Introduction This true incident happened in the year 1995. I was then employed in a senior capacity in HR with a sound organization, DCW, in their plant at Sahupuram, near Tiruchendur, in South Tamil Nadu. This organization employed mostly diploma holders and a few graduate engineers. A local graduate engineer was referred to me. The young man was good in technical knowledge. But his knowledge of English was very poor. He was raring to go, but could not even express ordinary ideas in English.
He was waiting for me at the guest house when I was scheduled to meet the Corporate Vice-President HR, who had come on an official visit. The VP ( HR) interviewed the boy and offered him a job at Dharangadhara. He told him that he had to work very hard and prove himself. He rang up the plant chief and briefed him. The young man was told to pack off to Dharangadhara and was promised an appointment order as a Graduate Engineer Trainee. The gamble paid off. He was so sincere and was mentored by a senior officer from Tamil Nadu, who knew both Hindi and Tamil. The engineer was able to speak in Hindi, in less than five months' time. He was able to quickly learn the technical details and was posted in core production. However, he was too good at the use of computers as he had undergone special training.
Those were the years when every organization was trying to use IT in production operations. The plant went in for an external consultant who helped them to ramp up the IT applications. This young man became the chief co-ordinator. After four years of production and IT experience, the young man was transferred as an Asst. manager back to Sahupuram. His knowledge of English was quite good too.
This is exactly what can happen if the rural youth are guided properly and made to train themselves. It turns out that the current imperatives are a) Help rural youth understand their own potential b) Utilize their native intelligence to guide them c) Identify slots in nearby towns and train them d) Guide them for rural area-based jobs and e) Guide them to become entrepreneurs.
Help rural youth understand their own potential This is the vital first step. Though their knowledge of the English language is very poor, the rural youth are generally very good listeners and they have the patience of a tall order. These two good qualities are also needed in the Indian corporate sector.
Some of the rural youth have good out-of-box thinking capabilities. This quality can help them see through any crisis and convert the same into a short-term opportunity. The rural youth have good knowledge of the traditional organic farming methods. They can be trained and guided to take up marketing of some of the organic fertilizers in the villages, for example. To each his own cup of tea. This should be the overall approach. Thanks to the internet, their knowledge levels have increased manifold and their exposure to whatever is happening around them is far better. For instance, the millions of YouTube videos in local Indian languages, including Hindi, has brought in a greater awareness of ground realities than ever before. Some of the educated youth can be guided to take up positions that have been now rendered vacant by the Hindi-speaking personnel in many small towns, throughout India. There were quite a few among the migrants who were graduates and they had found jobs in places like Tiruppur. It is unlikely that they will come back to their previous jobs as accountants, storekeepers, administration assistants, and so on.
All that needs to be done is to identify such slots and enable the rural youth to take up such jobs. For instance, after the 2008 crisis, I was able to place fourteen girls in call center jobs on the outskirts of Chennai city. All of them hailed from Madurai and from nearby villages. Today, they have learned English, they have acquired some additional IT qualification and have managed to secure regular jobs in some organization or the other, even in other cities like Vijayawada, after their marriage. All this was due to their patience and readiness to accept the Rs.5000 job in the entry positions, where the knowledge of Tamil was enough. They had rented out flats in the suburbs and managed to cook their own food to minimize their expenses. Their tolerance for ambiguity is far better than the city counterparts. In fact, many city guys refused to join in these jobs. They then migrated to Mumbai for some IT job or the other.
Hence, the trick is to enable them to understand their own potential and then guide them to the best of opportunities that will open up sooner or later. Till then, they can be guided to take up short-term courses like Tally when the curbs are lifted.
Utilize their native intelligence to guide them Four of the fourteen girls referred to above, were good in organic farming. The initial conversation was only about their background. They were so knowledgeable about natural fertilizers and so on. They were quick to ask me what difference that would make. It did in some way or the other. For instance, in the Perungudi area where they lived, they met with a rich family. The family wanted to set up a roof garden. The girls helped the family and set up the roof garden in no time. They managed to bring organic fertilizer from their villages and also taught the rich family how to grow their own vegetables in whatever little space was found in their independent house.
This lead to another interesting development. The old couple (their son was an IT professional based in the USA) asked the four girls to come over and reside in their own house for free. They became close friends. They even did the cooking for the old couple who gradually gave them free food as well. Some opportunities or the other always opens up. The trick is to enable the rural youth to just explore their own strengths. Today, the roof garden concept is picking up in Chennai on a much larger scale.
Identify slots in nearby towns and train them Contrary to public perception, there are graduates from among the Hindi-peaking population, who were employed as storekeepers, HR assistants, general administration assistants, accounts assistants and so on, in many towns and cities like Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Salem, Vijayawada, Tirupathi and so on. They have all gone back to UP and West Bengal. They are unlikely to come back, even after the lockdown is lifted in these towns.
The slots that will be made available is ideal for the rural youth, who hail from villages from around sixty kilometers from such cities. They are mostly B.Com graduates and it is possible to get them to take up these jobs. Over a period of time, with experience, they can to towards the bigger cities for jobs.
Guide them for rural area-based jobs When I was a visiting faculty member with the MSME Institute in Guindy, Chennai, some years ago, I met with an entrepreneur, who was dealing with blackboards. He had identified a big demand in hundreds of schools in the rural areas of South Tamil Nadu and some areas of neighboring Kerala. He wanted only rural youth who were graduates. Immediately, I was able to refer three candidates, who had passed out of a college near Tiruvannamalai. Today, they are all gainfully employed with other organizations in Madurai. They had contributed to the sales of the blackboards by forging good relationships with the school principals and zero tolerance for poor quality. The task is to just identify similar slots and guide them. Today, the need for marketing organic food products, organic fertilizers, and so on, in the semi-urban areas that surround the big villages is there for the asking. Once the lockdown is lifted, these activities will pick up quickly and the rural graduates are well placed to take up such jobs.
Guide them to become entrepreneurs In most cases, the rural youth, particularly those who are just matriculated, can be easily trained to take up small businesses. The cell phone revolution in rural areas is one example. Those who repair cell phones as high as Rs.800 per day. They often combine such skill with the skill to repair laptops, computers, and televisions. The scope is too good. The matriculates can also be associated with the AC mechanics for a short time as apprentices. The AC mechanics would be happy to employ them as unpaid assistants. Once they learn the basics, there are special short-term courses to get trained as AC mechanics. The scope of such skills is now increasing like never before.
The key is to identify the slots and then counsel the rural youth accordingly. Their listening skills are quite good.
Conclusion Given the current situation, and the unfolding of the possible opportunities, the need to guide the rural youth and infuse confidence in them is now better than ever before. All is not lost in any given situation. Some possibilities some learning from my own experiences has been discussed above.
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The experience of the author probably dates back to 1995. But at present the situation is different. These days the rural youth are also having all the facilities a youth from the city is having. Recently I stayed in a village and interacted with the youth there. They are all going to nearby small cities or big towns for their studies and college buses are there for commuting. So they are able to know the situations in the cities also. Another thing I noticed is that they are able to speak very good English.
To my surprise, youth there are more hard-working than the youth in the cities. They go to their field early in the morning and after two hours come back and go to college. That is why I feel if we train them properly on the job, even freshers can also deliver goods very nicely. Even a diamond is dull in its original form. Once we cut it and polish it, the shine is excellent. Same is the case with rural youth also. They are very good at subjects and they are faring well in the examinations. If the HR departments provide them good on the job training they will be very useful for the industry.
In my native place, I have a friend whose son completed B.Tech Chemical Engineering from Kakinada of AP and did his M Tech from NIT Surat. He is also from a rural area and approached me for a job. I gave an appointment to him as a Management trainee and trained him for a year. He learned the whole process very well and became a very good production man. In a short span of 5 years, he rose up to a key position in the production department. He speaks very good English, Hindi and he improved a lot technically. I feel on the job training has made all the difference.