in the community and among industry to see if there is any need for new trades and courses. If we have a good placement opportunity for a new trade, and there is a community mindset for that, then we look to adopt it.  Additionally, we also look to expand existing courses.  For example, our placement partners had a requirement for new AC refrigerator operator skills - we simply added a new component into the existing Electronics trade to meet the market requirement, adding a new skill and doing it cost effectively without having to add a completely new course for that.

What are the key features for ensuring a successful skill training centre?  Ajit Barad stresses the need for quality training and quality placement.  This is the key - if you have this, the community comes to trust you and believe in you.  If you focus on this, the community believes that the institute will never do anything wrong by them.  Where so many other skill training providers focus on fancy infrastructure and the use of technology, we believe that our personal approach in the pre and post training phase with students, helps them to gain the most from their skill training experience and sets them up for strong careers, robust livelihoods and success in the workplace.

Ajit Barad - SEDI In Charge - Ambujanagar, Gujarat