Pramal Lad: Increase English-based Graduate Employment
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
With a degree in Economics from the London School of Economics, Pramal Lad spent six months with Vidya Poshak’s graduate finishing school and now brings his passion for service to Chaitanya India Fin Credit Pvt. Ltd. Pramal is currently grasping nuances of Micro-finance as he prepares to assist Chaitanya’s efforts in providing better service to rural stakeholders.
Background and Original Project Vision
Vidya Poshak is an organization operating in the Northern region of Karnataka State. The co-ordinating office is located in Dharwad, which is the location of its first Graduate Finishing School (‘GFS’). Vidya Poshak has been active since 2001, mainly focusing on its Nurture Merit Programme (Financial Assistance and Scholarships). The programme began in 2007 in Dharwad and a second school opened a year later in Gulbarga (at the Northern tip of Karnataka).
The concept of GFS is that there is a skills gap between rural graduates and well paid corporate employment, mainly driven by poor English language skills and low self confidence. To enable and empower students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds to secure employment and escape from poverty, GFS provides a three month training course. At a rate of 10 hours per day, the students undergo training in the areas of English language, communication skills, basic computer skills, analytical skills, personality development and self confidence.
Indicorps Fellows were requested to develop the GFS programme, focusing on sustainable innovations, evaluation/metrics and alumni development. Geetha Mathews (Indicorps Fellow) and I arrived to what seemed to be a very flexible project objective. Geetha and I prepared a detailed report in which we researched various areas of GFS and outlined proposed tasks – from which we selected two or three focus areas each. Although we were given the option to choose anything in Vidya Poshak to engage with, GFS appealed to us both.
My community has essentially been the students whom I interact with for a period of 3 months. I have seen them grown and been there for them through what is one of the most challenging periods of their lives. The transition from graduate unemployment, to a well paid career in a city like Bangalore has the potential to transform life for the students and their families. The opportunity to dedicate my time to their development has enabled me to try new programmes and classes that enhance their skills and confidence. I also hope to have been that friend or counsellor who they can confide in to overcome any obstacles. The final role I have played with these students is actually being with them in Bangalore to attend interviews – sharing the tensions and frustrations of interviews in such a big city whilst supporting and encouraging their best.
Project Focus and Implementation Results
Over the first two months, Geetha and I put together a comprehensive evaluation of GFS. My focus was more on the numerical and statistical aspects, which eventually lead to a donor friendly report depicting critical success factors of GFS graduates (such as average salary, proportion of students in different locations and job types and correlation between certain variables and respective salary). It was agreed that this reporting was a discrete piece of work required for the donor, albeit a useful exercise for our understanding.
A visit to Bangalore enabled me to meet past students and gain firsthand experience of going to Bangalore through the lens of a GFS student. I slept on the partner organization office floor, where our students would also stay and interacted with Shravan and Manju, both active GFS students. Subsequently, Geetha and I have both began working on how we can improve the support given to Alumni. Our thoughts have taken the form of a pilot encompassing various career guidance – bundled as ‘GFS Career Services’. The launch event for this shall be at the end of March and will include a Graduation Ceremony as well as careers workshop. As part of this, we have released the first Newsletter and created a blog.
I conducted a staff training workshop prior to the last batch and repeated the training with the Gulbarga team. Although the team were all buzzing during the training day, follow up has been sparse due to time constraints and perhaps a lack of structured follow up.
I have been capitalising on opportunities to spend time with students: usually a few hours daily (including lunch times), attending assemblies, running classes, mentoring, interview preparation and CV assistance.
In a GFS structure that is streamlined and has efficacious channels of implementation, seeking deep meaningful ways of engaging with community of students was a huge challenge. As a result of an ongoing dialogue, it was agreed that I should replace any typical project targets with the intention to simply ‘be’ there for the students as their older brother or ‘anna’ as they say here in Kannada.
Karthik, my Alumni Mentor, was supportive in this period of re-evaluation and I came out with the following ‘mission statement’ (on 15 December 2009) to place on my bedroom wall as a reminder of what I love to do and why I’m here:
“Empower and inspire individuals to realise their passion in life and to become successful community role models. My role is to provide the tools and coaching so they may reach their fullest potential. Through GFS, I have access to a group of students whom I can excite about their inner potential and create mechanisms to facilitate the realisation of each one of their dreams. Be an Anna (older brother) to each and every one.”
I have had many opportunities to spend time with students, varying from running classes (examples include 7 habits, economic and financial trends, SWOT analysis and Role Models) to going to the cinema (3 Idiots) with them. I feel energised when I am able to create a sense of excitement and personal growth in the students which should lead them to successful careers.
Here is a list of the tangible experiments and subsequent results to engage the above thoughts into my work:
‘Tracker’ is a daily record of activities students must complete to develop their employability skills – ranging from reading newspapers to conversations in English on random topics. The previous tracker was turning into a tick-box exercise and so I worked on developing this into a more involved process. The result was a double-sided tracker which required the student to fill out daily with short descriptions of what they were doing – and require daily signature from mentors. This was going well for a few weeks, however, when I returned from Workshop (8th week), the tracker system had been stopped, along with formal classes – instead the students had time slots throughout the day to do certain activities (no requirement to be as rigorous as before and check they are being completed due to priorities shifting from training to placement).
To give students a space for self expression, I re-ignited a previous concept of ‘personal charts’ – basically notice boards made with cheap polystyrene made to look much better by sticking on a simple border. I took photographs of each happy student, printed and posted them up after which they designed their own name plates. Around half of the students used their charts and stuck up homework / quotes and exercises (such as self Swot analysis or their role models).
This was one of the ad hoc day sessions I was able to control, whereby we assigned different activities (such as opening a bank account, booking a flight) to small groups of students (2 or 3 per group) and they would then come back and present findings. It was a good activity and I was scheduling a second one, however, placement activity had been accelerated and therefore was no longer possible.
GFS ‘Panchayat’ (Student Union)
Combing the need for student representation, student-driven changes and a chance to build leadership qualities, I came up with the idea of having a GFS Panchayat – 5 elected members who would act as student union leaders. This was a good exercise that began with an election where 13 members went on stage and argued why they should be elected. After a democratic voting process, the 5 elected candidates were empowered to serve the student body as they wished (under partial guidance). There first task was of a social nature – to organise a new years eve celebration (food, games, decorations, etc) which they pulled off very well. Subsequently, they have been involved in creating additional classes for weaker students. However, as demands of schedule and their own development increased, the Panchayat has faded out. Staff have been involved in the process, such as the elections, to help understand the benefits and make changes, however, the collective feeling is that this is not sufficiently valuable to detract from core training time.
Stock Market Trading Game
In an attempt to get students excited about reading business newspapers and increase their knowledge of the nature of work in potential employers (there are many investment bank call centres where our graduates work), I launched a stock market trading game. After a several classes on stock markets, economics and the business world, the students were free to choose their own small groups and create fictitious ‘investment banks’ to represent their imaginary fund of Rs.1 lakh. The teams would then approach me (acting as the stock exchange) to register their portfolio’s and on a weekly basis would be allowed to trade. A good number of students were engaged and eager to trade, however, the results proved to be devastating! Not a single team made a profit – however, I feel that it has helped many in focusing attention to business pages and at the very least it will act as a good example for interview questions.
Discipline and Respect
I have trained the students to start saying a non-religious universal prayer before meals to prevent wastage. When I teach classes, I ensure they start and end on time, providing explanations to importance of punctuality and effectively reprimanding those who are late. Students are friendly, yet disciplined around me and they say the food prayer regardless of teacher presence. However, punctuality still seems to be a problem, which could stem for the absence of teachers when the school starts. I think the requirement for the students to be at GFS all day causes them to be complacent and not fully engaged throughout – it could be better to have reduced, but more focused hours. Also, students are still not mature enough to take responsibility of their own careers / lives – and it is not helped by the teacher-pupil environment naturally created here with very experienced teaching professionals.
Self introspection has been a regular occurrence, through good times and rough ones. There is something conducive to self discovery about being in an environment where you feel effectively alone. Although at times this is difficult, it has brought about an awareness of who I am. I’ve attempted to let go of having too many strategies and defined goals.
The strength of the fellowship support structures have been powerful tools to enhance my development this year, be that staff members, alumni or fellows. I believe we share a collective understanding and hence the confidence to challenge and question one another to search deeper and go beyond what we believe to be our own boundaries. Going forward, I seem less attached to the word ‘project’ and more so to the word ‘process’, or to quote Jayesh bhai, ‘prem’(love). Can I challenge myself to live each day with Love at the forefront, in service that is humble and personal rather than over-arching and project orientated?
I look forward to see where this Fellowship will take me next.
Pramal Lad, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow