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Skilling India is akin to evangelizing: Sanjeev Duggal, Centum Learning

The Interaction first Published on The Financial Express on February 8, 2016 12:20 am 

Sanjeev Duggal, the MD & CEO of Centum Learning, believes that ‘Start-up India’ has to be synergized with ‘Skill India’. “The way things are playing out, the nation’s growth agenda is directly getting aligned to the skills-level of its manpower,” Duggal says. Centum Learning, which is NSDC’s partner, is also making efforts to reach out to the remotest parts of the country. For that, Duggal says, we need to reach ‘media-dark’ states in the country, where TV and print reach only 20% of the population. In an interview with Vikram Chaudhary of The Financial Express, he adds that we also have to change the ‘poor country cousin’ image of a skills-based career.


What are your views on the ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’ campaign?
Start-up India is not about only Flipkart, Myntra or any other e-commerce/IT start-up. It’s about a plumber setting up a plumbing business; a carpenter opening a carpentry shop. It’s about encouraging entrepreneurship. The government has realised it is not possible to skill and provide employment to everybody and, at times, not practical. Hence, it is a good idea to skill people to become entrepreneurs on their own terms and conditions.
The other day I was speaking to a friend who said he was impressed by a young man who had set up a grocery portal. We are witnessing this trend all over the country. Under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), we are helping women get trained in the beauty sector, and making them realise their dreams of being an entrepreneur instead of pursuing jobs in established companies.

What synergies do Start-up India and Skill India share?
There cannot be a more opportune time to consider how closely Start-up India can be synergised with Skill India. The way things are playing out, the nation’s growth agenda is directly getting aligned to the skills-level of its manpower. We are playing a key role in evangelising skilling and making youth job-ready so they, in turn, can make India a manufacturing hub, thus helping fulfil the Make-in-India vision. In fact, Centum Learning is mustering all resources to become a prime catalyst in the delivery and scaling up of the government’s self-employment mission. There are thousands of opportunities to start a thriving business, but there is not enough skilled manpower that can engage in such entrepreneurship.
What all have Centum Learning and the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) achieved as a team?
We have been NSDC’s number 1 partner for two consecutive years, having skilled more than 1.2 million people.

Who all form your training and development specialists?
We have created Centum Skill Instructors’ Guild (CSIG), a forum that aims to reward skill instructors in recognition of the crucial role they play in building a skilled and employable India. Through this initiative, we are ensuring that the quality of trainers that train the future of our country are constantly motivated, are looking to enhance their personal skill competencies and realize their direct impact on skillsets of trainees. This platform will serve as a means for us to engage with the skills instructors’ community in the country.

How to reach out to the remotest parts of the country?
Skilling India is akin to evangelizing. What is required is a disruption in the existing ecosystem to reach ‘media-dark’ areas in the country, where TV and print reach only 20% of the population. To counter this problem, Centum Learning recently launched a massive outreach program through mobile phones to address the ‘awareness gap’. Though the initial scope of the pilot project was restricted to Bihar, it eventually was rolled out to cover nearly 400 million subscribers nationwide.
Under the initiative, telecom providers sent text and voice-based messages to the target audience who were required to give a missed call to a toll-free number. Interested candidates would then be profiled on the basis of their age and location and finally mapped to their nearest enrolment centers. This exercise was quite successful. In less than a week of launch, as many as 3,87,408 candidates were profiled and over 40,000 candidates across 38 districts in Bihar were enrolled under various skilling programs. We take help from Gram Panchayats and other local governing bodies to spread awareness about these mobilization drives.

Where do you train the untrained?
Infrastructure is neither a challenge, nor a constraint. We’ve tied up with CBSE and AICTE to offer vocational training in schools and colleges. We use existing infrastructure like AICTE-approved colleges and private ITIs, rented commercial space, etc, which comply with government regulations, instead of setting up new centres. Most of these centres are already equipped with computers and laboratories to enable smoother implementation of project deliverables. In case of certain hostel-based training centres, Centum provides transportation facilities from the hostel to the training centre. Given the government’s emphasis on skilling, we are even looking at utilising public spaces like railway stations in the What steps are needed to change the perception that skills training is only for those who are not good in academics?

Unlike the West, where a PhD can pursue the vocation of a cab driver and is considered a respected member of society, in India, a father’s heart will skip a beat if his daughter announces her interest to marry anybody less than an engineer or a doctor.
But things are slowly changing and there are discussions in the corridors of power about skilling, bridging the demographic divide, providing employability skills, encouraging rural participation to make the skill movement mainstream. Well-crafted and strategic advertising campaigns are being floated to change the ‘poor country cousin’ image of a skills-based career.
A social ecosystem that respects those skilled in vocational education, a support system that addresses some of the basic necessities of life, a network to share and live with, a decent working atmosphere … all these will go a long way in changing the mindset of people towards skilling.

Have you been able to gainfully transform the lives of women in smaller towns?
We provide training to vulnerable youth in the 18-35 age group, mainly from rural areas, scheduled castes and tribes, backward communities and women. Our ambition is to reach a larger pool of trainees to offer exhaustive skilling opportunities as we believe only scale can bring inclusivity. Our target is to reach more women candidates and, if necessary, provide exclusive female-only hostel facilities, employ female instructors and wardens to ensure safety and comfort of female candidates. Further impetus to attract female trainees is done by counselling parents and providing references from past women trainees, who belong to the same location as potential candidates and who are employed, thus contributing to their family income.

Does your skilling model take care of placements?
The approach towards skill building consists of five steps: Employment Generation, Mobilisation, Skill Training, Certification & Assessment, and Placement. Basically, we cover end-to-end of the skilling cycle. As of date, we have generated 3,81,000 letters of intent from various organisations nationwide in various sectors and trades. Our focus is on conducting placement-linked training programs. As soon as the batch formation process takes place, the placement team starts mapping the profiles of trainees for placements. Each state-level centre has a placement head who coordinates with the placement team to organize on-the-job training and placement for trainees. A prospective employer usually visits the centres to conduct interviews and hire trainees. A majority of our trainees are absorbed within the same organization where they undertook on-the-job training.

What was the need to expand your footprint across countries?
We are the first skilling MNC in India. We forayed into Africa anticipating the similarity in culture, topography and linguistic diversity of Africa with India. The key to unleashing the continent’s potential has always been its talented youth. One critical difference is the larger scale in Africa. It is an opportunity and also a challenge. In the normal course of events, Centum Learning would have probably never gone to Africa. We were happy growing in India and had no plans to go to this emerging market. Similarly, we had not chalked out a ready plan to venture into the global market as we had our hands full in India. But the fact that the skills gap is a global phenomenon has opened the world for us. So now, besides Africa, we have offices in Nepal where we are conducting training programs. We have now trained over 1.2 million youth in India and abroad.

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