Lifting a generation out of poverty

How we drove past the Unnati building on Bangalore’s Temple road, I don’t know. Even the chaiwala at the end of the road and those hanging around his roadside stall were surprised. But a short walk back down the road and we were at the sleek-looking building well in time for our 10am meeting at Mr. Rameshswamy and his team. We started off the day by taking a tour of the premises, with Madhuri and Poornima from their team introducing us to the different aspects of the organization. English classes were going on upstairs, an introductory practical training to housekeeping on the ground floor, and beautician training for a bunch of girls in a corner classroom. All this is in line with SGBS’s Unnati programme, which focuses on helping poor, jobless youth get the vocational and attitudinal inputs required to guarantee them a job. All trainings are given absolutely free of cost as these are directed at youngster who hail from families that live below the poverty line.

So, at first glance, Unnati seems no different from the many vocational training programmes out there. But what makes the organization stand out is that they don’t just train jobless youth. The programme also guarantees job placement. Infact the organization boasts of a cent percent job placement; which means that they have helped ALL their 600+ youth who have completed the Unnati training programme get a job. Their emphasis on job placement structures the entire 70-day programme. Besides hailing from poor families, the only other prerequisite is that youth should be 18 years of age. Depending on their personality traits/ability and educational qualifications, they are given vocational training that is most likely to get them a job. So, for example, only graduates are given advanced excel training to become for example, admin assistants; as Unnati knows from experience that companies insist on even admin assistants being graduates. Those with physical disabilities are trained for a desk-job, where less mobility is needed (versus house keeping, for example, which they would find difficult to work at on their own). This is the reason why they have refused visually-impaired youth in the past (though their team is looking into Reflexology as an option that they can offer in the future).

Most youths learn about Unnati by word-of-mouth or from seeing how their friends have benefitted from the same. Or past students refer their friends to do the Unnati course. They have a 100% placement rate so far. 90% of the youth are placed in the recruitment camp held in the lasts week of a 70-day batch. Remaining 10% are placed at the end of the 70 days. But it does stand at 100% placement so far. The current courses offered are based on market demand + the fact that these skills are learnable in 70 days ( So, for example, jobs that require technical skills cannot be learnt in 70 days and hence are not an option). Initially, it used to be for 90 days. But they realized that the difference in the youth at the end of 70 days and at the end of 90 days is pretty much the same. Besides, keeping them in training for 70 days is easier than 90 days as they are a fairly restless lot. Also, with 70-day batches, 5 batches per annum are possible.

More than with quality, employers have been unhappy when trainees leave for other opportunities (because usually the move is quick, and they have spent time and effort in training them). Sometimes, one trainee (for example, say from a Café Coffee Day) lures another trainee from ( say Au Bon Pain) to join Café Coffee Day for just a Rs. 200 increase in salary (and this could be because Café Coffee Day is giving their employees an incentive to get more people0. So this is one of the reasons they want to put a mentor system in place – to guide in such types of situations. The course also focuses on personality, values, attitudes, dignity of labour – complete preparation they need for the kind of jobs they get. So, when a Titan Eyewear, for example, pays their trainee Rs. 13,000 per month, that’s when they realize that they are truly offering a value. Companies truly prize the English-cum-Life skills/values that SGBS gives and hence come back for more.

From servers at coffee stores, to cashiers at departmental stores, to housekeeping at 3+-star hotels, to sales staff, Unnati graduates have been absorbed in some well-established firms. Some of their employers include Café Coffee Day, Au Bon Pain, St. Marks Hotel in Bangalore, Levis, Titan and IBM. The graduates earn anything between Rs. 5,000 and Rs. 15,000. While this may not seem like a lot to city-folk, this is a significant salary; given that youth hail from truly poor families – from villages in Karnataka and neighbouring Tamil Nadu. As Lalita, who we met pre-duty at St. Marks Hotel, pointed out, “Thanks to Unnati I now earn Rs. 7,500 a month. That’s even more than the Rs. 4,500 my dad brings home every month.” Her dad works as a daily wage labourer back in Assam.

What makes the Unnati programme truly wholistic is that along with on-the-job training, values are also taught. Punctuality, avoiding waste, honesty, dignity of labour are instilled in the youth through personal-experience sharing sessions. Infact, Mr. Rameshswamy himself is very involved in these daily sessions. They have centres currently in Delhi, Chennai, Raichur, Ahmedabad, Coimbatore and Bangalore; and there are plans to setup operations soon in Pune, Nasik, Mumbai and Calcutta. As they’ve begun to feel the need to expand. For the first time, they had more applications than they could absorb – 270 versus their capacity of 180. This speaks volumes as this is an organization that has never done any outreach activities, and relies purely only on word-of-mouth of its graduates.

Rameshswamy welcomes everybody to witness the magic that they create. However, he says, “Visit our center in the first week of a batch and in the last week of the same batch. Only then will you understand how our 70-day course is making an impact.” Well, that can already be seen in the numbers itself. With cent percent job placement, they have a track record that even the IIM’s and IIT’s find difficult to achieve!

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