Bridging the great divide

Bridging the great divide

Judging the potential that rural India holds, Girish Singhania started Edubridge, to bring rural youth up to speed in finding employment opportunities in the service sector

S. MEERA

That rural India’s potential is untapped is old news. Just as old as the fact that there is a burgeoning number of young rural residents who could fill the surging need of various industries. Only, they do not have the requisite skills to actually be able to do so effectively.

Girish Singhania, founder-CEO of Mumbai-based Edubridge, witnessed this demand-supply gap while working for Procter & Gamble and with investors during his stint at Edelweiss. He decided to do something that would increase rural India’s chance helping its people find good employment. He quit his job in 2009 and spent time in 100 villages across five states to understand what kind of service would be meaningful to the rural people. “I initially thought that I would deliver information to farmers, but realised that they would not be willing to pay for it,” he says.

He was clear that he wanted his venture to be self-sustaining. So, he looked to tap the potential that lay in readying rural youth for corporate jobs. Of course, there were others operating in this segment, but they followed the NGO model. In July 2010, his venture, Edubridge was started off, with savings and capital from his friends and family. He had also started talking to the National Skills Development Corporation, a Public Private Partnership established to promote skill development in the country through for-profit vocational institutions, and got funding from them in January 2011.

The first two training centres were setup in Jalgaon in north Maharashtra and Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu. “They had captive jobs in the neighbourhood. While Tiruvarur had a BPO, Jalgaon was close to an industrial sector,” he explains.

In 2012, the company was funded by Acumen, to the tune of Rs. 1.5 crore. This will be used to expand its presence from the current three states to six states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya, Bihar and Gujarat, before the end of the year. At present, the company operates 15 centres in the first three states and will add 15 more. While the current centres are its own, in Bihar and Gujarat, it will look to implement a franchise model.

Getting off the ground

Edubridge trains youth in the age group of 18 years to 23 years with varied education backgrounds. Typically, those they work with have completed graduation (25 per cent -30 per cent), plus two (50-60 per cent) and class 10 (10 per cent). Basic training is imparted in communication and entry-level skills for the service sector, including banks, BPOs, ITeS and retail. If a candidate is promising, then he/she is given job-specific training to move up the ladder, to undertake tasks such as call-handling at BPOs.

Today, Edubridge’s training curriculum is based on the requirements of potential employers and as most of these training courses are driven by prospective employers, they come with a job guarantee.

The company recruits trainers through advertisements in the local newspaper. The central office has trainers to train these local trainers. “At first, we outsourced the curriculum development but were not happy with the quality. So, we hired in-house developers,” says Singhania. Today, its training curriculum is based on the requirements of potential employers and, as most of these training courses are driven by prospective employers, if the learner picks up the essential skills, there is a very good chance he’ll find a job.

Currently, the company has 60 people on rolls for content development, quality, training and marketing in the central office and at the state and district levels.

Edubridge uses NGOs who help in marketing and mobilising the youth. It has tie-ups with financial institutions to provide collateral free loans to students and also partners with state governments to mobilise the youth as well as subsidise their training.

Tackling many a challenge

Several NGOs in partnership with state and central governments run similar training programmes, some even free of cost. Even if the quality of such programmes is not high, the fact that they barely charge anything makes them more attractive. To compete with them, Edubridge had to offer its training courses at subsidised rates and partner with corporates to make the difference. Corporates hand out sponsorships under their CSR programmes. Or, if they are seeking youth for employment, they bear the cost and recruit the candidate, if found suitable.

Another challenge Edubridge faces is in finding the right people, especially at the district level. Increasing the management bandwidth has also been difficult since it cannot pay on par with market rates. “But now we have some passionate people who have given up more lucrative jobs to be part of this venture,” says Singhania.

And the gap persists

Edubridge has trained 8,000 youth so far, through its six to eight weeks programme, that runs for five hours a day. Singhania is frank in admitting that in real terms, only 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the participants have been placed. But that is because; many opt out of the programme and sometimes, quit right after being placed.

“The aspirations of the youth are contrary to our expectations. We think that once they have a secure job and a regular income, they will settle down. But that is not necessarily the case,” he explains. On the one hand, many of them may not be academically inclined and so sitting through the sessions itself may pose a challenge. Once they are placed, they have to relocate and may be unable to adjust, because of which they quit. Further, a gap in skill and employability has led to a slower than expected pace of development in Tier-II and Tier-III towns.

“But, the outlook is not all bleak. A lot of the candidates we have trained have also moved up the ladder,” says Singhania. And corporates are coming back to seek out more potential for entry-level jobs.


Snapshot 

Edubridge

Founder: Girish Singhania

Year: 2010

Investor: Acumen

Industry: Education & Training


Concept in brief :

India’s population is young with over 50 per cent being under 25 years of age. Just a glance at rural India is telling, the numbers exist but so does a gap in skill levels and employability. The level of education here is also poor, making these youth ineligible for corporate jobs. Girish Singhania, founder-CEO, Edubridge, started a programme to impart relevant training to rural youth in the age group of 18 years-25 years. He has touched 8,000 lives, of which close to 65 per cent-70 per cent has found placement in the corporate sector. Even so, this is just the beginning in reconciling the great divide between the rural and urban areas of India. With the right curriculum and immediate feedback from its customers, Edubridge is playing a large role in pushing up the percentage. 


Knowledge Partner:

Altacit Global is a boutique legal firm specialising in Intellectual Property and Corporate Legal Matters. Altacit Global has partnered with The Smart CEO, to present a series of articles on Impact Ventures. Please visit www.altacit.com for more details.

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