In this Note from the Field, Varad Pande of the Ministry of Rural Development discusses the Himayat programme in Jammu and Kashmir which offers skills-training and a job to unemployed young people in the state. This column argues that the scheme provides a ray of hope to thousands of young people and should be a template for how the government can turn the idea of providing training and jobs to the youth into a workable reality.
At 24, Rubeena Bano had not left her home of Sopore in the Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir until something unexpected happened. She heard about the Government sponsored Himayat programme that promised to give skills-training and a job to unemployed youth in the state. She signed up for the three-month course, and the rest, as they say, is history. Today Rubeena, along with five other girls from Jammu and Kashmir, is working in an outsourcing unit of a mobile phone company in Chandigarh and, so she says, loving every minute of it.
Rubeena is one of 2,400 young people who have been trained under the Himayat programme started this year in the state. Himayat (which means ‘sheltering’ or ‘supporting’ in Urdu) is a training programme for the youth in skills relevant to entry-level jobs in the services sectors like retail, business process outsourcing, hospitality, healthcare, computer networking and book-keeping. The programme has an ambitious agenda of training and placing one-lakh unemployed youth of Jammu and Kashmir in the next five years. In a state where more than half the people are below the age of 25, and 6 lakh young people are registered in employment exchanges, this is a badly needed tonic for development. If it works, it could transform the ‘demographic drag’ into a ‘demographic dividend’, unleashing the potential of youth in a dramatic way.
Why Himayat is different
What sets Himayat apart from traditional government training programmes are several innovations.
- First, there is a clear link to the needs of the job-market – training is provided for high-growth service sector occupations, and the list of occupations is kept dynamic based on market demand.
- Second, training is delivered by certified private sector and non-profit firms that have credible experience in training.
- Third, the built-in incentives ensure the right type of job-linked training takes place – the training firms are only paid if the youth is placed in an organised sector job, and stays in the job for at least three months.
- Fourth, in addition to the job-specific training, students get trained for a set of transferable skills – basic computer literacy, spoken English and soft-skills like communication and presentation skills, so that even if they change their line of work, they remain employable.
The road ahead
Himayat has made a good start – there is a palpable sense of achievement and hope among the young people who have gone through the training. However, there is much more to be done. A key problem is a high ‘drop-out rate’. Of the 1,245 young people who were trained and offered jobs in the first phase, 950 joined work, and only 569 are still working after 4-6 months on the job, suggesting that around half of the batch dropped out. There are many reasons for this – mismatch of expectations on salary, parents concerns about leaving home, and genuine adjustment issues, especially for youth migrating outside the state (such as difficulties in getting rental accommodation, as Kashmiri youth are viewed with suspicion).
Many changes are being made to address these concerns. Experience has shown that if a youth completes training, joins work and stays on the job for six months, he/she is unlikely to drop out. So the focus is being shifted from ‘giving training and jobs’ to ‘ensuring retention in jobs’ (this is again a major innovation for a government programme). This is being done in various ways.
In the pre-training phase, a Panchayat-saturation model for identifying youth is being used. This means that a Panchayat is taken up as a catchment area and an intensive campaign is undertaken there to disseminate information about Himayat (using the help of the Panchayat). This helps identify the pool of youth that may be eligible for Himayat, This allows for a set of students from a particular area being selected for a batch, allowing for a more cohesive cohort. Counseling of the youth and their parents is being done to manage expectations at the outset and parental consent is being formally obtained.
In the training phase, a ‘work-readiness’ module is being added to ensure that youth settle in more comfortably in their new jobs in new surroundings. This includes showing the young person a career trajectory, as they may not get ‘high’ salaries initially, but can expect substantial raises once they complete 6-18 months on the job; something that is typical in the services sectors.
In the post-training phase, a significant increase in the post-placement allowance (a ‘start-up bonus’) is being made – up to Rs 2,000 per month for 6 months per youth – to ensure retention in the critical first few months, when salaries are low and there are significant set-up costs in unfamiliar surroundings. Rental accommodation is also being facilitated, through, for example, provision of comfort letters to landlords vouching for the youths. Further, formal mentoring and support is being institutionalised for 12-18 months, through a dedicated helpline and facilitation centres.
Government training programmes have traditionally been notoriously bad in giving job-relevant training, and linking students to what the job market wants. But Himayat has the potential to change this. It uses an innovative Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model that is sensitive to local realities and the needs of the job market, providing the right incentives at various stages, and remaining flexible enough to adapt and scale. Rubeena, who has come home for Ramadan, proudly tells how her job has given her a new sense of self-belief, and how she has bought gifts ‘for each of her family members’ for Ramadan, something she could not have dreamed of before Himayat. Rubeena’s story provides a ray of hope of to thousands of young people across Jammu and Kashmir, and could give us a template on how the government should do the job of translating a noble intent – providing training and jobs to the youth – into a workable reality.
This column first appeared in Mint and has been edited and reprinted with permission from the author. The views expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect those of the Ministry of Rural Development.