Archana Yadav of Mumbai is an excited soul today. In just a few days, she will be starting classes under a free skilling programme offered in Kandivali under the Skill India initiative and hopes that it will help her secure a much-needed job in the domain of nursing.
Archana knows the trials of having to look for a job without formally acquired skills or certification. Pre-pandemic she had been working as an unpaid trainee in an orthopaedic clinic in Mumbai, in the hope that the skills acquired in this position would help her get a better job in the future. But then as COVID shut down everything, she returned to her village in April 2020.
When she got back, roughly six months later, she was without a job and experienced first hand how the lack of vocational skills prevents young women of underprivileged backgrounds from getting a job at a fair remuneration. “Finding a job without certification can be especially difficult for people who haven’t finished their graduation, and even if you do find one, it will not pay enough to sustain a living. Many women like me end up working as house help or cleaning ladies in clinics,” she says.
Archana’s experience is actually indicative of a huge lacuna in skilled employment opportunities for those without formal degrees or qualification, especially among women, and one that can perhaps be addressed to a significant extent through skilling or vocational training programmes.
The urban employment gap
In 2021, urban Maharashtra was the worst-hit by pandemic-induced losses, adversely affecting employment rates between April and September. Unemployment was at 35.66% through April-June and 22.6% through July-September, higher than the national averages of 20.9% and 13.3%, respectively.
Currently at 4.35%, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen, along with the national average of 6.57% in January 2022, owing to eased COVID-19 restrictions and the return to normalcy for industries.
However, some reports indicated that women across the country were hit harder than men during the first lockdown in 2020. According to a paper published by Ashwini Deshpande and Jitendra Singh from Ashoka University, women who were employed before the lockdown were 23.5% less likely to be employed after the lockdown, compared to their male counterparts. Ashwini pointed out that pre-existing conditioning on gender was likely to be reinforced, and given the nature of jobs, more than 50% of women had already made a job transition in the first wave of the pandemic.
In 2018, a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report found that Maharashtra fared worse than 11 states in women’s work force participation rate. There were only 47 females for every 100 males in the Maharashtra workforce while women labour force participation in Sikkim, Mizoram and Nagaland stood at 71%, 78%, and 80% respectively. Despite being one of the largest states in terms of economic size, the participation of women in skilled jobs remains low.
A few systemic interventions, like ‘Mission Vatsalya,’ a fund by the Maharashtra government’s Women and Child Development Department for COVID widows, were initiated. However, when it comes to long term, effective intervention, there is still a gap, which a few efforts, such as the Skill India initiative, are trying to fill.
An attempt towards filling the gap in Mumbai
Managed by the National Skills Development Corporation of India, the Skill India campaign, or the National Skills Development Mission was launched in 2015 with the aim to train at least 30 crore people in different skills, equipping them for nursing, electrical and mechanical work among others, by 2022. Since its inception, the programme has, by government accounts, trained over 1,17,000 individuals in various sectors, through which they have managed to secure better jobs.
National Skill Development Mission, National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), Skill Loan scheme and Rural India Skill are different initiatives under the larger campaign. All provide either free or affordable vocational education to people from underprivileged backgrounds.
In Mumbai, Nimisha Baghadia (hospital consultant), Vrushali Lotlikar (Certified nurse), Ashish Begrajka and Nikita Parcholia had been training young women in Bhayander for nursing though targetted skills building workshops. In early 2019, their course was accredited by the National Skills Development Corporation of India (NSDC), and they were offered a grant by the state government which allowed them to provide free courses to women from underprivileged communities. However, they still had to incur several expenses out of pocket, like rent and utilities.
In 2021 the corporator of the R/South ward, Surekha Patil decided to support these workshops by providing two classrooms above her office in Kandivali and a sheltered area in a local park. This helped the organisers to continue their courses and even expand the scope of training to include courses for aspiring beauticians. Since the inception, close to 120 women have enrolled for the nursing courses.
In India, most training programmes conducted during the pandemic trained citizens to be COVID frontline workers, building capacity for assistance in basic to advanced care support, sample collection and home support. This was followed by training for General Duty Assistants (GDA), which is a nursing certification for general nurses who assist senior nurses, or provide care support for older/disabled people in hospitals or in their homes. The Kandivali programme also provided GDA training and certificates to women who opted for it.
The programmes not only train the women in a particular skill, but also teach them how to speak to people, how to conduct themselves and how to handle patients or customers professionally.
“Most of these women who come from underprivileged backgrounds aren’t encouraged to complete their education. When they move to the city, they realise they can no longer raise a whole family on the salary of a single person. They don’t have the financial bandwidth or time to go back to college and finish their education,” says Nimisha. And that is where programmes such as these can help.
Fighting against all odds
Conversations with participants of these programmes underline the many issues and circumstances that constrain opportunities for women. It also sheds light on how they view these bridging programmes.
“I started going to nursing college when I was in my early twenties, but had to quit because my children were really young. Three years ago, I came upon a pamphlet about these workshops in Virar that would provide nursing certification free of cost,” said Suraiya Khan, who is now a 24/7 home nurse in Andheri. “It seemed to be the perfect opportunity,” she added.
Yet another participant, Deepali Sharma lived in a small room with four of her sisters, her mother and her uncle. All earning members lost their job in the pandemic. Deepali was the sole breadwinner of the family and managed all expenses for close to two years. “If it weren’t for that course, I would not have been able to find this job, which enabled me to financially support my family in such trying times,” said Deepali
“A lot of the women who join these workshops, either quit education after the 10th or 12th grade and are housewives. We provided them a platform through which they can empower themselves and work towards being financially independent,” said Surekha.
Building bridges and networks
Effective communication with groups who need them the most is critical to the success of such programmes. In Mumbai, the organisers of the Kandivali programme went door to door in chawls and informal settlements to encourage more women to participate in these free courses. They also spread the word across hospitals and professional networks, engaging experts in the planning of curriculum, and inviting trainers and guest speakers for the programme.
Since the involvement of ward corporator Surekha Patil, a special budget has been allocated for marketing of these courses. Flyers, pamphlets and hoardings across the city disseminate information about the initiative and invite participation of women from all over Mumbai.
Over the years, the women who have got jobs in various hospitals and clinics across the city after completion of these courses have helped create a solid network. This alumni network aids job search for new attendees. One can either use their personal contacts to find a job or the organisers will help her find one by leveraging the existing networks. Even many of the current trainers are ex-students of the programme.
“Certified General Duty Assistants from local hospitals in Kandivali conduct workshops on care training, and other basic nursing skills such as handling different illnesses, use of different types of medical equipment, among other things,” said Nikita.
The main objective of the Skill India programme is to provide training in market relevant skills. It aims to improve the overall scope and space for undeveloped sectors. Its vision is to boost India’s economic growth by training people to enter the Indian workforce.
But while initiatives such as the one in Kandivali have definitely demonstrated the scope of such initiatives and their impact on the issue of women’s employment, it must be noted that the Skill India campaign did not even come close to meeting its targets for eight years. Only 17 out of 28 states have allocated budgets and executed training programmes.
Though the Skill India initiative has addressed the problem of raising the initial funds required to run such programmes, they still face their own share of challenges. As Nimisha shares, “Because the course is taught free of cost, we see a lot of students not taking the training seriously, skipping classes, not finishing assignments. We provide placement opportunities to 100% of the students, but many don’t follow through with the procedure, they quit jobs without notifying the employer, and their conduct is sometimes unprofessional. To overcome these issues, we have decided to levy an examination fee of Rs 1200 as a way to attract only those candidates who are serious about learning and helping themselves.”
There is currently a lack of enough Skill India training programmes even within Mumbai. With only a few in place, to access the available opportunities, one has to get in touch with their local ward office and ask for information on such centres in the vicinity. Alternatively, they could fill the candidate registration form on the Skill India website and select their preferred sector and the job role they would like to pursue. One can opt for training, placements or even paid courses.