Sunday, May 12, 2013

Skill development center experience at Gujarat Ambuja

Last week, my work took me to Saurashtra area of Gujarat and I covered three districts in a span of 4 days. It is the coastal line of Gujarat where the Trust has been working towards reducing the impact of salinity ingress, which is the impact of reduction in soil fertility on account of salt water percolating into agricultural land. The visit was done to understand the work being done by few of the organizations in that area towards skill development of youth. It is to be understood that skill development of youth is crucial both for ensuring that there is availability of trained human resource for the economic growth and secondly, in the absence of options for working, the likelihood of turning the demographic dividend into liability looms large.

The problem statement reads thus 'Nearly 80% of new entrants to the workforce in India have no opportunity for skill training. Against 12.8 million new entrants to the workforce per annum, and a target of skilling 500 million people by 2022, the existing capacity is to train only 3.1 million per annum. How will this divide be bridged in a short time?' [from ORF newsletter on skill development]

Various initiatives have been taken by the Central government and also by some specific state government to trigger useful work in this domain. I felt specifically about the experience of one of these visits that i made recently to the magnificant township of Gujarat Ambuja Cement in Ambujanagar, Kodinar taluka in Junagadh district. The work done by the organization in the area of agriculture is something that needs to be seen to be believed in a geography that has been under drought. The water management has been amazing along with efforts in the area of increasing the productivity of land.

view from Gujarat Ambuja township
The organization is spread out of several states and other than its chief business of manufacturing cement, it also runs skill development centers through its foundation 'Ambuja Cement Foundation'. The centers are termed SEDI- Skill and Entrepreneurship Development Center. There are 17 such centers across various states in total.

Skill development center at Kodinar
Inorder to understand the magnitude of the problem and the need for such interventions, one has to go to those geographies where you have youth with no hope for dependence on agriculture based livelihood and who have dropped off from mainstream formal education for various reasons viz. financial problems at home, lack of quality of education and hence no interest in continuing, inability to see future in the flow of formal education etc.Lot of these youth enter the cities and join menial work and end up in living a dissatisfied life marked with drudgery.

Some of the interesting aspects that I learnt from the coordinator of this center- who according to me was really well suited for the role which entails labouriously working with the grassroot people in a far flung rural area Kodinar. He mentioned that he was one of the top 5 master trainers in Gujarat Government in the area of Natural Resource Management and his friends were highly sceptical when he chose to shift to this place all the way from Ahmedabad (an important city for both business and cultural center in Gujarat).  This was something that he answered when i asked him specifically about his own background in this domain of work.

Some of the interesting points:

1. The target group comprises of students whose parents must mostly be either not holding any agricultural land and would be involved as labour in other land owners farms. This ensures that the students who come to them are actually deserving and hence would value the inputs being given.
2. The engagement with community was fundamental to get students since how do you distinguish yourself amongst 20 other private services providers whose ads they were seeing every day. They went ahead and actually discussed their dream with the villagers on what was their aspiration about their youth that they would want fulfilled. On learning that they wanted to have a good school in their vicinity and that it couldn't get done for some reason, they motivated them with supporting the foundation with their own efforts to build a skill development school. So people pitched in with their skills on electrical fitting, flooring etc. Thus the cost of building the center was significantly brought down and more importantly, there was a sense of ownership amongst the community. These are very sensitive conversations and the challenge can't actually be explained through words. This is a complete leadership challenge according to me since you are trying to offer something to a group who has no inkling of what work being agriculture actually is.
3. The curriculum was prepared after due diligence of studying the existing course material available through ITIs and NCVT and realizing that they are much behind the modern technology that is in requirement. The need was assessed by visiting various organizations and understanding the technologies and practices being used by them. At present they run courses on Electrical works, welding, nursing, BPO entrance training etc.
4. The trainers who were brought in were people who had spent significant years in that discipline. It was interesting to note that they didn't go for people who wanted to train because they didn't have any better option. They thought in vocational training, the best people would always want to be in practise and hence all their trainers are people who either work in Ambuja plant or people who retired after significant services given in the areas like nursing etc from outside. The trainers are experts in their domains and are more practioners than teachers and hence most of their inputs are actually given through working on live models.

5.The training is done by starting with videos as against showing them text from books as they realize that these are students who have not had a great time with books and thats one reason they had to drop off. So better start with methods that they would be more comfortable with. The batches are divided keeping in view the need to optimize the availability of both machines and classrooms and understanding how do you make the best of the limited resources. Gujaratis as a community would probably be the best in India in this capacity as they have proven this in various business spheres.

Hands on training to the students. Trainer standing to the left
 The center has tied up with Gujarat Government modular skill development program scheme and hence students are able to get one certificate from the center, one from the government (after formal assessment) and a marksheet at the end of it. The courses have reasonable demand from the market since placement is given key priority and they see to it that students who actually go from rural to urban centers are able to adjust to the significantly different environment that they find in the cities. It is to be noted that these youngsters get employed for around 8000 to 11000 Rs per month and they are taught how to manage their financials in these compensation levels and also ensure that they are able to develop their skills further so that their career growth is secured. At present over 6500 students are able to complete these short term courses every year.
The institute also emphasizes on students entering through proper competitive process so that they are able to value the job that they get at the end of it. There is significant effort made to ensure that students develop the attributes of communication, team work, work ethics etc,which are fundamental and can't actually be taught through classroom based methods. In the image below, we can see students actually coming and speaking for a minute or two on what was the interesting thing that they learnt in the last one month. This is done every day before starting the sessions so that students get to learn to speak in an open forum in English.

Student coming and expressing his key learnings in the month in front of the whole group during morning assembly

It is to be noted that since they also train girls to become nurses, they have to take added care when ensuring their employment in urban centers. There are cases of harrassment of girls in private hospitals and hence due interest is taken to validate the credentials of the hospital and atleast two nurses are sent in one hospital. They have provided all contact details for close follow up.

I really liked the well grounded and thought through approach that the organization had adopted and considering the difficulty in starting vocational training for the manufacturing sector particularly in rural centers, i think this was a promising story. The coordinator was right in expressing that one may really not get to understand the core challenges of running such centers by referring to secondary reports alone..

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