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Skilling the unskilled: a silent change
Chief Minister V Narayanasamy, the 70-year old veteran Congressman, asked an excited audience of 500 at the Pondicherry Engineering College, “Are you all happy? Are you smiling? Your 32 teeth are visible.” The audience roared in approval.

If you travel 144 kilometers south of Chennai on the East Coast Road, you will reach one of India’s rich-in-heritage tourist landmarks, Puducherry.  This former French outpost makes you intuitively think of booze, bungalows and the white-skinned, but you would see a minister or two take a stroll or ride a bicycle, and you get the complete picture of a laid back place. 

 

Colleges, colleges and more colleges

Pondicherry, home to the famous medical college, JIPMER, is dotted with educational institutions:  18 engineering schools, eight medical colleges, and a surfeit of arts and science institutions. In contrast, it has just a handful of companies and limited industrial activity. As a generation that is born post-economic reforms begins to get into its ‘earning’ phase, how do they get jobs, more so if they are unemployable? If not properly handled, the situation could spin into a social war. That is the space the Government of the Union Territory, and the ICT Academy have sought to address.

 

Engineering was once a highly sought after and prestigious course to which only the best and brightest could aspire. Most Tamil families would dream of their son studying at an IIT, fly out to the US for a MS, and settle down in search of the greenbacks. Today, with private players having stepped, there is mass production of engineers with less than relevant employable skills. This skill gap is sad at a time when India is selling the story of the demographic dividend. 

Back in 2008, industry honchos, disappointed by the looming crisis, lined up with the Tamil Nadu government to float a non-profit organization called ICT Academy of Tamil Nadu (ICTACT) that has now evolved as ICT Academy. The idea was to reach out to students of Information & Communication Technology and make them industry-ready.  “It would be the center point amongst industry, academia, and government,” says the Academy’s CEO, Chartered Accountant M Sivakumar. He added:  “we have been implementing various projects for the Central and state governments including providing training in the areas of ICT and e-Governance.” 

How does this help the industry? One, there would be a constant flow of employable workforce. Two, if the candidates come from the marginalised strata of society, it would make a difference in their lives and add a few notches to the company’s corporate social responsibility talking points.  Socially, Skill India would get the right meaning.

On 12 of April 2017, something that happened at the Pondicherry Engineering College is an indication of the igniting of social change.

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