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Gram Tarang trains young people from backward and Naxal hit corners of Orissa
Gram Tarang trains young people from backward and Naxal hit corners of Orissa.
Mukti Mishra

Mukti Mishra

She eventually would like to marry and settle down, but right now 28-year-old Kalpana Prusty is in love with her new life and her profession in a new city - Bangalore's Bannerghatta Circle - which is far away from her Ghoradiya village in Orissa. "I come from a really poor family of nine members and could not imagine a life such as this where I could actually provide for others," she says. Prusty counts herself lucky to have responded to an advertisement she saw in a paper about Gram Tarang: "I have studied up to 10th standard and my life was going nowhere… Then I approached the institute in February this year and got trained in sewing at the Jatni centre," she says. Her skill training, lodging and food were free of cost and she managed to get placement with Aquarelle India, a garment manufacturer. Here she earns a salary of Rs 6,500 a month and gets subsidised accommodation for Rs 200 per month.

The objective of skilling youth, that allows them to gain livelihood, is not exactly what Mukti Mishra envisaged when in 2005 he first acquired the ailing Jagannath Institute for Technology and Management (JITM) in the tribal and naxal-affected district of Gajapati in Orissa. "I wanted to give back to the society and my dream was to also have a B-school that actually runs a business where students get first-hand exposure of the demands and management," says Mishra.

15 million youth need initial vocational training in India every year

To his dismay, he found many students dropping out for various reasons. Either there were monetary constraints, or they just could not relate to the courses. "In many cases, I found they were so far removed from the demands of modern workplace and actually required grooming and a training that would quickly make them employable," he says.

That is when he decided to partner Central Tool Room & Training Centre, Bhubaneswar, for offering vocational training: "We were the first ones to partner them and we realised that many youth needed a residential training as they were so far-removed from the life of a city and needed to be coached even in use of toothbrush, toilets along with their vocational skills," he says.

As this took shape, Mishra got 64 kids from naxal-troubled areas such as Rayagada and poverty-afflicted regions such as Bolangir and convinced mining group Vedanta to fund them entirely. As this expanded, he got some outsourced projects of IL&FS and then approached the Ministry of Rural Development (MORD) directly for more such initiatives. By 2010, it helped that JITM became the first multi-sector, private state university, legislated by a state Act, and was instituted as Centurion University of Technology and Management (CUTM).

This allowed the varsity to take on 10,000 students under MORD programme, who had to be trained in three years. "But despite the partial funding I got from the ministry, I realised that I needed funding and this is when I approached the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) for funding and created Gram Tarang as a separate entity that runs within the university," says Mishra.

The advantage was that Mishra was now able to not only offer vocational training, but offer students the full benefits of a residential programme where they could interact with other students and teachers and get better exposure. Also, he was able to sustain the largely free-of-cost-model for marginalised students under Gram Tarang as he could use many of the university's common infrastructure such as teachers, administration, premise, and other resources.

A recognition of its effort is that Gram Tarang, this year, manages to find mention in the Secretary General, United Nation's report on 'Right to Education: Promotion and Protection of Human Rights' as an example of the good practices followed in public-private partnerships across regions by different stakeholders. Every year 15 million youth need initial vocational training in India and the existing private and public institutional capacity captures just three million.

Gram Tarang offers aid in spaces that few can really imagine: "Mishra actually sends local cooks with batches of youth to cities. He teaches them specialised courses, such as industrial sewing, that are in demand and takes pain to ensure that local youth get adjusted in big cities," says Dilip Chenoy, CEO and Managing Director, NSDC.

Few realise the challenges when it comes to skilling poor youth from farflung regions of the country: "I am one of the few survivors. Many others have run back to the village as they cannot cope with a different language and alien culture," says 30-year-old Sarat Chandra Nayak who works with autocomponents maker TATA-ASAL for a salary of Rs 6,500. He was trained as a fitter and industrial helper last year at Gram Tarang. "I got everything free of cost, and the company tries hard to help us adjust," he says.

Having trained 23,000 students, Mishra now is aspiring hard to complete the entire loop in other ways. His university has already registered with the All India Council for Technical Education and the University Grants Commission this year. It will be able to offer a degree on vocational training called B.Voc and it has partnered with National Institute of Open Schooling where it is able to offer those undergoing skill training a 10th and 12th standard certification as these are students who had to drop out of traditional schooling and opt for vocation for various personal constraints. "This will offer the critical vertical mobility to students and allows for the critical credit transfer that has long come in the way of giving vocational training the sanctity it deserves," he says.

Shamni Pande
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