Saturday, December 14, 2013

Training the 'blue-collared' worker

Vocational education has been a poor orphan in our educational system. Only the ones who are deemed as incapable of doing well in our 'regular' education system turn towards vocational education. In the past one year working with Funfirst Global Skilllers, post-Teach For India, I have learnt quite a lot about the current vocational system. A small event happened in my early days at work that gave me hope and the belief that this work is worth it.

A few years ago, Government of India created Modular EmployableSkills (MES) framework with the aim to provide, improve and certify employable skills to school leavers, existing workers, ITI graduates etc. MES courses are demand driven, short term training courses identified in consultation with the industry. While there is a lot to be desired, these MES courses are a good attempt at outcome based vocational course design.

One of the first steps was registering Funfirst as a vocational training partner (VTP) and our Kolhapur site as a Vocational Training Center. Like all government processes in India, it was long and tedious. It took months and was very frustrating. So it was a big deal when we finally got the approval. We decided to start with Electronics 101 and Material Management 101 and chose 20 employees from our plant to be trained. We could start training!

Well, not really. We faced a challenge in the form of the Government web portal for this scheme. Long hours were spent registering our people and then enrolling them according to the planned training calendar. The servers were down most of the time. One of us had to spend the night in office to upload data on the server since it worked best at night. The battle against the portal’s vagaries took many days but we plodded on relentlessly. Finally, one sunny day (or a dark night), our course enrollment was complete. Now, I hoped we could start training!

This was our first time training so all of us were nervous and excited (understandably). Our new trainers spent hours planning their course and many more studying in preparation. After all, this was also their first time in training. Our trainees, who are existing plant workers, showed a lot of enthusiasm and grit, doing their best to balance their education and work at the plant. They regularly took small assessments and exceeded expectations.

All too soon, the course was completed and it was time for the final assessment by a third party assessor. While we were confident about our training we nervously asked our trainees about their performance on the assessment. The wait for the result seemed to last for eternity. One afternoon while checking the portal, as had been the hourly ritual, we noticed that the results had been uploaded and each one of our trainees had passed. We were overjoyed with our first batch.

However, we were not satisfied with just the results. Vocational education has always been short changed in our country and we wanted to find out if our trainees had really derived some benefit from the course. I personally spoke to more than half the students and their feedback was more than a little surprising.

Almost everyone felt that they understood most of their course. Some of them have worked for many years but they had only a superficial or mechanical understanding. For the first time, they realized how things were done. Even in cases when the courses were not immediately related to their field of work, all of them were happy that they gained some more knowledge. It enabled them to ask more questions, submit better reports and take initiative in doing simple tasks which earlier, they relegated to their colleagues and superiors. Couple of them said that they always had an interest in electronics but could never get trained in it. Now they have repaired small appliances in their own homes. All of them are eager to do more such courses in the future.

Drilling techniques in a Mumbai Training
For far too long, the ‘blue-collared’ workers have been marginalized and their careers have stagnated due to lack of advancement opportunities. They are treated as inefficient machines who should not have a career path. Professional development and work satisfaction is not even in the vocabulary. Good quality, sincere training leads to more productivity, efficiency, confidence and satisfaction at work.

And this is just the start. In India, there are many people waiting to have their story taken forward.

This post was originally written by me for Funfirst's blog which can be accessed hereIt has been edited and posted on this blog.


Pritish Samaddar said...

Awesome Prachur! Really a great going for you. Final para is the ultimate one especially regarding Work Satisfaction. Happy for you and look forward to get lot more these kind of real stories. In our bengali there is a famous proverb "Golpo holeo sotti" which means "Its a story but its a real truth". I am also looking for a this kind of role where I don't have to think about the work satisfaction. Best of Luck,,,do let me know if any kind of things are in touch with you!

Darshan said...

Amazing work Prachur! Respect! :)