Having a skilled workforce is essential for economic development. The majority of the youth find it difficult to secure a steady livelihood due to the lack of skills required in the job market. One of the first initiatives that attempted to address this issue was The LABS (Livelihood Advancement Business School) Programme of Dr. Reddy's Foundation (DRF). This programme imparts job-oriented vocational education to school and college dropouts from the poorest communities (including migrant youth) to assimilate young men and women into the job market.
Every year, with the help of an external agency, DRF assesses the impact of its programme. For the period from 2005 to 2007, DRF hired PLF to carry out its social accounting. Initially, PLF facilitated the social accounting process only in Andhra Pradesh. In 2006−2007, the process was undertaken across eight states of India, viz., Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, J&K, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The programme examined the following aspects:
- Achievements of the LABS programme
- Impact of the programme in enhancing the livelihoods of young women and men, and augmenting the wellbeing of their families.
The study also captured the experiences and learning from the programme to further improve its effectiveness.
Social accounting was carried out using the 360 degrees concept-based data collection process, through which the perceptions of the trainers, trainees, their household members, neighbours and employers were collected. The rationale behind following such an approach was to capture the reactions/perceptions with regard to the initial process of organizing the course to post-placement support, and the programme’s effect on households and the community. Analysis of the data helped take a fresh look at the entire gamut of activities undertaken under LABS. The main outcomes of the LABS programme were:
- LABS collaboration with employer companies increased opportunities of trainees through exposure visits and apprenticeship. Curriculum was also developed through these collaborations.
- Courses such as BSPA, ITES and CRS showed greater gender inclusiveness. In fact, the LABS programme created enabling conditions for the participation of women by helping them acquire entry-level skills. It also helped young women to break the stereotype when opting for professions. The stakeholders expressed the need for including courses that have demand in the local industries and establishments; and suggested that the courses be tailor-made and prioritized keeping in view women's choices.
- A majority of the trainees improved their job prospects after undergoing training as a part of LABS. They were found to be contributing to the family income and were able to clear their debts. They also became independent and there was a marked improvement in the quality of their lives.
To conclude, the LABS model needs wider replication for skilling the youth of the country. On the larger policy front, besides focusing on opportunities generated by the new economy, the programme needs to emphasise on supporting traditional activities too.
Educational qualification, which is a criterion for admission, often acts as a barrier for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds in accessing the courses. Therefore, there is a need to develop courses that can accommodate those with lower educational qualifications. There needs to be greater emphasis on post-placement support for trainees who cannot adjust and continue in the first placement.
The reality is that issues of skill development continue to challenge us despite programmes like LABS. This is an area that requires continued attention and investment.