What started as an initiative of the non-profit organisation Movement for Alternatives for Youth Awareness (MAYA) in Bangalore in 2006, has become a social enterprise with its reach extending to 14 States across the country. India’s informal sector comprises 93 per cent of its total workforce. LabourNet provides vocational training and employment opportunities to thousands of school and college dropouts, and women in rural and semi-urban areas, who become part of the workforce.
Now a company under the aegis of Maya Holding Trust and Build India Trust, it aids in skill development in manufacturing, leather industry, rubber industry, construction, textile, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, machine maintenance, press operations and beauty and hair care among 40 other trades. LabourNet is supported by the National Skill Development Corporation of India, besides other funding and knowledge partners. They have received funds from Ford Foundation, American India Foundation, Accenture HIVOS, CHF International and Grassroots Business Fund to name a few.
Gayathri Vasudevan, CEO and Co-founder, Labournet, said, “After being an NGO for two years, we realised that this kind of work requires a lot of capital and grant funds. Hence to mainstream this project we became a company in 2008.” Vasudevan was previously associated with the International Labour Organisation for over seven years where she became an expert in handling labour issues.
“The poor remain poor and the rich become richer. To substantially improve the skills of the economically backward, we chose vocational education as an intervention. Even those who do not work full time can earn through the livelihood centres/work-integrated centres and the on-site training that we provide,” she continues.
“There is frustration among unskilled labour owing to the lack of improvement in the quality of their lives. What happens with training is, it tends to become outdated. When you go to the job market, you should be industry ready. Our on-site training ensures that there is continuity.”
LabourNet has around 180 to 400 trainers operating in Varanasi, Lucknow, Malur-Karnataka, Betul-Madhya Pradesh, Chikbalapur-Karnataka, Coimbatore, Ooragadum-Tamil Nadu. For example, in Ooragadum, a lot of them work at Nokia, hence it looks at what skill set they would require to fit the job in Chennai, a lot of them work in the leather industry and we focus on those skills for them. “We have a registered office in Delhi. We have a substantial presence in Karnataka, UP, Punjab, West Bengal and Haryana. Our training is behaviour-based. We look at the safety aspect of their work places too,” she said. With a work-integrated model at their training centres, LabourNet expects the workers to be with them for at least two to three years.
Language can be a huge challenge in these cases. Asked how that challenge is met, she said, “We have local language trainers, mostly the domain experts of their respective fields. For that to happen we have “Training of trainers” programme which lasts for two years. Post training, they share their experience with us, so we are constantly upgrading and revamping our training methods.” LabourNet has trainers who are diploma holders or graduates in technical courses like Civil, Mechanical and other streams of Engineering. For women, they have training modules in beauty, wellness, garments and tailoring. “We have slowly become sustainable. We have broken even for two quarters now,” she said. Corporate groups sponsor some of the training but individuals who want to learn the skills may do so for a fee, which on average comes to about `3,000 a month.
LabourNet is also taking the onus of getting their trainees National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) certification. This is a Ministry of Labour and Employment undertaking where workers seeking certification of their skills acquired informally, ITI graduates seeking skill upgradation, early school drop-outs, the unemployed, former child labourers, their families and trained candidates who do not have formal certification can apply. Benefits of NCVT certification includes getting loans for self-employment, getting registered at the employment exchange, getting a government certificate for the skills acquired and getting preference in government and private jobs.
As the livelihood centres are in rural and semi-urban areas, gaining confidence of rural population and encouraging them to take up vocational training is quite a task. LabourNet approaches the rural population through outreach programmes where they make door-to-door visits and educate and encourage people to take up vocational programmes.
They also approach self-help groups in the region who assist them in enrolling people into their programmes. Community centres of the regions also play a vital role in encouraging people of the community to take up the training. “The success of every trained member in itself is a major driving factor in attracting people to the programmes. We have reached out to more than a lakh workers this year and intend to reach out to three lakh workers next year,” she said.