ICICI Academy trains rural youth to find gainful jobs

Bhagwan Sahay Khatik from Amaranar village in Rajasthan’s Jaipur district is 50 but looks 60. Years of grazing his goats in the rocky terrain have left his face deeply wrinkled. “But now that my son Vikky has got a good job, I will retire,” he smiles. Vikky, all of 19, completed a 12-week course at the ICICI Academy of Skills in Jaipur last month, and has got a job that pays ₹7,000 a month.

For his mother, more important was the fact that for the 12 weeks Vikky “never slept on a hungry stomach”. At home the staple diet was roti and chillies.

Wholesome food

The 150-odd youngsters get much more than food at the Academy which aims to find sustainable livelihood for the youth. After opening in 2013 in Jaipur, the Academy has six branches in Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Coimbatore, Pune, Kolhapur while two more, at Patna and Guwahati, will be ready by March. Together they will train about 5,000 youth every year.

The curriculum has been designed with NIIT, Blue Star, Schneider Electrical, Tally and Crompton Greaves, which have also helped set up classrooms and labs. The technical stream students get hostel facility. The 12-week course offers six skills — electrical, motor and pump repair; refrigeration and AC (RAC) maintenance; selling/marketing skills; web designing, and office administration (this covers basics of accounting, banking, filing papers, etc). The last is in great demand in the SME sector.

Focus on grooming, discipline

Along with the training in their chosen vocation, there is also focus on teaching them discipline and grooming. “In the first two weeks, we train them in good behaviour, how to talk to the customer and respect what he/she says. Because you come from deprivation, it does not give you the right to talk rudely to anybody, we tell them,” says a teacher. The resident children have to get up by 6 am, bathe, shave, dress neatly, go for breakfast by 7 and report to class at 8.

The wholesome vegetarian food served in the hostel provides youngsters from poorer families the much required nutrition. Within a week they look healthier, and the grooming brings about a metamorphosis. Some elementary English is taught too.

Nobody is refused admission; the mantra is that given the right environment and opportunity, everybody can be an achiever. The poorer students seek technical skills, the better off office administration and web designing. The latter, day scholars from Jaipur, have degree which have failed to get them jobs.

Gender divide

The gender divide is along expected lines; the boys prefer technical courses, the girls opt for web designing, office administration. But in Coimbatore, six girls have broken the gender barrier. R Kavya, from nearby Pollachi, loved changing bulbs and doing small electrical repairs from childhood and “wanted to do electrical engineering, but my family couldn’t afford the fees.” Now she is a budding electrician.

Chanda Kochhar, MD and CEO, ICICI Bank, says she was heartened by the fact that the girls from the first batch have all taken up jobs and are “participating in the economic process.” Training youth and making them employable “is the only way to take advantage of our demographic dividend,” she says.

For ICICI Bank, this venture is that of being a responsible corporate citizen and ensuring that “opportunities and an enabling environment are created for our youth; that is the only way to take advantage of our demographic dividend.”

Placement

All 146 from the first batch in Jaipur have been placed. Both ICICI Bank and its partners leverage their goodwill and dealer networks to find jobs for them. The minimum wage is ₹6,000; those with technical skills get ₹8,000-10,000. RK Sharma, a Blue Star consultant and an RAC instructor, says his distributors have employed seven “and are asking for more. RAC is in demand, and will explode as the cold chains for fruits and vegetables expand. I see these boys earning around Rs 20-25,000 in a few years. Hotels and restaurants also need AC mechanics; an AC restaurant is the norm today."

Manoj Sharma from Shyam Aircon Services, a dealer of Blue Star in Jaipur, confirms this. “We have employed six trainees, and though they have more theoretical than practical knowledge, we don’t have to train them from scratch. Also, they know how to talk politely to customers, which is bonus for us.”

Surprisingly, 13 from the first batch of 146 refused to take up jobs; they had experience in their fields and came to the ICICI Academy to hone their skills. The Bank may fund their own ventures.

Hanuman Sahib Bhairwan from Ramjipura village, 40 km from Jaipur, is 19, but on his shoulders rest the responsibility of paying his father’s debts. A marginal farmer with two acres of land, the father doubles up as a daily wage labourer to feed his large family. “The income from land is meagre; there is always water shortage. And I have two brothers and five sisters,” says Hanuman who is training to be an electrician. Four of his sisters are married; the dowry for each was ₹2-3 lakh. “Pitaji ke sar par bahut karz hai (father is heavily in debt). I came here thinking karza utrega toh Pitaji khush hoge.(He will be happy),” he says and wants to help clear the debts.

Ashok, 19, is the son of a potter from a village 20 km from Jaipur. Unlike other happy faces, his eyes are sad. He tells his story only after much coaxing. His father makes pots that his mother tries to sell in the nearby villages. The daily income is uncertain, and so is the meal. The story is related dispassionately in a resigned monotone.

Divesh Kumar, 20, hails from a Haryana village. His father is a barber and earns less than ₹5,000 a month. Divesh has three siblings and made it to Class 12 with great difficulty. “Khana badiya hai,” he beams, reflecting his circumstances.

Most have completed Class 12, but many are in third year of college. Others surprise me by saying they are in third year of college. Captain Amar Singh, who has retired from the Army Aviation wing and trains students on electrical skills, explains: “After their Plus Two, these students enrol for correspondence courses by paying Rs 300. they somehow get a degree, but no education and are hence unemployable.”

He also doubles as the hostel warden; sari zindagi machine ke saath guzari, (my whole life was spend with machines), I now love training these children."

But teaching them about circuits is a challenge. “They may pass Class 12, but the standard is much lower. Many can’t even write their names. But hailing from this region, I know how to put things in their heads”.

So when explaining resistance, Singh gives the example of the world’s fastest runner Usain Bolt. “I tell them, if we give him a proper track he will run superbly. But if we bring him to the sand dunes of Bikaner, his speed will reduce dramatically because of the uneven surface. So they understand!”

I love most the body language of Gaurav Sharma, seated with his father Hemraj, a carpenter. He has got a job as electrician at a salary of Rs 10,000. “The job is great, but this is only the beginning; I know I will earn much more in the future," he beams.

The writer was in Jaipur recently at the invitation of ICICI Bank.

(This article was published on February 24, 2014)
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