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Hiring For Inclusion: A Journey Of Skilling Youth With Disability For Jobs

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In the first decade of this century, Andhra Pradesh had several self-help groups (SHGs)—women who were saving, borrowing, and generating livelihood opportunities for themselves as well as their communities.

As these groups grew, the government began to notice that the aspirations of children were different from their SHG-member mothers, who were mostly marginal farmers or weavers. The state felt that they needed to do something to fulfil these aspirations, and from this was born the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM)—a skilling mission under the Department of Rural Development in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

EGMM started in 2004 with a pilot—a Rural Retail Academy was set up in Warangal for youth who were 10th and 12th standard dropouts; local school teachers were taught to train them on customer-facing skills, and after six months, they were ready to be placed.

Kishore Biyani of the Future Group was the first one to hire these young people, and him doing so changed the way India looked at rural youth. It made people realise that: a) you didn’t need graduates with degrees for customer service, and b) rural youth, if skilled right, could get formal private sector jobs.

Prior to the establishment of the EGMM, government skilling programmes didn’t think of job placement as something they were responsible for. All of them did skilling for skilling’s sake. Now placement has become the norm in every skilling programme offered by either the government or the private sector.

EGMM was also able to demonstrate innovation at scale. However, it’s relatively easy to achieve scale when you are sitting inside the government. When I thought of what to focus on after rural youth, it was important for me to enter a space where there wasn’t an existing model for scale, and to prove that it could be done outside of the government as well. Disability was that space.

Moving To Disability

The statistics around disability are alarming—80% of the world’s disability population is in developing countries like India. Despite this, a decade ago, little was being done about it.

Cities with a booming IT industry like Bangalore and Delhi had organisations training and placing people with disability in jobs, but this was limited to 30 people a year at best. And most of them were urban and educated. However, 69% of youth with disability in India live in the villages, and at the time, in 2012, nobody was focusing on less-educated rural youth with disability. 

Related article: Designing for inclusion

There Were Many Challenges

When we went to the villages, we faced several obstacles:

  • Getting youth to join: Youth with disability who lived in rural areas were doubly disadvantaged: they were cut off from the job market because of their rural location, and they (and their families) didn’t believe that they could ever get a job.
  • Finding trainers: We were also faced with a shortage of people who could train these youth. Disability is one word, but within that word, there are different kinds of disability—speech impaired, visually challenged, physical disabilities, and so on—and each one of them has different needs. Even when we did find trainers who could work with disabled youth—sign language instructors, for example—they were ill-equipped to train in the short-term training formats that we had developed.
  • Providing them job opportunities: Companies came with a lot of mindsets. They would ask us “Can you give us youth who look like you and me? Will it be expensive to hire and manage them? Will my other employees have a problem if I hire your youth?”

There Is A Gap In The Urban Disabled Space As Well

As we started working with the corporates, some multinational companies started asking us, “Where are the youth with English, the ones who are educated?” The perception is that if the youth with disability are educated, they will perhaps get jobs on their own.

However, in most cases, educated youth with disability have low skill levels. They qualify as engineers, have an engineering certificate and so they aspire to get into the well-known global and Indian tech companies. However, their technical knowledge is poor since colleges don’t have special educators to guide them.

A diverse group of people (animated)
“The perception is that if the youth with disability are educated, they will perhaps get jobs on their own” | Picture courtesy: Rawpixel

The Market Is Beginning To Think About Disability More Actively

We are hearing companies talk about focusing on disability. So, while the timing is right, we need to shape how companies think and act on their interest.

Here are a few approaches that skilling organisations that work with youth with disability can adopt to ensure that larger numbers of corporates hire and retain these young people and that they do it in the right manner.

1. Try to place youth with disability in customer-facing roles

When they have to interact with customers, awareness about the issue of disability goes up automatically; you don’t have to work on that separately. We piloted this hypothesis by placing a speech- and hearing-impaired individual in a cashier’s job, with some simple workplace adaptations.

Three months later, the retailer ran a survey to ask their customers for feedback, and 95% of the respondents said that having a “silent” cashier had led to faster service. This insight—higher efficiencies, near-zero errors in an industry where margins are small—opened up almost 50,000 cashiering jobs for youth with disability in the retail sector.

2. Create a sensitive ecosphere

Hiring youth with disabilities is not just about matching profiles to jobs. We do sensitisation workshops, low-cost adaptations, accessibility audits, going as far as to sync companies’ existing software to ensure that hired youth are productive. Otherwise, it merely reiterates the myth that youth with disabilities cannot work.

Related article: Making education inclusive for children with disabilities

3. Build up jobs sector by sector

We did this with the automotive industry. We started with one company, Valeo, and hardwired all our best practices over there. More importantly, their HR director and I started talking about these innovations and the value provided by these youth at conferences and forums. As a result, 15 more auto companies started hiring youth with disability.

4. Teach portable skills and not specific job skills

Typically, skilling organisations give youth job-specific training—like say a three-day training in folding clothes. However, the danger with this approach is that if the folding clothes process stops, so does their job. It is important, therefore, irrespective of the sector, to teach English, communications, and life skills—skills that they can take across jobs. This allows them to be mobile across jobs and capitalise on the opportunities available.

5. Encourage companies to measure impact

An executive from a multinational company that we at Youth4Jobs work with said that our alumni manage 75 forms a day versus their average of 45-50. Once companies experience the business case and see the results, their senior executives become champions for the programmes.

6. Prepare companies to be ready for changes in the law

It is likely that one day, a particular state might suddenly decide to make the hiring of youth with disability mandatory in sync with the Right to PwD Act 2016 which speaks to the right of disabled to education and employment. And if that happens, other states will follow. It is important that companies are ready for it when it happens.

About the author: Meera Shenoy is the founder of Youth4Jobs, where she works on skilling young people with disabilities. She has been at the forefront of job-linked skilling for rural youth, tribal youth, and now youth with disabilities, at a scalable level. She was previously Executive Director, Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM), the first state government skilling mission. Meera has also consulted with the World Bank and the UNDP.

This article was originally published on India Development Review. It can be found here.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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