Based on Shahi Exports’ skill development journey, a recent case study Enabling Rural Women to Enter the Formal Workforce Through Sewing Skills’ Training shows how despite plenty of challenges, India’s number one apparel export house is continuously uplifting the lives of thousands of women.
This study has been developed as an example from the Indian apparel and textile sector on the contribution of industry-led initiatives towards some of the SDGs.
With support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, this project is being undertaken by three prestigious organisations.
Centre for Responsible Business (CRB), Aston India Centre for Applied Research (AICAR) and Aston University, UK join hands and investigate how private sector companies, as part of Global Value Chains (GVCs), production networks in India have/could better contribute towards the achievement of specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly inclusive education and life-long learning (SDG4), employment and decent work for the youth (SGD 8), women’s social and economic empowerment (SDG 5) and sustainable consumption and production (SDG 12).
Team, targets and working
Shahi’s skill development journey properly started in 2013 and now it operates 117 sewing skill training centres across 14 states.
More than 25,000 women have been trained under this programme and around 22,000 have been successfully placed since 2013. The target is to train 15,000 more women by 2022 and to achieve this target, it is working on internal Training of Trainers (ToT) academy and a few other initiatives.
Through the skill development programme, trainees get guaranteed placement in the company’s factories. As a company with more than 50 factories (spread across 7 states), it has a continuous demand for skilled workforce. It also collaborates with industry peers and places the trainees in their factories if required.
Overall Indian apparel and textile industry has 60 per cent women workforce. This figure is important as India’s overall Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) has slipped from a high of 32.2 per cent in 2005 to a low of 23.4 per cent in 2019, a decline of 8.8 per cent.
Recently in an interview for The State of Fashion 2021 report, Anant Ahuja, Head of Organisational Development, Shahi Exports and Co-founder and CEO, Good Business Lab said, “At Good Business Lab we have a slogan that’s ‘worker well-being is good business’. We’ve always believed that, but now I think Covid has forced (other) people to believe it.”
It is also worth to highlight here that under the aegis of ‘Migrant Workers Livelihood Project’ started by Shahi in 2016, the company is working closely with Janodaya Trust NGO to develop a model and ecosystem of support for migrant workers at Shahi.
Migrant workers of the company are given accommodation at the residential facilities (RF) managed by Janodaya Trust.
To manage these centres and overall skill development initiatives, it has a dedicated team of over 200 expert professionals and this team actively identifies collaboration opportunities with private sector partners and various flagship government schemes.
This team works at national, state and training centre levels. The senior team includes Heads for Operations, Finance and Management Information System. Then there are State Heads, Quality, Placement and Post-placement Executive Trainers (Sewing skills, Information Technology, Soft Skills and English), Machine Mechanics, Warden, Block and Village-level mobilisers.
Funding and allied support
Government schemes are one of the major sources of funding for skill development. There are well-known schemes like Integrated Skill Development Scheme and Scheme for Capacity Building in Textile Sector, SAMARTH (MoT), Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU GKY) of MoRD, Upskilling project for skill upgradation/multi-skilling for sewing machine operators to mention a few.
As far as the private sector is concerned, Shahi Exports has good partnership with prestigious organisations from across various industries including Tata Steel Foundation, ACC Trust, Spark Minda, SAIL, M.G.M Minerals and Madura COATS. These organisations support Shahi Exports’ skill activities through their CSR funds and sponsor the training of candidates in the communities where they operate. This fund is utilised to cover costs for infrastructural needs, staff salaries and training materials.
For the ease of trainees and to ensure their comfortable placement, Shahi leads the training programme and supports the placement of candidates in the nearest factories.
Approach for training
The training programmes of the company are focused on rural below poverty line women and girls from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe. In fact they are around 65 per cent of the overall candidates while minority communities are 10-15 per cent of the total candidates.
Women candidates from left-wing extremist districts under the DDU GKY scheme in Odisha and Jharkhand also get support from the company.
To groom these girls and women through proper training to become eligible for job is not an easy task; similarly various mobilisation techniques are used to encourage candidates nearby the training centres to take up the training programme.
Shahi Exports’ training centre staff meets the Gram Panchayat body (village-level local self-government) and introduces the programme to them. The staff talks to the community workers from the village (Asha workers, Anganwadi workers, and/or self-help group leaders) and identifies a candidate amongst them who is best suited to mobilise women from that village.
If the mobiliser is interested, then they would be invited to the centre for training on best practices for effective mobilisation and familiarisation with the programme details through a visit to the training centre, discussion with the instructors, centre head and existing trainees. The mobiliser, after getting hired, has one month to create awareness about the programme and onboard women in the villages to join the training centre.
Training tenure and course connect
Each training batch of the company has around 30 candidates and runs for a duration of one -and-a-half to two months. To build a strong learning system, it follows a well-developed and comprehensive course curriculum developed by the Sector Skill Council (SSC) which includes modules like technical training on industrial sewing machine operations, English training, Information Technology training.
The traditional training programme is also supplemented with life skills training through Gap Inc.’s proprietary programme – Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (PACE).
Shahi believes that its role as an employer is not just skilling and employing people, but also retaining the productive workforce. Beyond its programme, the company also provides extensive on-the-job training of one month to its workforce. It tracks the retention rates for six to twelve months after joining and frames policies and programmes to retain the trained candidates.
Dropouts are also observed when skilled candidates are not able to adjust to the new environment. To counter this, the company is also continuously developing new programmes and policies to ensure women continue to work and thrive in the workplace.
An average retention rate of 75 per cent after 6 months of employment has been observed so far and the PACE programme has been instrumental in further boosting the retention rate.
Continuous research and adding value
Another point for appreciation in this entire exercise is that Shahi Exports continues to research and add value to its skill development initiatives. And for this, Good Business Lab, a labour innovation research organisation is incubated at the company.
With this organisation, and with the help of various ministries, the company does research from time to time. Such exercises increase access to technical skills and employment opportunities for internal migrants increase leading to greater Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) and impact the overall welfare and empowerment of women, both in the household and at the workplace.
The company observed that villages with greater exposure to past skill development activities as well as villages in which a greater share of women have historically migrated to the cities, are less likely to take up the programme now.
Acknowledgement and achievements
All these efforts of the company bring in very good results and create a win-win situation for all stakeholders, especially women. Women having different kinds of challenges in their personal life be it poverty, abusive marriage etc., are now a part of the workforce of the company. These women are living a happy life, supporting their families and moving towards a good life. At the same time, these women workers are also getting promotion in the company and are becoming supervisors rather than being limited only to the sewing floor.
The company’s endeavours are even acknowledged by the Government and it has received various awards from time to time like DDU GKY- ‘Best Performer Employer – Rank-1’- National Award for three consecutive years, ‘Best Performer Project Implementation Agency’ by the Jharkhand Livelihood Promotion Society and ‘Best Performing Training Partner (Category-B) Rank-1’ – National Award.
The Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18 has said that around 33 per cent of the formally trained youth in India remain unemployed. Keeping this in view, it will be perfect to say that skill development with an organisation like Shahi Exports is the best strategy to make sure that every skilled youth gets a job and contributes to the industry and fetches proper value for every penny spent on training.