Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the TechnoServe C2C team in Mumbai, India, would spend their days training students in classrooms or chasing down college administrators for meetings.
The team was helping disadvantaged college students in Mumbai to transform their job prospects in a country where people in their early twenties face an unemployment rate of roughly 38%.
The team trains students in “soft skills” like professionalism, effective communication, and digital literacy – and then helps students land formal employment through career fairs and other outreach.
It was a busy routine, but it was worth it when the program team saw the smiles on students’ faces as they got placed in formal sector jobs – often becoming the first in their family to do so. The enhanced status and income can open a world of opportunity for the students and their families.
COVID-19 Forces Career Program to Go Digital
But at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked like all of that might change.
In March 2020, a nation-wide lockdown was announced in India. All academic institutions closed their doors and shifted their classes to an online format.
The C2C career program training sessions were halted mid-way as trainers and students alike had to stay home. Students who had been recently placed through recruitment drives were told that companies were reassessing their hiring plans.
A survey conducted by TechnoServe’s C2C team revealed that more than 70% of their students were facing stress and anxiety due to the pandemic and were finding it difficult to spend time at home. Loss of jobs for many families had exacerbated dire financial conditions and many families were forced to return to their native villages.
In the face of this crisis, the TechnoServe team moved quickly to adapt the program to meet student needs that were now more urgent than ever.
Students Persevere Through Pandemic-Related Challenges
One of these students was Somiya Sharma, a student at Dalmia College in Mumbai. She lived with 10 other family members in a two-room apartment – a situation that became especially precarious when both her parents tested positive for COVID-19.
“It is difficult to manage them and stay safe at the same time,” she reported at the time. “The quarantine has been physically and mentally difficult for our whole family.”
The TechnoServe team worked quickly to adapt an in-class curriculum to an online model:
- The trainers equipped with Zoom licenses and strong Internet connections
- New activities and assignments were added to make the content pandemic-related (how to work from home, for example)
- Orientation sessions were conducted across colleges to inform authorities and students about the new way of operating
In June 2020, the first fully online training cohort was started on a pilot basis. The effort was a success: the team mobilized more than 1,500 students across 25 colleges in the span of a month. By the end of 2020, the program had trained 3,670 students online in the region.
Career Program Trainer Steps Up
For Somiya, the online training gave her a new sense of purpose. “I was getting bored at home and my college had not resumed classes,” she recalls.
The TechnoServe program gave me activities to do and motivation to learn and grow.”
That progress was threatened, however, when Somiya tested positive for COVID-19 two weeks after starting the program. Hospitalized and struggling to recover, she reluctantly told her TechnoServe trainer that she would have to stop the program. But her trainer had other ideas.
“We discussed my challenges, and she conducted sessions with me on the content that I had missed,” says Somiya of her TechnoServe instructor. “She even adjusted my class timing per my needs.”
The C2C trainers were happy to be able to maintain these personal connections with their students, who were equally invested. Some students financially supported their families by working during the program, but they still took time out to attend the training sessions.
Other students who were living at home in their villages and could not attend sessions regularly due to Internet issues, ended up moving back to the city so they could attend without any interruptions. Students even lamented canceled sessions, as they really looked forward to the interaction – even if it was virtual.
And they knew the training was a pathway to a better career – if they could just find a job.
Job Placements for Digitally-Savvy Students
Job placements during COVID-19 slowed as the economy tried to recover from pandemic-related shocks. And according to the India Skills Report, students graduating in 2021 will have even more trouble finding employment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, since March 2020, the C2C placement team has been able to source nearly 10,000 opportunities through more than 150 placement drives, leading to more than 1,000 students finding the right opportunity for them after successful interviews with companies.
And – despite her struggles throughout the year – Somiya succeeded in landing a job with Samco Securities, a leading stock broking company.
She bought a laptop with her savings, something she did not imagine she would be able to do in such a short time.
Thanks to my trainer’s understanding, I got the strength and courage to continue my course. I resumed attending classes while I was in the hospital…I developed self-awareness and professionalism through the course.
– Somiya Sharma, student, India
Because of her job, Somiya is able to support her family – including her siblings – during the trying times of COVID-19, which brought additional medical expenses for the family.
With her additional income, Somiya’s family is now stable and living in Mumbai.
Learn more about how you can support students in India as they pursue their dream careers: