16-year-old Vinay, a student in a vernacular medium school in Mumbai, was travelling to his school to submit the form for re-examination as he failed his Grade X examination. On his way to the school, Vinay met with an accident, and with that, he lost his opportunity towards a secure future. With a life beset by failure and a terrible accident, Vinay was, after recuperation, left without any support. His father, too, asked him to give up his dream of becoming an executive. This is the story of many migrant families living in the Mumbai slums, where every year, at least 17 percent of children drop out from secondary school education due to family pressure or physical limitations.
Vinay was without opportunities and employable skills; repairing air conditioners for the offices he once wished to work at. Upset and depressed, Vinay got into bad company, and with his peers, spent time loitering the streets. There are many such young students like Vinay around us. They only long for opportunities and skills so they can improve their lives and achieve their dreams.
For Vinay, a livelihood training centre became that opportunity. After being persistently nudged by his family, he took admission in a job-readiness training programme at his school. The training renewed his confidence to achieve his aspirations again, and he did so with perseverance. Today, Vinay is working as a Customer Service Executive at an office that fulfills his wish. However, many of India’s youths are not as fortunate as Vinay. They remain unemployed due to lack of necessary job skills even after completing their graduation.
The Need of the Hour
India has a large number of its youth graduating each year. Families in India equate educational degrees with gaining respect in the society. But are these degrees making our children employable or skilled for the jobs they aspire to take? There is a gap that we need to address through our CSR programmes. We need to introduce multiple opportunities for the underserved, and at a much younger age, so they can bridge the gap between the have and the have-nots across various sectors of employment in India. This can be possible if we integrate education with skill development, leading children to complete their education to livelihood journeys. We must emphasise the need for a change in mindset, where the learning outcome (and not the level of education), is the catalyst that enables someone to get a job and respect in society.
In the CSR sector, many programmes run in silos when addressing this problem of skill gaps between education and job readiness. Beneficiaries are getting limited opportunities to complete their education to livelihood journeys. The problem of unemployment will remain the same, with continued job opportunities in certain sectors of the industry and government. This leads us to integrate the two areas of our work. When do we say a person is well educated? When that person not only completes his or her higher education but also secures a job and becomes financially independent. It is time we look at education and livelihood programmes within the CSR sector as complementary to each other, instead of distinct sectors of our work.
At WPP India Foundation, we understand this need and have identified it with our vision where we lead the under-served youth in India – beginning with improved educational outcomes to informed livelihood choices. We distinguish ourselves with our holistic approach in the development of each child through our robust programmes that enable children to make informed livelihood choices. We believe programmes such as these build our proof of concept, resulting in increased engagement with their schools, reduces drop-out rates. This also enables them to make more informed career choices.
Another approach in integrating education and livelihood is by building skills within the school education system. Such intervention aims at building capacity and aptitude among the children to become proficient in it, opening new career opportunities. The integration between livelihood and education can be interlinked further when children who are skilled at the livelihood centres become future trainers, educating other children entering the education programmes. We have initiated this in the schools supported by our Foundation with three of our livelihood subjects by teaching digital literacy programmes to over 1000 children today.
CSR: An Eclectic Opportunity for Education and Livelihood
Job opportunities are dynamic with the introduction of automation and changes in the consumer markets. Today, it is important that through various industries, we bring in our expertise in various fields to make future generations more exposed to the changes in their work styles and knowledge that they will require to navigate through changes in technology and the markets they work in. This will involve Corporates to go beyond the financial to skill-building partnerships through the CSR sector. This will ensure that we are making our kids ready for future opportunities.
India is at a crossroads where it has the advantage of the largest youth demographic, but the challenge is lack of quality education and skills for employment; limiting opportunities and frustrating the youth. To address this, we will be required to take a different course of action, where instead of having programmes in silos for education and livelihood, we integrate them.
Rama Iyer is Director-General, WPP India, CSR Foundation.