MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — For a country that is strongly set on achieving ‘Atma Nirbhar’ or self-reliance, India is struggling to provide its people with the tools and resources necessary to do so. In specific, a greater emphasis on vocational training in India could allow people to achieve self-sufficiency and economic stability. Vocational training allows an individual to learn and practice a trade and make a living out of that specific occupation.
Vocational Training in India in Numbers
According to the Indian government’s Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2020-2021, less than 16% of Indians between the ages of 12-59 years received vocational and technical training. Furthermore, a mere 10% of women received vocational training whereas 21% of men received the same. Moreover, people in urban areas received about three times more vocational training than people living in rural areas. These figures show improvements from previous years but are still low enough to warrant concern, especially for women and people in the lower income brackets of society.
The Borgen Project recently spoke with representatives from two acclaimed organizations in India: The Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur, and SAMPARC, an NGO based in Maharashtra. Both organizations have dedicated large portions of their time and resources to improving vocational training in India. Their goal is to uplift the children and adults under their care and raise the standards of living of the underprivileged.
Importance of Vocational Training in Rural India
In 2020, India’s rural youth comprised approximately 68% of the population and form part of the demographic most susceptible to unemployment and job instability. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of skills development among rural workers. This stems from “high dropout rates,” paucity of proper training programs and outdated curriculums, among other factors.
For people coming from poor families, education is not a necessity but a luxury. In fact, Pausali Paul, the president of the Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur, says in an interview with The Borgen Project that in her experience, most of the children go to school for the free midday meals provided by the government. She could tell that not many had the drive or pressure from their families to excel in academics. For these children, a hands-on approach to studying is best suited as it engages them more in the craft and they can retain more through practical learning.
This is not to say that theoretical knowledge is not important. Paul emphasizes this point by saying that “Giving education to children is not trying to make everyone a scholar. Even being able to sign their name or passing till the 10th grade is a lot for their community. These days, vocational training has a lot of scope. For that, children need to pass [until]at least the 8th or 10th grade.”
However, education is not the end but only the start. It is the practical application that helps foster economic growth. An important benefit of vocational or industrial training is obtaining a secure job and maintaining a regular source of income. For people living in rural areas, vocational training provides opportunities for financial independence and instills confidence in their abilities and profession while helping people break cycles of poverty.
Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur
The Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur, has a Rotary Community Corps (RCC) in a village in West Bengal known as Keuti. The RCC aims to promote the holistic development of the area. When the Rotary Club members first went to the village to build toilets for a newly constructed school in Keuti, they asked the adult villagers what kind of developments the village most needed. The villagers said that they struggled without income-generating activities and job opportunities. The only option for many of the males is to take migratory jobs and move to another city altogether, leaving their families behind.
In an effort to help them, Rotary Club supplied the people of Keuti with six sewing machines and also a tailor to teach them the craft of cutting and stitching using cloth supplied by the Rotary Club. “Within 15 days, they made 100 cotton bags and gave them to us so that we could sell them in the markets,” said Paul, who has used one of these bags herself and attested to its good quality.
Within the span of two to three weeks, the women who made the bags earned a small profit and even returned the money for the raw materials that Rotary had bought for them in the beginning. According to Paul, it is this initial investment that propels the villagers into the workforce and gives them some income.
Introducing Other Vocations
The Rotary Club also introduced other types of vocations, besides tailoring, to the people of Keuti. Two notable ones are mushroom cultivation and beekeeping. Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur, also conducts an annual project in Belpahari, another village in West Bengal. In Belpahari, one can find babui or sabai grass in abundance. The villagers use this grass to make an assortment of goods ranging from bags to fruit baskets and other handicrafts. “They make these goods and we sell them on their behalf,” Paul comments.
Providing food and aid during calamities can only assist the villagers to a certain extent. Dozens of NGOs already come with relief whenever disasters strike. For instance, the area of Sundarbans in West Bengal is highly susceptible to cyclones and faces heavy flooding at least once a year. Although the residents there take the rice and lentils given to them by different nonprofits, “it is work they want the most,” says Paul. The Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur, has plans to invest in mangrove cultivation in Sundarbans so that the people there can acquire stable livelihoods.
Contributions of SAMPARC
Social Action for Manpower Creation (SAMPARC) operates a youth hostel in Maharashtra and runs an orphanage in West Bengal, providing food, education and vocational training to about 400 children. For the students who are less inclined toward academics and would prefer a mainstream job to generate income to help support their families, SAMPARC offers a variety of other industrial courses.
Pradip Haldar, the manager of the West Bengal branch, lists some of these skills as civil craftsmanship, carpentry, dress-making, beauty therapy, welding, plumbing, soft-toy-making and electrical wiring. In SAMPARC schools, computer education forms a major part of curriculums with the aim of helping children acquire the technological skills required to thrive in today’s market.
“A woman can clear out some space in her balcony and start a hair cutting business or she can make a small factory and make nightgowns, blouses or salwars for sale,” said Monalisa Mukherjee Kakuli, the project coordinator for the West Bengal branch, in an interview with The Borgen Project. This type of self-employment empowers women and helps them achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency.
A sanitary pad-making project has been ongoing for about two years in Kolkata, West Bengal’s capital, and only a few months in Sundarbans. SAMPARC provides machines in the community centers and the local women make low-cost pads that only cost 20 cents. The women then sell the pads to the villagers who need them. “This way, they are not only learning how to maintain hygienic practices but are also generating employment for themselves,” says Mukherjee Kakuli.
SAMPARC’s vocational training center (VTC) in Maharashtra has trained more than 4,000 students from almost 50 nearby villages. According to the data on its website, “more than 80% [of]students are employed in the different nearby industries.” SAMPARC has also established a relatively new VTC in Uttar Pradesh and has a participating force of 200 girls.
The Road Ahead
The work of these organizations has not only catalyzed the rural economy but has also aided in raising awareness about the importance of vocational training in India. Both Rotary Club of Calcutta, Jadavpur, and SAMPARC have plans to expand the work they do in the field of industrial training. The organizations wish to find other innovative forms of work for the villagers to acquire sustainable sources of income.
– Anushka Raychaudhuri