How the USAID supported programme, Ek Mauka, is providing basic livelihood and employability skills to out-of-school deprived youth
If India is to realise its vision of being a world leader, it has to empower its burgeoning youth population by providing them with relevant education and skills. Currently, the lack of quality and relevance in the education system results in most of the children leaving school before they complete their basic education. Those who complete their education often lack basic skills, like communication, critical thinking, and life skills that can help them find employment opportunities once they are out of school. It is estimated that only 25% of technical graduates and 10 to 15% of general graduates have the necessary skills for immediate employment. Access to vocational training is also limited, with only 2% youth receiving formal and 8% receiving informal skills training.
This shortage of knowledge and skills has resulted in a workforce that does not meet the demands of the current and future job market that largely caters to a globalised economy. This in turn has led to an increase in the number of unemployed youth despite steady economic growth. Of those who are employed, a large proportion is underemployed with jobs that are not commensurate with their educational qualifications. The continued exclusion and disillusionment of these young people May prove costly for India in terms of social stability. Uneducated and unskilled youth tend to become socially marginalised; the resultant boredom and idleness can be significant drivers of violent extremism among such youth.
The government, civil society, and the private sector are all aware of the extent of this challenge. However, a holistic, coordinated effort to address this challenge has been lacking. Over the past few years, both the government and the private sector have made significant investments in this sector. The government has launched new programs and expanded existing schemes. However, the quality of the various government programmes is not consistent and significant gaps remain, including; poor linkages with emerging industries and the current job market; weak monitoring; and outdated pedagogy. The majority of these programmes do not assure job placement. Therefore, their credibility is low among potential students. Private sector efforts, on the other hand, mainly cater to better-off students and therefore are limited in their reach.
Given these gaps in skill development, a number of NGOs, funded by donor organisations and private foundations, have launched skill development initiatives for the poor and disadvantaged. Many of these programmes have been very successful, having placed a number of disadvantaged youth in new economy jobs. As the courses offered are short term and flexible and have no access barriers, they are also popular with students.
The USAID supported Ek Mouka programme provides basic life and employability skills to deprived out-of-school youth. Implemented by the CAP Foundation, a Hyderabad based NGO, the programme provides training to youth, aged 18-25, in market-oriented skills, such as computer usage, spoken English, communications, and customer relations to make them more employable. Poor and marginally educated youth are mobilised, provided training in the skills sought by industry, and then linked to jobs. The programme is designed in close collaboration with the private sector and fulfills their need for trained manpower. Apart from providing financial resources and sharing training costs, the private sector is also engaged in market surveys, curriculum development, classroom lectures, training, and placement. Partnerships have also been established with government and non-government organisations for supporting scale-up, implementation, technical cooperation, and resource mobilisation.
Over the past four years, Ek Mouka has provided training to over 100,000 youth across 15 states, with a placement rate of over 70%. The placement figure does not include a number of graduates opted to pursue further education instead of employment as a result of the programme. The average entry level salary of the graduates is ` 3500 per month and, in most cases, this has made a significant difference to the lives and families of these poor youth. The quality of the training has been ensured through a dynamic curriculum, digitised content, frequent training of trainers, regular assessments, and close monitoring, including tracking of students post placement. The entire process, from mobilisation to final job placement, was standardised and internationally certified (ISO 9001:2008).
Some of the key lessons learned from the implementation of this programme include:
- At every stage, close engagement of the industry is critical to the success of any skill development programme;
- The curriculum needs to be dynamic and flexible and must reflect the demands of local industry;
- Students need to be multi-skilled, particularly for entry-level jobs. Training them in specific technical skills limits their career path;
- Life skills, including workplace readiness skills, are a key component of any skill; development/vocational training intervention, especially if its target group is poor and disadvantaged youth;
- The trainers are a key link in the entire process. Adequate investment must be made to build their capacity; having trainers from the same community as the trainees help;
- Use of technology for delivering content, as well as for assessment and monitoring helps ensure quality in large scale programmes;
- Linking training to placement ensures accountability of the service provider;
- Education and skill development needs to be seen as a continuum. Skill development programmes should emphasise the importance of education in a career.
Ek Mouka has provided training to over 100,000 youth across 15 states, with a placement rate of over 70%
Through another initiative called Skills for Youth (SkY), USAID is attempting to use some of these lessons to strengthen current government programmes and policies on skill development. A holistic approach to skill development will need to have the following essential components:
- Improved quality of the secondary and higher secondary education systems, with an emphasis on critical thinking, communication, teamwork and strong career counseling. At the end of high school, students should be able to make a conscious decision on whether they will pursue higher education or vocational education;
- Improved quality of vocational training programmes. Programmes should be closely linked to the industry; provide strong life skills/workplace readiness skills; and be linked to job placement. While there could be a broad curricular framework at the national level, service providers should have the flexibility to adapt this framework to local industry demands;
- An integrated vocational education and higher education system. Students should be able to carry over credits from vocational courses to a university degree course;
- A parallel “second chance” system for those who have not been to school or dropped out of school early. This system should have provisions for lateral entry into the education system. Given the Right to Education and the government's emphasis on universal elementary education, such a parallel system should not be required in the long term.
Although the author is employed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and May or May not be those of the Agency.