It’s Teachers’ Day. And in Nabarangpur, all that D K Dalai wants is this: jobs for his students.
Dalai is a part-time guest instructor in the electronics-mechanical wing of the Government-run Industrial Training Institute (ITI) at Umerkote, where just three students from a batch of 32 landed jobs after completing their two-year electronics-mechanical certificate course last year.
“My students stand no chance at job interviews,” said Dalai, adding that they struggle with poor communication skills and an abysmal lack of confidence.
Nabarangpur is the focus of a year-long assignment launched by The Indian Express on August 15, 2015, to track poverty and transformation in India’s poorest district. The issue of employment of trained young men and women goes to the heart of its future — and its aspirational story.
According to the National Sample Survey Organisation’s latest estimate, only 18 per cent of those who have successfully completed courses at vocational schools in India have regular jobs. Of these, about 60 per cent are employed as informal workers, outside of the organised sector. The remaining 82 per cent who do not have regular jobs mostly work as daily wagers or double up as farm hands.
Those entering the job market from places such as Nabarangpur are obviously among the most disadvantaged of this lot, considering that a majority of the students are tribals from a backward belt.
At the Umerkote ITI, even those who land jobs find it difficult to stay afloat. Take the case of Sagar Maharana, 22, who was one of those lucky three from 2014. Today, he does not want to stick with the Chennai-based company that hired him from a placement camp last year, as his monthly salary has been cut from the promised Rs 8,000. But then, he doesn’t want to return to Nabarangpur either. “I can barely scrape through (in Chennai). But I cannot leave this job and come back. If I do, I will have to manage with Rs 50-80 per day,” Maharana said.
Landing a job in Nabarangpur is no easy task, considering that there is just one reasonably big industrial unit in the entire district. Even today, an overwhelming majority of Maharana’s batchmates are sitting at home without any work after having shelled out an annual fee of Rs 2,400 per year at the ITI — Rs 5,000 for the electronics-mechanical course.
Sanjay Kumar Jal is one of them. The 21-year-old travelled over 500 km to Bhubaneswar for Tata Steel’s placement camp last year, but failed to get past the initial written test. “I had some difficulty in understanding the questions,” he said about his first and last interview.
Divyaranjan Patnaik, another student from that batch, tried landing a job over the last 12 months in neighbouring Koraput district, which has a smattering of industrial units that include facilities of state-owned Nalco and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. “Now, I’ve realised it’s pointless… I’ve started studies for plus-3 (graduation),” Patnaik said.
‘They stand no chance’
Staff at the Umerkote ITI, located in the northern half of the district, did not share details on the placements status of the entire batch of 72 girls and 62 boys that completed various courses here last year. But U N Sethy, who works in the principal’s office of the ITI, said that most of the girls tend to opt for courses such as sewing technology and dress making. While most of them get married after the course, they, at least, have the option of starting something of their own sitting at home. “The boys who go in for technical courses such as the two- year electronics-mechanical course are the ones who struggle afterwards as most come from tribal homes with poor educational backgrounds,” Sethy said.
From the batch of 2014, 22-year-old Kishore Chandra Majhi was lucky to be employed by the ITI itself, just after he completed his six-month course, as a data entry operator. His salary: Rs 6,000 per month.
Dalai pointed to a more intrinsic problem — of the basics not being clear. For instance, the student mix, which includes those who have passed Class 10 and even graduates, fumble when confronted with theoretical questions in subjects such as mathematics, including basic multiplication and division. Most fumble while writing their names in English.
P Ravi Kumar, Senior Manager (Accounts) at Mangalam Timber, a BK Birla group company that has an automated plant for manufacturing medium density fibre boards used for furniture, partitions, packing material and employs around 600 people, corroborates this. “When we hire from ITIs such as the one at Umerkote, we do expect that the candidate will know how to handle a hammer or a drill machine. But their basics are always shaky as the standard of elementary education is extremely poor,” he said.
Moreover, campus interviews of these students are held in places such as Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack and Behrampur, where just basic travel will require about Rs 2,000. “Even if they are bright, most are so poor that they cannot afford this and hence opt out. Plus, tribals typically do not prefer the idea of going out of their districts for work,” said Sethy, of ITI Umerkote.
The biggest problem for students is that they need to do apprenticeships to complete their ITI course, which, by itself, is a struggle in Nabarangpur. The district lacks an option that students can seek, with the exception of Mangalam Timber. It is only after undergoing an apprenticeship that candidates can apply in the government sector firms. “The only option for an apprenticeship here is Mangalam (Timber),” Dalai said.
Nabarangpur District Collector Rashmita Panda, a 2010 batch IAS officer, concedes that lack of opportunity is the biggest problem facing the youth in the district. She’s hopeful of at least one more mid-sized unit coming up in addition to Mangalam Timbers. “We are working on getting a food processing unit in the district,” she told The Indian Express.
Besides, the ITI in Umerkote, which started in 1988 as a woman’s ITI and turned co-educational in 2005, is trying to update its course offerings to keep pace with the times.
Three years ago, alongside the mainstay electronics-mechanical course, two new branches were started – of fitter and electrician. Newer courses included subsequently are a data entry operator module and a course on preservation of fruits and vegetables, as well as a new proposal for a course for motor vehicle mechanics and refrigeration is in the works, Sethy said.
Teacher in distress
Dalai, meanwhile, is struggling with a dilemma of his own.
The 31-year-old is a BCom graduate from Jeypore in Koraput and a former student of the electronics-mechanical course at the Umerkote institute. “I have spent eight of my best years here, but the employment of people like me is still not regularised. What motivation would instructors like me have in putting in their best?” he said.
Dalai joined the ITI as guest instructor in 2007 and takes home a gross salary of about Rs 9,000 per month, instead of a full-time instructor’s salary is nearly Rs 28,000. In fact, Dalai earns only slightly more than the Rs 6,000 earned by Majhi, his former student-turned data entry operator. “This the same across Orissa,” Dalai said.