From Can't do to Can do

For those living with disability, the chances of finding employment are relatively difficult. But not anymore.Youth4Jobs is committed to giving disabled an opportunity to live a life of dignity.

Published: 23rd July 2015 03:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd July 2015 03:29 AM   |  A+A-

HYDERABAD: She makes sure disabled are not discriminated and trains them to become employable. Meera Shenoy, a former journalist, not only struggles to make them confident. She also ensures that they are connected to companies that can employ them so that they can lead a life with dignity.

Being a journalist she would frequently venture out to villages and capture stories of the poor rural and tribal youth.  She says, “At one point I felt that simply writing about them and photographing their helplessness wouldn’t be enough to help them unless somebody acted and did something that would make them stand on their own feet and be independent. It was then that I decided to be the change that I had desired to see and, in 2011, started Youth4Jobs(Y4J).” 

The Indian government census shows that there are 21 million youth with disability and a WHO report puts the numbers worldwide at three times of that.  Y4J team has over a decade’s worth of experience in training youth from poor families. “I felt, if we train youth with disability, we could offer companies an alternative labour pool,” she explains. She also talks about the method she adopted.

“I began working closely with the most vulnerable demographic there – disabled rural youth. I began training them to become employable and began connecting them to companies where they could get employment and lead a life of dignity.”

Numbers Trained

The organisation hopes to help change this by proving that people with disabilities are valuable employees. The Youth4Jobs, which is three-year-old, trained over 6500 youth with disabilities, 40 per cent of whom are girls. “Our aim is to train and place 20,000 youth by 2020,” claims Meera, also a team member of the NSDA (National Skill Development Agency) and a senior advisor, UNDP (The United Nations Development Programme).

Challenges

{The parents, youth and companies alike had deep-rooted mind sets and we had to work hard with all stakeholders to convert those ‘Can’t do’ to ‘Can do’

The initial days were a big struggle and not at all easy. Everyone said that the work was not possible, explains Meera. “Parents felt that their child was useless and could not be independent; hence the youth had low self-esteem. The companies were equally ignorant about the capabilities of the disabled. We had to work really hard.”

As the aim is to get young people with disabilities into employment, the companies they approached were initially sceptical about how effective they would be as employees.

Also, whether they would be able to adjust to a corporate setting given their rural backgrounds and perceived lack of skills, she informs.

“It was hard to convince them but once they decided to take a chance on this initiative, they soon came to realise having an inclusive workforce made great business sense for them, which was exactly what we had been trying to convey from the beginning. We always insist that the companies hire disabled youth not on the basis of sympathy, but because it makes business sense,” stresses Meera.

Training modules

Youth4Jobs training programme aims at skill development, supports disabled students through an integrated course. “These youth are not aware of companies or markets and so bringing them up to industry expectations is a herculean task. Then they feel inhibited during interviews because of low self-esteem. Initially, they sat in the corner silently and didn’t interact with the trainers, making the task of training them even harder. To further add to the list of challenges, many of the youth had different levels of education, most of them did not know a word of English and many had never seen or used a computer before in their lives,” recalls Meera. 

Comprehensive training modules had to be designed that would enable trainers to teach them English, provide computer literacy and give them interview skills. These modules had to be in-line with industry expectations and yet be flexible enough such that it could be adapted to changing requirements on-the-fly. Trainings are customised for different kinds of disability. The speech and hearing impaired youth require special educators. “Youth are trained for sectors depending on their education and aspirations. The content is fun-filled, mixed mode with audio-visual aids and interactive, often involving other activities like Yoga,” she adds.

Y4J-trained youth are working with firms like McDonald’s, KFC, ITC Hotels, HDFC Bank, Tata Teleservices, Unilever, Lifestyle. 

Training Cost

Trainings are provided to the youth free of cost. Once they enroll into their training centre, accommodation, food and study material are all provided by Y4J.

How to enroll?

In the rural community, Y4J ties up with NGOs, government staff, self-help groups, opinion makers in the village. They use different modes like campaigns, posters and wall paintings. “Another important source is the Alumni referrals,” says Meera.

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