Sometime in 2008, disappointed by the educational system that mass-produced diploma holders with less than relevant industrial skills, Saint-Gobain looked at altering the way it recruited technical hands.
Until then it picked up apprentices from the polytechnics. This process of apprentice picking wasn’t turning out to be meaty. The boys had good academic inputs but no practical insights. To make them employable was a tough task. Also, the transition from a student to a worker wasn’t seamless. Policymakers, employers and employees were all tired of expectation gaps. Rather than mourn the hole, the alternative of private initiative stepping in to provide education and hands-on training made sense. If a new pool of manpower can regularly emerge with sustained input year on year, it would be the best thing to happen.
Diploma in manufacturing technology...
“Let’s admit school pass-outs who cannot afford higher education, train them in the factory, provide them in-house with tailor-made classroom inputs and give them a diploma,” thought the brain trust of Saint-Gobain. It was called Diploma in Manufacturing Technology. The course consisted of five days a week of training on the shop floor and one day a week of sitting in a classroom course. Like medical college students having the hospitals as outposts, the interns would have the factory for an internship. It was a four-year programme.
How would it help Saint-Gobain? At a practical level, there would be a constant flow of skilled, employable workforce in adequate strength. At a corporate social responsibility level, if the candidates selected for education, training and placement come from the marginalised strata of society – from the other India – it would be making a difference to their lives; it would skill him.
Luckily, history was on Saint-Gobain’s side. For instance: in the automobile sector, companies had successfully run this model, albeit on a smaller scale. That parameter of ‘precedent’ taken care of, the next step for the glass major was to look for teachers to teach and experts to identify which positions in the factory were amenable for an internship.
NTTF as partner...
Saint-Gobain’s hunt for a partner ended when it identified NTTF, an education outpost that was completing almost 50 years of existence. Thankfully, it had the experience of having worked on similar projects elsewhere, it was on the same page as Saint-Gobain’s vision and understood the mechanics of the scheme. NTTF also had a simulated training center in Vellore, about 70 kilometers from the Saint-Gobain factory.
Next, Saint-Gobain roped in the Centre for Excellence in Organisation (CEO) for this. The Bangalore-based organisation specialising in executive search, was given the mandate to go deep down rural India, make the programme visible, recruit students who met well-set criteria and then run the Practice School. The Practice School was an omnibus term to denote candidates working under different coaches inside the factory to learn the practical needs of the trade. CEO was to identify the positions in the plant where the candidates would be trained for jobs needed with requisite skills.
NTTF, along with Saint-Gobain, stitched up the courseware and, with CEO, worked out the profiles and timelines. Together NTTF and CEO went into the interiors of Tamil Nadu to bring in youth from the marginal sections of society – the underprivileged – who were either in their late teens or early 20s. The pre-requisites: the boys should be economically backward, socially disadvantaged and must hail from a rural background. It was an exercise in affirmative action.
Conceptually it was a win-win arrangement. The company gets trained apprentices. The student gets hands-on experience even as he pursues his education and works for a diploma. With a scholarship (Earn), training on the job (Learn) and a Diploma (Certificate), he is equipped for life.
The collaboration began in mid-2011 and the first batch came on board by the end of the year. The recruitment was at multiple points in the year and not necessarily at one fixed point. The exits too will be at various times. The first three batches with a cumulative strength of 54 graduated in July 2016. In a sense, they are the pilot teams. The year ahead will tell how well they raise the bars for their successors. Eight other batches are at various stages of completion and will graduate between 2017 and 2020.