Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Enabling Rural India ... Real India

The word Rural brings to mind dusty untarred roads, small block like houses and even hutments, poor people. From no electricity to unsafe drinking water and no toilets.  And all things that remain an enigma for people born and bred in cities.  But India is changing ...

My real experience of the villages and rural areas began in 2006 when I thought I could do something worthwhile for the Rural youth.  India is in the villages.  67% of population is rural even after 67 years of independence.

Last year, I joined Ruralshores.  Ruralshores has been setting up BPOs in the rural areas.  The basic insight that drove the setting up of Ruralshores was that city/town based domestic BPOs were being staffed by youth who had migrated from rural areas.

While the youth come with dreams of being able to do something worthwhile in life ... the cut-throat competition of the domestic BPO business keeps the salaries really low considering the basic living expenses in towns and cities.  So youth are constantly on the move looking for jobs that pay even slightly more.  The whole migration is also loading the infrastructure of the cities - making living tough economically as well as socially.

This lose-lose proposition is continuously being boosted inadvertently by all concerned. Govt doing so by supporting large employers in towns with sops.  Businesses consider rural as tough areas to work so keep figuring methods of tightening productivity and keep salaries lowest.  Skills and training providers continue to train people in the cities and towns for such jobs - since the numbers required are large.  All in all - everyone's struggling to make it work.

What RuralShores began with one center 5 years ago has now spread to 20 locations in 10 states and is providing employment to 2000 plus rural youth right near where they stay (within 10-15kms).  The journey has not been easy at all but clearly demonstrates that its not only possible to make the change happen but make it really impactful for the people, for the customers, and the social fabric of the community.

Challenges can be further eased and make it scalable if the Government gives the Rural businesses a priority.  The corporates become willing to explore outsourcing to rural locations ... quality is guaranteed and only requires a bit of patience ... will surely lead to long-term benefits for all.

The experience with Ruralshores is interesting and possibly a long-term game changer for India - I desperately hope so and will keep making my bit of the effort on the same!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Challenges in Skilling Rural Youth

I am not sure if these are challenges only with Rural youth or the challenges of youth in India in general.

I am writing here what I believe is happening and hence needs to be addressed by the country at large - not just the training community.

The training organizations moving into small towns and rural India struggle with meaningful skilling of youth.  When I say meaningful - is to say whether the youth are employable as accepted by Industry, or more importantly, the youth know that they need to do to work at it for a a couple of years before they are on track on their aspirations.

Here are a few critical challenges that I have observed in my experience with training the youth (in slums, small towns and rural areas):

1. Each student has had a varied exposure - challenging the standard and cookie cutter courseware and training.  This leads to dropping of interest after just the first few classes.  Unfortunately, the common challenge on top of this is the key belief that all of them need to learn English whereas the problem is in communication skills.  Another way of saying the same thing - ability to 'understand' a question and being able to share individual's own 'thoughts' on the matter.  So when they are taught 'English' they feel they are learning but actually dont end up performing when any one other than a teacher speaks with them.

2. Perception of what is the job they want varies, again, dramatically.  So the challenge begins with what course to join.  And even if the counsellors push them into a course - the dilemma continues through the course.  This leads to low learning motivation and at the end of the course - not necessarily striving for the job options.  Most of the rural youth are looking for government jobs and not linked with skill or interest.  There is a linked challenge of the salary being the key determinant of the job type.

3. Students are used to school and college education where they can get by even when they miss classes.  Their understanding of passing the exam as the main thing is deeply etched with 10-12 years of education.  What this does is that training - building skills with practice and hence attitude and specific skills beyond the required knowledge - is missed out practically for most students.

At each place and location these kept recurring and were the biggest hurdles to scaling the training and hence employability.  We have had piecemeal and temporary locational solutions but nothing concrete and scaleable yet.

The quest continues ...