With opportunities opening up in the higher growth industries, disadvantaged urban youth, empowered by NGOs, find a way of climbing the financial ladder…

Jayanti Parmar, 22, son of a daily wage labourer working for a classy chain of restaurants, Shabana, Std.X drop-out turned refrigeration repair expert with Godrej, Deepti, a sales girl at the Westside Department store and Chhipa Fatima, kite-maker turned sales person at Big Bazaar, herald the new generation of young people in Ahmedabad who are honing special skills under the Market Aligned Skills Training (MAST) programme of the America India Foundation and joining the manufacturing, service and IT sectors.

Half a dozen of the girls behind the counter at the Pantaloons and Big Bazaar show rooms in Ahmedabad have been trained under the MAST programme. Some of them have become supervisors. The nursing attendants in a few of the smaller, private hospitals and nursing homes of Ahmedabad are full of enthusiasm, but still learning the ropes. All of them have garnered the requisite skills from the Livelihood Resource Centres run by the NGO SAATH in collaboration with AIF.

Partnerships

Some 45,000 disadvantaged urban youth have already been equipped with skills to access jobs in the high growth industries, matching the demands of the new economy. Over 75 per cent have found placements. By 2012 AIF hopes to train and place 100,000 youth in jobs not just in Gujarat but in Rajasthan, Bihar, Punjab and West Bengal. Everywhere there is partnership with a local NGO and a market scan to identify jobs and skills required by the economy.

With the under-25 population growing rapidly and urbanising, harnessing their potential by providing them the right skills is critical for the country's continued economic growth, says Tarun Vij, country head of AIF, India. They can find employment with BPOs, in the mushrooming malls demanding trained staff for counters of Big Bazaar, Pantaloons, Café Coffee Day, Reliance Fresh or Tata Croma. But without the requisite skills Indian youth are unemployable in the new job market, says Vij.

Under the MAST programme, all girls and boys who have passed Std.VIII are eligible for skills training, and pay Rs .500 for the three-month course, although per candidate the training cost is approximately Rs.4,500. The Gujarat government seeing the potential of the project has, through its Urban Development Mission, matched AIF's investment 3:1. Currently with SAATH's support, urban youth are being prepared for skilled jobs in eight cities of Gujarat.

After identifying industries that need skilled workers, there is a robust community outreach effort to enroll trainees. The curriculum is then developed and customised for the needs of different industries. At all stages the potential employers are involved in ensuring that the correct skills are given. Many of the guest lecturers are from the industry. Reaching work on time, speaking English, dressing appropriately and dealing with customers/ clients or patients (if it is a hospital job) are part of the work orientation. As per requirements of employers the ethics of professional life are ingrained into the first generation of office goers.

Rajendra Joshi of SAATH points out 40 per cent of the trained youth have been absorbed by local enterprises, 30 per cent by medium sized enterprises and the rest by multinationals. With skills and a new confidence to access entry-level jobs, young people are improving their standards of living and building on the financial security of their families.

The story of Jayanti is truly inspiring. In 2006 after clearing his Std.XII exam, he did the course at SAATH's outreach organisation Umeed and joined Café Coffee Day. Within a year he was earning Rs 4500 a month. With his confidence zooming and comfortable with his newly acquired smattering of English, he moved to work with the Singapore chain Pasta Mania as counter-in-charge. There was a modest hike in wages. The next job was as a manager with Chocolate Room and the salary rose to Rs 6500.

To grow in the hospitality industry, Jayanti realised the importance of a government certificate but a degree from the Institute of Hotel Management at Rs 300,000 was beyond his reach. Then he saw an advertisement that enabled the poor to access the course. “I was able to do a special, one and a half months course at the Institute without paying a paisa and obtained a government certificate,” he says. With both experience and a government certificate he has joined Barbecue Nation of the Shayagi Group and is all set to work his way up in the hospitality sector. Simultaneously he has joined the B.Com course.

Records

Shabana did a course in refrigeration at one of SAATH's Livelihood Resource Centres and got a job with Godrej. After two years she joined the teaching faculty of SAATH on a salary of over Rs 8500. After marriage she has moved out of Ahmedabad. Deepti, who has studied Gujarati literature in college, is a sales woman at the Westside retail store earning Rs 1900 a month. She is a great support for her family. She is conscious of the status of her uniform and speaks in English to the large number of NRI customers. While her immediate goal is to become a sales officer in the company so that she can take home Rs. 5500 plus, her real dream is to become a data entry operator by improving her computer skills at the Resource Centre.

For Chhipa Fatima, 31, a divorcee, the biggest challenge is to provide good education to her 13-year-old son so that he can access a respectable job. After her divorce she worked as a daily wage labourer. Then she began making kites at home and selling them to a shop earning every month Rs.1500. After a three months course at SAATH's Resource Centre she joined Big Bazaar as a sales assistant a year ago. Now she brings home Rs. 2100 and her world has suddenly opened up. She is confident of working her way up to higher positions so that she can take home eventually at least Rs. 5000. Fatima stays with her parents, her brother and five sisters. Her father is a tailor and her brother works in a cycle repair shop. Each of them earns Rs. 3000 and Fatima's contribution has added to her self-esteem.

Nikita, Jaishree and Jagruti have completed their high school but did not have the money to join a regular nursing school. There is a shortage of nurses in the hospitals and nursing homes mushrooming in Ahmedabad. A regular course at the few nursing institutes in Gujarat is expensive. So when Umeed announced its three months, Rs. 500 course for nursing assistants the three girls joined up. On completing the course they got jobs in Samved hospital. While 19-year-old Nikita is earning Rs. 3500 a month, Jaishree and Jagruti are taking home Rs. 2000 a month. Within six months of joining Samved they learnt to manage patients, give injections, administer drugs, make beds, fix canulas and catheters. In fact a lot more training happens on the job says Kimnar Shah, the administrator of the hospital. In some of the smaller hospitals they work closely with doctors to improve their skills. Then they move to bigger hospitals for nursing jobs or go into private practice as geriatric care givers earning anything from Rs 8000 to Rs 12,000 a month.

In the small room on the third floor office of the Bal Raksha Trust, a BPO, Hemant Kumari, 26, and nine other young girls are busy calling a long list of donors in Ahmedabad and seeking a donation of Rs 300 a month for the care of needy children. The pleasant female voices are able to open up purse strings, says Uttam Motwani who runs the BPO. Hemant Kumari, who was studying for an MA in Gujarati, came to Ahmedabad to learn computers. She joined Umeed's office management course and in addition to improving her prowess with the computer, brushed up her speaking skills. “Though well qualified, to access a job I needed the support of Umeed,” she maintains. For Bal Raksha Trust she generates at least Rs. 4500 every month. She gets an incentive if she is able to bring in more than her quota. Uttam Motwani has 10 girls working for him but needs 10 more operators and has asked Umeed to find them.

Chirag Desai who has been recruiting the Umeed trained skilled workers for Big Bazaar and now Tata Croma, says the young, desperate for jobs, are sincere and hard working.

As the first generation of office goers in their families they value the opportunity given to them. Chirag, after recruiting them puts them through rigorous on-job training for six months. About 60 per cent sail through the training and stay on. Uniforms, shoes, identity cards are big attractions for these young workers. Those who stay on earn Rs 5000 to Rs 6000 a month and it is a big treat for their parents to come and see their children at work in these posh bazaars.