An Experiment in Rural Employability

Anand Kumar Padmanaban is a trained engeneer who has worked in pharmacuticals, program development and human resources. The REAP (Rural Employability Advancement) program was developed by Environment for Learning Advisory & Development Outcomes (ELADO), a social entrepreneur group from Bangalore, India. ELADO, helps evaluate talents most needed by hiring companies, and then focus on building capabilities for students in rural India to fulfill those demands. Contact Anand:


Knowing what an employer is seeking and being able to accurately judge the worth of a candidate for a job are two very similar issues. A program that integrates the concerns of both the employer and the student seeking employment is a win-win situation for both. This was the core problem we were trying to address.

The key stakeholders who play a role in the employability ecosystem are the employers, educational Institutions and the students who graduate from these schools. Students have only their academic credentials to showcase and with the large number of students graduating every year, the rural student who has come from a humble background and with very few resources or knowledge sources struggles to compete with his/her urban counterpart.

The challenges we sought to address is the yawning gap between the haves and the have not's in terms of access to good quality pedagogy, guidance towards career planning and counselling. We intended to make a difference in this aspect.

As many would probably know in the last two decades, the Information technology and BPO industry in India has contributed significantly to Indian economic growth in terms of GDP, foreign exchange earnings and employment generation. In a socio-economic axiom, rural India lags behind urban India on several critical parameters, including education and employment.

When we talk of employability, it is basically the ability of the graduating student to be gainfully employed. Our research suggests that the mainstream education system does not equip a lot of the formally qualified with adequate numerical, verbal and analytical abilities.

We chose to implement project REAP (Rural Employability Advancement Program) in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India:

• In the age group of 15-29 the breakup is around 28% of students who are in the socially disadvantaged groups. The thought was to see if we can get the attention of the students at a young age so that we can mould them in terms of making effective career choices and enable uplifting of the younger generation.
• In the age group of 15-29, we looked at two target populations - the first group is the 15-17 age group, these will be students who will be in their 10th standards and will be close to making decisions on pursuing their options for 11th and 12th standards or looking at career options around technical skills (ITI etc)
• The second target is the age group of 21-23, these will be students who will be close to completing their bachelor's degrees and who will need help in either getting a job or pursuing higher education options.

There were 2 key objectives to the REAP program

(a) Help Reduce High School Drop-outs by career counseling &
(b) Help increase employability for the graduates

We emphasised that both the objectives are independent in nature.

For reducing school dropouts in Tamil Nadu, we chose to reach out to government run schools in the district of Tiruvallur through several NGO's. The program for middle school and high school students involved a 3 day extensive career guidance and counseling program where the emphasis was on helping students identify their core strengths, helping counsel them that education was one way they could help improve their lives and surrounding areas. A comprehensive career manual was distributed to over 800 students of government schools in the district of Tiruvallur, in the state of Tamilnadu.

Our second focus area was to look at employability training for graduating students. We chose to implement a 7 day skills and capability upgradation training program we began with Hill side Academy, a business school located in rural Bangalore.

Hill side Academy has around 30 students in their Business School (most of these students come from agriculture background and the exposure to real time world was very low). Our target audience were the third semester students. We engaged these students with the given list of program
• Communication: knowing I need to make a choice; starting early;
• Understanding: understanding myself and my options, learning what's important;
• Exploring: expanding my options and identifying those that interest me;
• Evaluating: reviewing, selecting, and prioritizing my options;
• Acting: creating an education plan;
• Reflection: reconsidering my decisions, knowing I made a good choice.

The program focused on enabling of an individual's Knowledge, Skills and Attributes (KSA) for Suitability and Employability so as to develop fitment criteria for individuals with respect to possible roles within an organization. The result of the analysis was used to build career guidance and management models for the individuals.

Some of the outcomes from the program for the potential job seeker were:
• Understand, Harness and Leverage their strengths through quantitative interpretation
• Access to Industry experts and Career professionals
• Access to industry & technology specific Knowledge Management learning systems

We knew that for expanding our reach, we would need to develop an online model called the employability ecosystem engine (E3). We have developed the engine and are in beta test now. The full fledge engine will be launched from March 2012.

We are also in the process of developing industry based learning models with the intention to ensure skill and competency development for various roles in industry verticals such as IT, Telecom, Electronics, FMCG, Foods & Beverages, Consumer Durables, Pharma, Bio-Tech & Healthcare.

A sample of our REAP program is referenced below for knowledge sharing and feedback:

Enhancing key soft Skills required for the various roles: 40 Hour Module
Communication, Spoken English & Vernacular, Active Listening, Written & Presentation Skills, Body language, Self Confidence, Stress Management, Achievement Orientation, Leadership, Inter-personal & Team Building Skills, Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Time Management, Computer & Basic IT Skills, CV Presentation & Interview Skills

Agro-Business areas: 80 Hour Module
Prospective Employable Roles: Field Executives or Plant Executives or Sales Executives: Seeds (Sunflower / Maize/ Cotton/ Rice/ Sorghum etc)

Pharma & Healthcare areas: 80 Hour Module
Prospective Employable Roles: Sales & Marketing Executives; Public Healthcare Extension Executives, Hospital Patients Interface Executives (including coordination between front-end and the technical departments and the physicians& surgeons

FMCG, Foods &Beverages, Consumer Durables, Telecom Sales & Customer Service, Financial Services. Prospective Employable Roles: Sales & Customer Service, Insurance Services-Sales & Customer Service, Structured Retail Sector areas: 80 Hour Module
Sales & Marketing Executives,

Our strong emphasis is on rural employability and motivating the students appropriately. We also would endeavor to bring in linkages with organizations, whose operations in various regions of India would need suitable employable candidates

As you would have seen we have adopted a 120 hour Modular Scheme (80+40) for each potential job role, we also build an emphasis on a minimum of 20 hours per role, as field work, in live situations, in the market place, in association with private and public sector organizations that may have operation in the areas in which the educational institutions may be situated.

We also included 10 to 20 hours as role play, case study and tutorial workshops.

This holistic approach is currently ensuring that students who do not have access to quality pedagogy and infrastructure are now able to compete with the urban student in terms of becoming employed. Corporates are starting to view this as a CSR initiative and have started partnering in this initiative.

The coming months will be interesting as we will be working with 20 rural institutions in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu addressing the challenges faced by burgeoning corporate India in finding qualified employees as well as enabling rural job seekers to accelerate their career by providing them tools and a rich learning experience.

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