Vineet Khanna (India 1993) is developing a job placement program that includes technical on-the-job training for unskilled, unemployed youth from rural and urban areas.
The New Idea
Managers of workshops and shop floors are reluctant to invest the much-needed time, confidence, trust and money in unskilled young people. Young people without work quickly grow disillusioned, become involved in anti-social behavior, and remain dependent on their extended families rather than establishing their own adult lives. Over the years, this situation has bred suspicion between the two groups of people who are on opposite sides of the job market. To overcome this predicament, Vineet involved managers and youth in setting up the Youth Technical Training Society in Chandigarh, Punjab, that provides hands-on technical training to unskilled, unemployed youth and opens up job opportunities for them. Unlike other placement organizations, the Society begins rather than ends its process by placing the youth in jobs in reputable companies. As apprentices in a wide network of host "associate companies," they acquire training and work experience. The incentive for employers is that the Society itself provides a modest stipend to the trainees during a six- to nine-month period of apprenticeship. The technical training offered by the Society includes mechanics, carpentry and electrical repair. While the majority of the trainees are school drop-outs, it has also placed some educated youth in computer and typing courses. Others work in the Society's "Blue Collar Service" offering senior citizens home services such as paying bills, providing mail and courier services, companionship and shopping.
Unskilled, uneducated youth form the largest group of unemployed in India. Most training programs run by the government and nonprofit organizations do not focus on linking the beneficiaries directly to a specific technical trade or job. Aside from providing training and skills, they are of little assistance in helping youth enter the mainstream workforce. Government-run training programs for the urban and rural unemployed do not offer a choice of trades. Rather, the training is given in particular vocations which are already saturated. Furthermore, the training is not complemented with programs in enterprise development. Therefore, although beneficiaries of government-run programs for technical training are eligible for loans to set up small enterprises, they do not have the orientation to do so. In addition, training in rural areas is usually not specific to local resources, local needs or local talents. The unsolved unemployment problems have contributed to migration of large numbers of rural unemployed to cities, and the economic frustration of youth has led to higher crime rates and fueled terrorist and secessionist forces. Few corporations are willing to invest heavily in training new employees. As a result, available jobs presuppose technical training among the aspiring candidates. But gaining education in technical jobs is closed to illiterate and semi-literate people and to those who do not have the money to sustain themselves during apprenticeship. As they struggle to meet their daily survival needs, the unemployed lack exposure to a constructive work ethic and remain without the value of skill training.
Vineet launched his program in Chandigarh when the states of Punjab and Harayana were threatening to secede, and the movement to create the new state of Khalistan had attracted the energy of unemployed youth. The Society provides the youth with an alternative, constructive example. Since then, it has placed several hundred youth in suitable jobs and is now staffed by its previous trainees. As the number of trainees continues to increase, Vineet works to widen the network of associate companies. Already, the program includes companies in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh and in New Delhi. The most powerful advertisements for the program to the companies are the former Society trainees who have now started their own businesses and are now included in the list of associate companies. Vineet's organization maintains a data bank of carefully screened unemployed youth that are referred to companies that request the Society network to fill a vacancy. Over the years, strict personal oversight has maintained the high quality of Society trainees who enjoy a distinct edge over others in the job market. There is close monitoring of the trainees and the program. The trainees' attendance, progress and problems are noted every day. The Society office receives a progress report from the managers of the training workshops every two weeks. In addition, employers, trainees, Society associates and social workers meet quarterly to evaluate the current program and to explore potential directions for the program to take. Now that the Society has trained and placed hundreds of youth, Vineet is exploring new avenues of employment for his trainees. For example, it has begun to offer small loans to individuals who have completed training to start their own businesses. In order to create additional training capacity and earn income for the program, there is a service station and workshop for cars, jeeps, motorcycles and scooters. There, Society trained mechanics can earn a living on a cooperative basis. The project was designed to become self-sustaining within a year of its start-up so that when it began generating a profit, it could gradually eliminate the need for the Society to seek funds for sponsoring the trainees. Vineet's program is working in some of the largest slums in Chandigarh. He has also extended his concern for the unemployed by launching several programs for the youths' families, peer groups, neighbors and children. As these are the social groups that comprise the youth's immediate environment, he hopes to effect a qualitative change in their lifestyle. Programs include Vamam (a training and income-generation program for women) and Pustak (a non-formal school for slum children). The success of Vineet's model has already inspired the Chandigrah Rotary Club to help sponsor the replication of the Society's program. Vineet has also begun taking his idea to regions that have particularly difficult unemployment situations. For instance, an experimental project has been undertaken at Arki and Solan, an underdeveloped area in Himachal Pradesh.
In view of his achievements, it is interesting to note that Vineet has spent more than twenty years of his life bedridden because of a misdiagnosis after an accident that left him immobile. He responded to his problem by quickly arranging the furniture and his lifeline; his books, typewriter and files, within easy reach of his arms to suit his new parameters. Soon after his graduation with a degree in sociology in 1974 (which he attended on a stretcher), Vineet's father died. His mother had to work to support the family while Vineet became a freelance writer for mainstream publications to help support the family. After meeting Mother Theresa's nuns, he began helping them with their correspondence and public relations and visited many slums. The nuns launched a small school in a stable that was well attended by slum dwellers. As he became more involved with the nuns' work, the program leaders became increasingly impressed with Vineet and the local Bishop invited him to discuss a program for school drop-outs and unskilled youth. This discussion was the inspiration for the Society, formed in 1979 and initially funded by the Catholic Church in Chandigarh. Vineet continues to be involved in writing and editing projects in addition to his fourteen-hour days at the Society. Currently, he edits and publishes a newsletter on local issues, the City Courier, and is also a popular poet with most of his poetry published in his own calligraphic handwriting and appearing in numerous publications.