Livelihood College is the new address for youth of Dantewada who, disoriented by years of Naxal violence, see it as a new beginning

Just 11 months into its existence, the Livelihood College in Dantewada has become the most sought after address in Chhattisgarh. Having been affected over the past several years by Naxal violence that has also affected the quality and delivery of the most basic services such as health, nutrition and education, Dantewada has a very low literacy rate of 33.2 per cent. There are a large number of youth who have missed out on formal education. As young people growing up in a context of inadequate essential services, disrupted social structures, limited livelihood opportunities and increasing (and unaddressed) dilemmas of identity, the needs of the youth in the region are large and varied.

While the educational needs are being addressed by the district administration through several innovative initiatives, the need for creating livelihood opportunities for those who have dropped out of schools or have not been able to complete the formal education cycle continues to be enormous.

It was at this point that the District Collector of Dantewada, O.P Choudhary, embarked upon the idea of establishing the Livelihood College to train young people for a livelihood. The aim was to create, for young people especially low-educated, unskilled and unemployed youth from the district, employment and self-employment opportunities catering to their livelihood needs through a variety of training and placement models at a centralised location with completely free residential facilities.

“I realised that even within the district there was a huge shortage of skilled manpower. And getting the youth trained was even more difficult because a large percentage of them had been out of the formal schooling system due to violence,” Mr. Choudhary told The Hindu.

Thus was born the Livelihood College in 2011 with its unique characteristics. It has no admission criteria. Anyone who has completed Class V or holds a graduate degree — both are eligible for admission. “The College provides residential facility which has made it even more attractive for students,” Mr. Choudhary explained.

It provides a positive physical and social environment along with training for the overall development of students without distinction of educational background, financial background, caste and religion. Quality training is imparted through certified training agencies and state-of-art infrastructure.

Various government departments were providing training in different trades in the district to tackle this issue but due to lack of coherence, these training programmes were conducted in a scattered and ad-hoc manner and were limited in their scope. The emphasis was restricted merely to training the candidates and limited attention was being paid to the output in terms of placement.

A review of the college by RedR-India and UNICEF titled ‘Creating Opportunities and a World of Possibilities for the Youth — Livelihood College, Dantewada’ says the college scored in its flexibility in terms of selection of candidates as well as implementation and duration of various training programmes. The training programmes are selected and the duration is fixed according to the local needs as well as new emerging potential market needs. The college provides complete residential facilities with free food and stay to candidates as well as the teaching staff. This is essential in the context that low-income families in South Bastar and Dantewada districts unable to afford their children’s stay at the district headquarter.

Provision of state-of-art training facilities and top-class infrastructure wooed candidates to the college as a result of which it received roaring response from the youth of the region. All these put-together became a highly attractive package for top-notch training agencies like IL & FS, IndiaCan, and ISAP, the review says.

RedR-India is part of the RedR International network, a humanitarian, non-profit organisation, which maintains a register of experienced humanitarian professionals who are available to assist governments and external support agencies that work in the humanitarian sector. “This (training and exposure) prepared the candidates for skilled employment and self-employment opportunities through various training programmes in different trades and in the course of training gradually groomed and moulded their attitudes and personalities through soft-skills classes and interactions with peer group so as to muster confidence to take-up employment outside the district/State, too.” In 11 months since the inception of the college, 57 skills have been imparted to 2023 candidates.

The Livelihood College started with training on solar power plant installation by the Chhattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency (CREDA). In the beginning, most of the courses were sponsored by the district administration. The training fee was sponsored through the Integrated Action Plan scheme and the lab equipments and machinery were sponsored through Backward Regions Grants Fund. Later, the district administration got the courses sanctioned under the livelihood scheme of the Centre.

The Indira Gandhi National Open University-based DCA course is fully sponsored by the district administration, including the training fees, infrastructure required and other recurring costs through convergence of various schemes. Since these courses receive huge response from candidates, the district administration has already built the requisite infrastructure in the college to hold classes in such large numbers, including a computer lab where the students are taught in eight different batches.

The Livelihood College provides the agencies the space to conduct their trainings as well as complimentary residential facilities to the trainees who come for the courses.

Of the 1059 trainees trained under the College through CREDA, IndiaCan, IL&FS SESS, Security Guard Training and L&T, there have not only been students from Dantewada district but also from other districts like Durg, Rajnandgaon, Bilaspur, Sarguja and Narayanpur. The neighbouring districts of Sukma and Bastar have also benefitted from the College and about 21 per cent and 5 per cent of the trainees come from these two districts respectively.

Over 16 different courses have been conducted under the Livelihood College umbrella in the past 11 months. The IL&FS courses have a team that looks after the placements. This team, placed in Raipur, identifies and liaises with companies and hotels where their students can be placed. The IL&FS SESS course trainees are placed with hotels in Raipur and Bilaspur such as Hotel GT Star, Hotel Celebrations and Hotel Grand Amba.

The placement numbers show a positive trend regarding acceptance and aspirations of urban jobs amongst young people in the region. However, this information needs to be analysed in light of information about retention. While the exact retention rates are unavailable, it will be safe to infer on the basis of interactions that about 70 per cent of the students placed in urban centres have returned home. Key informant interviews with returnees revealed a multitude of reasons for the same, including adjustment problems, disconnect between expectation and experience of the working world, too little money and inconsistencies on the employer front.

Undeterred by the students returning to their homes, Mr. Choudhary said even if they come back, they perform much better. “Exposure to the outside world is as important to them as education or training. And our courses are designed to cater to the market demands like retail and service sector and local needs like plumbing, electrical repairs and other related things.”