Youth Helping Youth in India
In Mumbai, young people are providing peer mentorship to help other youth join India's workforce and contribute to the country's economic growth.
Steffi Cherian, a trainer with TechnoServe’s Youth Employability Program (YEP) in Mumbai, hears a common concern from the college students she trains and mentors. As they begin to search for jobs in the formal sector, they find that these are typically located in business districts located far from their own neighborhoods, which are often in marginalized areas of their city. Their parents, who frequently have little experience with formal-sector jobs, are wary of having the students commute hours away from home — young women are especially discouraged from doing so.
But Steffi offers them a different perspective. “I give students my example. I hail from a small town in the southern state of Kerala, but when I received the opportunity to work with TechnoServe, I decided to shift states and start afresh in a new city, even if it meant being far away from my parents. I tell the students that I made a conscious decision to pursue a better future,” explained Steffi. “And I tell them that when I perform well at work, my parents are the happiest ones of all.” Hearing this message from a young woman has helped encourage many students to broach the topic with their family and come to agreements with their parents about pursuing jobs far from home.
The TechnoServe training gave me clarity in thought and speech, and prepared me well, to face interviews.
The message that Steffi shares is just one example of how the YEP program is working to knock down barriers to formal sector employment for young people from marginalized communities. Every year, India produces more university graduates than any country except China, but many of these young people struggle to enter the formal workforce. In fact, the Aspiring Minds National Employability Report found that 80 percent of newly minted engineers were considered “unemployable” by Indian hiring managers. The challenge stems not primarily from a lack of hard skills, but often because the graduates can’t communicate effectively, haven’t mastered English, or lack connections to companies. As a result, many educated young people end up working in the informal sector, while Indian companies struggle to find the workers they need.
The problem is particularly acute in economically disadvantaged communities, where students often don’t have role models or peers in the formal sector, and the transition to corporate jobs is more difficult. YEP, which has run since 2015 with the support of the Citi Foundation and J.P. Morgan, is working to address that challenge by providing workshops and mentoring to students in Mumbai, equipping them with the skills, confidence, and knowledge to succeed in the workplace and connecting them with companies looking to hire young workers.
The trainers delivering that support are young people themselves, like Steffi. Shruti Bharath, manager of the program, believes the youth of the trainers is a key factor in the program’s effectiveness. “It improves how well students relate to the trainer, they have more belief in the guidance provided, and the sessions are generally more energetic than what normally happens with older trainers,” she said.
The youth trainers also bring unique skills to the job. After a year working as a trainer, Sanchi Khurana harnessed her background in research and technology to help build a new online learning platform, which will be integrated with classroom training to reinforce learning through the program. This will allow the program to reach students more often without raising costs and also help the participants to become more adept at using digital tools.
The training provided by YEP has already made an impact. One participant, Aishwarya Nanaware, explained, “My plan was to work after graduation, but I could not clear interviews. I did not know what answers to give, and had difficulty framing the right sentences on the spot. The TechnoServe training gave me clarity in thought and speech, and prepared me well, to face interviews. I learned what to expect from the different hiring processes, a structured manner to answer the company hiring managers, and how to tackle difficult questions.”
After participating in the program, Aishwarya secured a job as a sales coordinator at a bank. She is not alone: in its first iteration, the program helped 1,000 young people to secure employment in the formal sector. Now, the program is working with 5,000 students in Mumbai.
The problem of youth employability is a serious obstacle to India’s economic growth, but YEP is showing how it can be overcome. And it is young people like Steffi and Sanchi who are leading the way.