By 2020, the average age in India will be 29 years, making it one of the youngest countries in the world. Around 12-15 million youth are joining the workforce annually and it is estimated that in the next decade over 250 million young people will join the workforce. According to various industrial surveys, 75-80% of employed people are not fit for their current jobs and are not properly skilled. Less than 5% of the country’s workforce is formally skilled. For rural youth the situation is even worse, as a lack of exposure, education and skills forces them to migrate to cities as labourers. The farming sector, which employs over 124 million cultivators and 107 million agricultural labourers, is growing at barely 2% per annum, while the larger economy is growing at a rate of 7% per annum. There is clearly an urgent need to provide youth with the skills and education to make them employable in non-farming sectors and successful in the changing market economy.
The story of Bhavana Bharda summarises the struggles and successes of a large number of rural youth. A 20-year old from Juthal village of Junagadh District, Gujarat, Bhavana had left formal education because of the poor economic conditions of her family. Her father was a landless labourer with an annual income of less than US$ 420, struggling to meet the basic needs of his family. Bhavana had always been a very bright student and was determined to support her family. One day she heard about the Yuva Junction centre run by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) through one of the mobilisers who was visiting her village. Seeing the range of opportunities on offer for youth skills development, education and entrepreneurship, Bhavana – despite her limited schooling – was determined to earn income for her family to help her family. She visited the Yuva Junction Maliya centre for some counselling and subsequently enrolled in and completed the CRM Domestic Non Voice (BPO) course. With these new skills in telephone customer assistance, Bhavana secured her first job with a starting salary of US$ 113 per month. Her determination and confidence helped her to move to Ahmedabad city and be the first girl to leave her village to work in a big city, a source of pride for her family. Since then many opportunities have opened up for Bhavana; she is now working in HDB Finance and earns US$ 253 per month. She supports her family by sending home half of her income, which her father is using to invest in agriculture and to develop assets. When asked about the programme, Bhavana said:
“Yuva Junction played a vital role in my life. It is my mentor and guide. I am very thankful to Yuva Junction. I am more confident today and can talk to people with ease.”
Since 2007, thousands of youth like Bhavana from remote villages and tribal areas have been joining Yuva Junction centres to get training on employability skills and employment placement in growing sectors like retail, BPO, telecom and banking. To bridge the digital gap between rural and urban India, the programme is encompassing emerging market-driven courses including retail sales, BPO, and accounting, alongside more traditional trainings in stitching and beautician skills. In all these domains, the programme provides placement support to match these youth to dignified, skill-appropriate employment opportunities.
As well as domain specific training, Yuva Junction offers youth a chance to develop their basic computer skills, Internet know-how, basic English and life skills. Modules are given through blended learning videos, classroom training, role play, market scans and exposure visits. At present, the initiative – supported by longstanding partners including Microsoft, Quest Alliance, NASSCOM foundation, Axis Bank Foundation, the Government of India and local communities – operates through 17 training centres situated in remote areas across two states: Gujarat and Bihar. Over the last 10 years, it has trained more than 35,000 youth on digital skills. Since 2012, after adopting a market-driven approach, 5,000 young women and men have completed training in employability skills and 3,500 have secured employment with annual starting salaries of US$ 1,200 - US$ 1,500, a decent income in the Indian context.
In recent years, mobile phone and Internet technologies have reached even the most remote areas of India. As a result, the aspirations of rural youth have also changed. Not only do they want to work in urban centres but they also aspire to become entrepreneurs, to complete higher studies and become professionals. To cater to these changing aspirations, Yuva Junction has started an entrepreneurship development programme for tribal youth. The initial success is very encouraging and in the last two years, more than 50 youth have become entrepreneurs, employing around 150 local community members.
What’s next? In collaboration with Microsoft, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) is in the process of creating its first rural digital service delivery centre in Gujarat. This service will support the establishment of modern enterprises in the area – leading to increased employment opportunities that match the skills and aspirations of rural millennials who are in search of a better livelihood.
By Vivek Singh, Senior Manager (Youth Development) and Shabya Baroi, Manager (Skills Development), Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India)