Mobilisation of rural youth for skill training programmes has always been a challenge. Traditional mindsets, youth aspirations, and an unwillingness to migrate to other towns/cities often stand in the way of youth enrolment. But with 33 institutes and having successfully trained over 60,000 youth, ACF’s SEDI (Skill and Entrepreneurship Development Institute) has been tackling mobilisation head on for over 15 years, and has some sharp insights to share, on how to achieve success in mobilization.
Meeting the Parents
Whenever a SEDI is opened at a new location, initial mobilisation requires a determined effort. There is usually reluctance in the community, caused by bad experiences faced with other skill training institutes or organisations in the region. To address this, community mobilisers along with trainers painstakingly go door to door, meeting each family and convincing them of the merits of sending their youth to the institute. This is then followed up with small group meetings with parents and guardians of the youth. Experience shows that by convincing the parents, enrollment rates improve and there is more accountability on the youth to pursue their training.
Seeing is Believing
The challenge of a new institute, however, is limited to the first batch. Reservations such as distance, travel, and fees, though heavily subsidized, also exist but usually disappear once parents and guardians see and experience the quality of the training being offered. To enable this, parents are encouraged to visit the institute.
Gradually, bonds are established within the community and a deeper understanding of how SEDI works is appreciated. Each SEDI has a local advisory committee (LAC) constituted of panchayat members, respected personalities from the target villages, ASHA workers, bankers, government teachers and officials and representatives from industry. Wherever an investing partner is involved, the partner also becomes a part of the LAC. The factory head of Ambuja Cements is also a member of the LAC. SEDI mandatorily conducts meetings with the LAC every quarter to share information about progress, plans, achievements, concerns of students, expectations from the community and expectations from the parents. Suggestions and feedback are taken from the stakeholders and discussed thoroughly. As part of these meetings, stakeholders are also familiarized with the infrastructure and operations of SEDI. SEDI thus becomes an institution enabled by the people.
The Role of Trainees
As new batches are enrolled, SEDI’s trainees play a crucial role in mobilizing other youth for skill training. Their firsthand experience becomes an influential testimonial to all that SEDI has to offer.
While SEDI employs numerous tools to mobilise youth, some innovative approaches Include:
Raat Choupals (Night Meetings)
In mobilisation, the best outcomes are achieved when all the key influencers and decision makers are present and are convinced. During the day when people are out working this is hard to achieve. This premise is what led to the concept of the ‘Raat Choupal’. As the name suggests, the trainer and community mobilisers meet the villagers in the late evening and present a video/slideshow about SEDI to the entire community. This is followed by an earnest appeal to the community to send their youth for training. Stories of other youth from the region are showcased through photos/videos to highlight the impact acquiring skills can have on families. Seeing the transformation in confidence and personal grooming, the community is suitably motivated to enroll their youth at SEDI. Through this innovation, SEDIs have been able to attract scores of students including women from the remotest and poorest of the poor communities.
Organized by District and Block Administrations and facilitated by SEDIs, trainees represent the institute at these employment fairs. As the best ambassadors for the institute, the trainees address all enquiries of the youth and secure many enrollments. Thanks to the goodwill that SEDI has been able to generate in its locations, occasionally SEDIs themselves organize Rozgaar Melas with support from District and Block authorities.
Free Service Camps
Another innovation from SEDI, trainees in uniforms with tools and equipment offer their services free of charge, excluding material costs. For instance, the electrician training batch may organise a service camp and repair all malfunctioning electrical equipment in the village without taking a penny and guaranteeing replacement in case of damage during repair. The exercise builds confidence in the minds of the community about the institute and inculcates pride when the batch comprises of youth from their own village. This then translates into admissions at the institute.
Celebration of Community Stakeholders
Inspiring trust and confidence in the community is a continuous exercise and SEDIs involve community stakeholders in many festivities. For example, on Mother’s Day, trainees’ mothers are invited to the institute and are honoured with a token of appreciation for sending their children to SEDI or allowing their children to pursue an employment or relocate to another town/city for employment. This practice reinforces confidence and encourages the parents and guardians to be advocates for the institute.
Projecting Role Models
Especially effective in the context of women, youth who have graduated from SEDI and working in secure jobs are projected as role models for the entire community. To reassure the community about women’s safety, women trainers are sent to the villages which inspires confidence. Many of SEDI’s women trainees have gone on to build successful careers for themselves and have been recognized as Youth Icons. Stories of such women prompts other women to enroll themselves at SEDI. Consequently, approximately 40% of SEDI trainees are women today.
Employing Digital Tools for Mobilisation Amid the Pandemic
Amid the lockdown, mobilisation on the ground was unfeasible. SEDI then started using mediums like Facebook and WhatsApp to mobilise youth. Alumni groups were reached out to and awareness about COVID-19 was propagated not just to the trainees but to their communities as well. Parent meetings were also organized online to share progress of the trainees. Using Facebook, SEDIs now target youth in remote regions. Moreover, SEDI also reached out to all its 60,000+ alumni through calls to enquire about their wellbeing. This won it a lot of appreciation.
To invest with ACF for a partnership in Skill training of rural youth, reach out to the Head of Skilling at firstname.lastname@example.org