Jindal Aparajita, Changing the face of Skilled Construction workers in India

By Miriam J. Carter*

With thousands of crores of rupees allocated by the government to train more than 400 million people by 2022, the Skill India programme has set the tone for skilling talent in the right manner. The Governement of India’s impetus on Skilling India should lead to better wages, and tangible, exponential growth in employment for direct beneficiaries.

For employers and large industries alike, skilling must result in increased quality of services and productivity; better manpower and retention; improved occupational health and safety of workers, time and cost savings; alignment with international standards; and more revenue.

Vocational training must amount to discernible educational, social and economic mobility for beneficiaries who often are poor and increasingly middleclass learners.

With this objective, OP Jindal Community College started a targeted, skill development initiative for unemployed rural youth. The college’s mandate is to educate and train a skilled, competent, globally competitive workforce.

Inclusive development means educating the vulnerable including women, specifically in traditional trades as well as male dominated high-growth, high-wage trades, for their empowerment through sustainable employment.

In line with this belief, OPJCC started Aparajita—‘Undefeated’—in April 2013 as a construction skills mobile training project for rural women, in order to address the shortage of skilled women workers in the construction sector. To date, over 400 Aparajita is changing the face of Skilled Construction workers
in India rural women have earned Government recognized skills certificates and are now gainfully employed in construction.

Initially, we faced resistance for training women in construction trades; tailoring, cooking, and jewelry making were seen as more appropriate courses for women. But we held our ground that women would enroll and excel in construction, if given an opportunity.

The construction sector is amongst the largest contributors to India’s GDP, employing an estimated 30 million people, half of which are women. Gayetri, (22) school drop-out, is like many other rural women. She starts her day, before sunrise, carrying out routine household and agricultural chores, before setting off to work.

Gayetri like other women can be seen as daily wagers at construction sites, putting in over 12-hours a day of grueling manual labor. Often they work under vulnerable circumstances without adequate equipment or safety gear such as gloves, work boots and hard hats.

Such jobs have no security of daily minimum wages, no protection from physical abuse, no opportunity for training or advancement.

These women are labelled as unskilled, uncertified workers despite their significant contributions to infrastructure, civil, and development projects, vital for our nation’s economic growth and prosperity. This is particularly true in rural India wherein women like Gayetri are amongst the dominant bread winner.

On gender diversity at work, Smt. Shallu Jindal, President, JSPL Foundation says, “It is our dream to see an India wherein there is no gender discrimination, where women are given equal opportunities and there is employment for all.” Aparajita programmes promotes this ideology.

OPJCC’s goal is to elevate, certify, and support sustainable livelihood creation that empowers rural women for employment in the construction sector.

The collective aim is to improve gender diversity at the workplace and to utilise one of our nation’s valuable assets—human capital. The Aparajita programme has helped to create gender sensitization and garnered appreciation from both genders. It is indeed heartening to hear men say that they never thought that women masons could master the craft so well and excel. Today, these women are not only working at traditional construction sites, but they are literally rebuilding their homes, local access roads and their communities.

The traditional socio-cultural milieu and household chores typically prevents women from attending classes outside their villages.

Sensing this issue, OPJCC Punjipathra decided to instead take the college to
these women, offering them the first two months of training within their community for them to comfortably understand and get used to training with ease.

Training within the villages has created more awareness about our various skills development programmes and established our credibility and fueled further enrolment.

However, unlike OPJCC Punjipathra, OPJCC Barbil and Patratu have managed to successfully offer Aparajita programmes at their respective colleges. Thus, it important to understand the nuanced needs of each community, and have flexible, customised and responsive strategies for each location. To Make in India, we need a skilled, competent, globally competitive workforce.

OPJCC staff work with contractors, industry, and government to promote the importance of hiring skilled and certified workers, including women, in construction and plumbing.

To accelerate economic growth, workers’ productivity is imperative, and it is directly linked to quality vocational skills training. OPJCC guarantees its training quality in several ways. Aparajita and other college programmes are recognized by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) Sector Skills Councils. OPJCC is also an active and respected training partner of the Construction Skills Development Council (CSDCI) and Indian Plumbing Skills Council (IPSC). The College is a government empaneled training agency for construction instructors and assessors.

Last year, over 700 OPJCC construction students secured 80% success rate on 3rd party certification exams in masonry, bar bending, electrical, painting, and formwork carpentry, the highest for any training provider in the country. Civil contractors usually acknowledge that OPJCC students are distinguished by their productivity, work ethic, safety adherence and right attitude of timely job completion.

Aparajita has given the college a platform to converge with government
schemes to benefit local women. District Employment Officers and Assistant Labour Commissioners have extended services to programme participants.

The Raigarh District Collector in particular is the patron of our Raigarh Livelihood College (RLC), an all-women’s’ residential training facility. OPJCC provides RLC students high quality training for employment and the DC provides the building and living quarters: A win-win situation for women’s vocational education.

At present, 82% of Aparajita construction trainees are working in various projects and companies. One of our success story is that of Sushila Behra; Last year, Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi felicitated Ms. Sushila Behra, one amongst the 500-plus women skilled in construction trades, on World Youth Skills Day.

In addition to this, the Aparajita programme has some of the best, enlightened, and committed construction trainers. By living on-site in the programme villages for the first couple of months, instructors model the positive programme outcomes of workplace, life Aparajita is demonstrating that (a) inclusive development makes a difference in myriad ways in the lives of women and their families, and (b) that there is a willingness in the construction fraternity to accept women at par with their male counterparts as skilled and competent workers.

OPJCC aims to keep innovating for integrated, relevant, need based vocational training in construction and other sectors, and in doing so, the college creates a replicable model of technical education and training for the nation.

This is the promise of JSPL Foundation that goes beyond statutory requirements, but targets nation building and giving back to society.

Miriam J. CarterWith more and more women opting for these courses, India is developing a strong cadre of female technicians as machine and CNC operators, AC and refrigeration experts, masons, plumbers, and heavy construction and agricultural equipment maintenance staff.  With men working alongside women as peers, Skilling India for Digital India and Make-in-India can become a reality and benefit the nation and beyond.

(* Miriam J. Carter is the Director at OP Jindal Community College)

Twitter: @JSPLCorporate

Source: JSPL In-house E-zine, July 2016