Varsha Devi, from Shahpur in Kangra district, received four months of training and then a placement with a content distribution platform providing Pay TV and OTT services. She has been working there for over two years now.

Khemraj from Kangal village near Narkanda, trained in housekeeping and front-office services, has been employed for almost a year with a hotel in Theog.

Rocky Verma from Upper Dugron village works as a security guard at Jal Bhawan in Baddi.

These young men and women in their twenties are among over 2,030 rural youth in Himachal Pradesh who have been placed in jobs after they were trained in fields that matched their aptitude. This service to make youth from vulnerable rural families independent is provided gratis under the skill training and placement programme of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY).

According to Anmol, Project Officer for the scheme under the Rural Development Department of Himachal Pradesh, the training was given to 5,000 youth, of whom 1,424 have completed three months to two years in a job. The parents of most of the children are either daily wagers or with small agricultural holdings. “But for the pandemic and the lockdown there would have been more placements,” says Anmol.

The fact that these young people are willing to work away from their homes on salaries between ₹12,000 and ₹13,000 goes to show how badly jobs are needed by unemployed youth in these uncertain times.

Verma says he gets about ₹13,000 a month for a 12-hour job as a security guard. He has to pay room rent and has no choice but to eat out as he has no energy to cook his meals after his workday.

Grateful for ₹7,000!

Khemraj from a BPL family whose parents are daily wagers is content with a small salary. “I get ₹7,000 per month, the salary on which I started but I have no regrets.”

He realises that with hardly any tourists coming to the hotel he works in, due to the pandemic, he cannot blame his employers. In fact, unlike many who have been fired because of the losses the hotels have been incurring due to the lockdown, Khemraj continues to be on the rolls, his food and lodging are also free. “At least I am not dependent on my family for my needs,” says Khemraj, whose parents are daily wagers.

Mamta was not as lucky as Khemraj. The outlet of Ash Leisure’s that she was working with in Chandigarh shut shop after the lockdown. “I hope that my place of work opens soon,” she says. Her father and mother too are daily wagers and she desperately needs to earn and not be dependent on them.

Another young man, also named Khemraj, has not gone back to his job because of the large number of Covid cases in Baddi, the small industrial town of the hill State. He had come home after the lockdown but has chosen not to return till the situation improves. He, like Mamta, wonders if there is the possibility of another placement in case they are not able to go back.

Varsha Devi earns around ₹13,000 per month. With ₹4,500 spent for room rent she just about makes ends meet. “But I am happy I was able to attend the training and land a job.” Varsha feels it is better to get a job in a good company as promotion prospects are brighter if one performs well.

DDU-GKY typically chooses young men between ages 15 and 35 for training, although for vulnerable groups like women, victims of trafficking and transgenders, the age limit is 45. The projects are linked to the market and implemented in Public-Private Participation mode, while the training is residential and can range from one to nine months according to the vocation. Customer care services, call centres, the food and beverages industry, computer assistance, security services, banking sales representatives, salesmanship and a number of other training programmes are imparted, the emphasis is on those that have better potential for placements.

“We are exploring more areas of training such as solar photovoltaic services and artificial intelligence,” says Anmol.

One of the problems they face is that many of those who are trained are not keen to live in States far away from Himachal Pradesh. They prefer placements closer home, often a difficult prospect.

The challenge, he says, is to secure placements for as many rural men and women as possible and also ensure that they are able to retain their jobs.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi