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Bridging The Employability Gap

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By Shajan Samuel:

Self explanatory, nobody need explain the meaning of ‘Demographic Dividend’. India’s trump card during the recent high growth period – the so-called ‘demographic dividend’ was the result of a mistake, and that mistake is about to come back and whistle in our ears. We need our youth to become productive quickly, with more than 93% of jobs being in the unorganized sectors; implying that we need more jobs that require employees to provide manual labour, than mental labour. This Demographic Dividend which comes once in a life time, can very soon morph into a Demographic headache if we fail to skill our youth quickly. India’s sector wise GDP is split 17%, 28%, and 55% in agriculture, industry and services, respectively. The employed workforce is split 52%, 14%, 34%, correspondingly. The disproportionate services GDP contribution is an anomaly in a poorer country like India. The vast majority of service employment in India is in low-level and low-paying industries. The contribution of higher-level industries to the services GDP is driven by the information technology and software sectors which do not employ large numbers of people. We need the likes of states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to fire up. These are the states where the demographic explosion is going to come about from but will contribute insignificantly to the GDP. The laggards will have to become the front runners in every sphere, though the challenges are insurmountable.

That’s the good news. In the not-such-great news, finding the right people for all these new jobs may be harder than it appears. On the face of it, there is enough supply to supplement demand. After all, there are 12.8 million new candidates on the job scene every year. But when you delve deeper into their skills and qualifications, you wind up with a large subset of people who are inadequately trained and deficient in several core skills. Clearly, the need of the hour is skills-based training that can boost employability.

Stringent hiring standards in recent years have thrown the employability gap into sharper focus. Today’s employers are looking for candidates with well-developed communication skills, including proficiency in spoken English. While industry knowledge is vital, companies also value employees who can demonstrate adaptability, innovativeness, and the ability to think on one’s feet. Also high on their wish list are candidates with people-friendly skills who can successfully interact with customers and with their own team members.

Unfortunately, many in the current crop of candidates lack these critical skills. They find it hard to cope in a fast-paced environment that puts importance on effective communication and independent thinking.

How do we begin to address this issue? What can we do to ensure that our candidates are job-ready from Day One? The answers lie in one direction: our education & training system.

Traditional colleges are currently not meeting expectations when it comes to delivering quality training. Their textbook approach to education doesn’t provide the practical perspective that students need in order to be workplace ready. The classroom experience in many colleges is stuck in time and based on outdated curricula. When course offerings are changed, it is not based on a dialogue with companies to ensure that the changes are relevant to the business environment.

Perhaps because of this disconnect between degree-based colleges and employment, many of today’s youth don’t pursue higher education. Currently, out of the 15 to16 million students enrolling in colleges every year, barely half a million go on to graduate. A look at the broader population presents an equally grey picture. In 2009, out of the 232 million youth in the 20-34 age group, only 10 million opted to join a college-level program.

Traditional institutions, thus, have their work cut out for them. They need to work harder to improve their programs while showing solid results in employment outcomes.

In the meantime, it is up to the vocational training industry to pick up the slack in the system by supplying what it does best: practical and job-oriented training.

There is a real need for institutes that can accurately assess students’ strengths, develop their core skills in related areas, and then connect them to potential employers. Vocational training can then serve as either a substitute or as a supplement to traditional college education.

Currently, organised vocational training is still evolving in the country. Many institutes that focused solely on technical training in the initial years have tried to branch out into other areas but with limited success. They have largely operated as islands of training that are only weakly linked to the working world, and that has been their problem.

In order to be truly effective, vocational training should always have a finger on the pulse of industry. This requires ongoing interaction with companies to understand their hiring requirements and their candidate wish lists. By processing this input, institutes can gain deep insights into what employers are looking for in the people that they hire. They can then design programs that are truly aligned with industry and workplace needs. When combined with tools such as on-the-job training and e-learning, this will very quickly translate into greater employability and job preparedness for all of their students.

There is no denying that a candidate skills gap is weighing down India’s employment system. Quality vocational training can be part of a quick and nimble response to the problem. Done right, it can help to bridge the gap and bring supply in line with demand in the marketplace.

Inclusive growth can only happen when we uplift more students reeling under the BTL line and give them training leading to employment. The dichotomy between the public and private is pivotal to bringing both scalability and skill to move things at a faster pace. We need speed in execution.

State Governments run various schemes in this direction. One such scheme run by the A.P. Government is the “Employment Guarantee Marketing Mission Scheme” where the Government partners with education agencies to train and place students from BTL Line. The Government reimburses the entire fee including boarding. The programs are for 400 hours predominantly in retail, sales, marketing, customer service etc. The highlight of the Program has been the placement success which is currently clocking at 70%, Companies like Café Coffee day and Macdonald’s in the Hospitality sector, Big Bazar and others in Retail, Hindustan Lever’s in FMCG hire massively. We need many more such state Government led and funded programs. 58% of our graduates suffer from some sort of skill deficiency, and require last mile intervention to make them employable. Companies don’t want to pay for trained man power, and students want to pay for jobs and not for training.

Highest leverage solutions:

– Reforming the Apprentices Act. It is a matter of shame that India only has 2.5 lakh apprentices while Germany has 6 million and Japan has 10 million.
– Need a shared framework between employers and academia; e.g. TNEF, ICP’s
– Making government money available for private delivery. This needs contracting skills. The task can be accomplished through vouchers or by routing social spending like NREGS to skills.
– Vertical mobility. Need NVEQF to create a corridor between certificated, diplomas, associate degrees and degrees.
– Performance Management. Need to create the fear of falling and the hope of rising.

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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