Ready To Work- The Business Line

Business Daily from THE HINDU group of publications

Friday, May 01, 2009
Ready to work

Youngsters from disadvantaged sections of society are imparted employable skills to help them enter the organised sector..

Taru Bahl
Young and enabled: A session on spoken English skills held at Delhi’s Lodi gardens by Etasha, which works with adolescents from marginalised sections of society.

Taru Bahl

A bunch of adolescent boys and girls dressed in their Sunday best stand tentatively outside Haldirams, one ofDelhi’s popular fast-food houses. They nudge each other to take the lead. Sensing their hesitation, Meenakshi Nayar and her colleagues usher them in gently. The reason, they discover later, is that the youngsters feared they’d be thrown out of the place.

“The perception of glass ceilings, getting a rough deal, not finding equal opportunities and wealthier folks getting the better of them is deeply ingrained in their minds, many of whom come from slums and disturbed homes,” says Meenakshi, who heads Etasha Career Development Institute, a not-for-profit society set up in 2006 to create employability in the organised sector for young adults from marginalised and poor communities. The Haldirams outing is a favourite in the three-month programme.

Young abilities

Tapping youth power may be the flavour of the current election season, but for Meenakshi, an IIM-A alumni, young people have been central to her projects. Giving up a career as a senior human resource professional, she set up Eduserve, an organisation that looked at career guidance and sexuality education amongst adolescents. Dabbling in career planning helped her see the reality of children from underprivileged homes. The kids belong to families where fathers are contractual labourers — masons and carpenters or petty vegetable vendors and autorickshaw drivers, while mothers and older siblings work as domestic help. Few manage to scrape through Class X and this was her target group.

Meenakshi first undertook a survey through the Association for Stimulating Knowhow (ASK), an agency specialising in rural surveys. They interviewed 4,000 people in the 15-40 age group to find their dream jobs and aspiration levels, their current work and progress from first jobs. A parallel industry survey was undertaken to see where jobs existed and how they could match requirements in entry-level jobs in service sectors like retail, hospitality and call centres.

Training matters

Etasha was formed to bridge this gap through a three-month programme for youth in employable skills that included contextually relevant spoken English, basic computer/ Internet/ search skills and behavioural skills; the 20-member faculty largely comprised senior professionals in management, engineering and behavioural sciences.

Rather than expect students to come to them, Etasha’s community mobilisation team goes to markets, cricket fields and religious places where there is a large youth turnout. By locating centres in low-income, densely populated areas such as Madanpur Khadar Extension, Sadarpur in Noida and Batla House it caters to local populations because “the way forward is to have satellite centres which are cost-effective and convenient for students who may be keen but unwilling to commute long distance,” explains Meenakshi.

The curriculum ensured that students had an edge in grooming and understanding of service delivery culture with skill-sets that made them handy people around offices. Even though advertised jobs ask for students who have cleared class XII, Etasha’s pass-outs continue to make the cut. In three years over 80 per cent of its students have found jobs as cashier and sales assistant in retail stores (FabIndia, Sabka Bazaar and Café Coffee Day), crew member (McDonald’s) and telecaller (Vodafone, Bharti Airtel and Reliance); and even more specialised jobs as an insurance adviser or community mobilisation workers with NGOs.

Inter-personal skills

Special modules to strengthen inter- and intra-personal skills were included. “Anger management worked wonders and feedback from former students was that it drastically altered their lives. Docile mousy girls said they would not think twice before throwing objects in fits of frequent rage. Their anger was free flowing,” says Meenakshi, explaining that the environment they lived in created a lot of other ambiguities too, motivating Etasha to develop a session on personal dilemmas that looked at values, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses. Dilemmas like boastfulness versus recognition, and cheating versus helping threw up interesting observations.

Many of the youngsters thought talking about their achievements and special talent meant they were showing off. Also, helping a fellow student cheat or indulge in petty theft was a gesture of help and not deviant behaviour. Healthy debate allowed the youngsters to develop a better sense of themselves and the outer world — one they had hitherto observed only from a distance.

Imbibing ‘work culture’

The session on “world of work” prepared them for a structured work environment. Just understanding how the organised sector was different from unorganised sector, to which most of them belonged and were familiar with, was a challenge. “Concepts like tasks, goals, appraisals, performance and time management are alien to them. Getting them to value and adhere to discipline was key to how they would manage their working lives,” says Meenakshi. The three-month programme — three hours a day with just two holidays in between — was tough as they were not used to a regular work culture. But they made the stretch when they saw how much they were learning and how quickly the results would be evident. The desire to have a better future was the glue that bound them to Etasha.

On completion of the programme there is a certificate ceremony where the family and friends of the students are invited. Here, each student makes a speech in English and this feat shows their level of confidence and enthusiasm in donning a new life. “The task of getting a job is tough but it is not the end goal. The bigger challenge is to hold that job and move up,” says Rohit, who is an alumni of Etasha and presently a telecaller. He says that unless you learn to balance the demands of the workplace with the highs and lows of your personal life, you will lose your job within the first year. “Etasha prepared us for many such situations and groomed us so we would fit in with the corporate culture.”

For 18-year-old Rukhsana, getting to the class itself was a struggle. Her father resisted it but her mother accompanied her to every session. The girl would sit huddled in a corner, watchful but without participating. Every time a facilitator tried involving her in discussion she would burst into tears. Post training, she was a changed person. She got a job in an automobile ancillary firm and, later, at an alumni meeting no one could recognise her.

“Her entire persona had changed. It wasn’t just the clothes,” says Meenakshi. Her biggest gift was earning the father’s appreciation when she handed him her first salary of Rs 4,500. It was more than the combined income of what he, his wife and son earned. Plus her job was more respectable and secure.

Each student pays a subsidised fee of Rs 2,100, though the project cost works out to be Rs 6,300. For the first year Etasha had 100 per cent funding from Tech Mahindra Foundation and 75 per cent funding in the second year. Meenakshi wants her centre to be self-sustaining and scale up further as there is a huge demand for a service like this, recession notwithstanding.


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