Need to Create an Ecosystem
Sushil Ramola, a social entrepreneur, a chemical engineer, an IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, the co-founder and currently MD and CEO of B-ABLE (BASIX Academy for Building Lifelong Employ ability Ltd.), talks about the demand-driven and market linked approach for the Domestic Work sector for promoting vertical and horizontal mobility across competency levels for the workers…
Give us a background of B-ABLE’s skill mission!
My organization Basix Academy for Building Life Long Employ ability or B-ABLE was set up in 2009 in partnership with BASIX. BASIX is the pioneering micro finance and livelihood promotion company in India. We started with the ‘less’, the less organized sectors and the less privileged people of the society. With a mission to provide skills and meaningful livelihood opportunities to 1 million less educated and under-skilled youth, B-ABLE was the first to partner with NSDC.
When you start working ina social enterprise, your focus is obviously on areas which are usually not in focus. Domestic Work is obviously such a sector. About 4 years ago I decided to venture into this extremely unorganized sector, as this was often unexploited and there has nothing been done in this area. I took over an organisation called DomesteQ in 2012. It was set up by Shawn Run acres, a US citizen resident in India. She created firstly an informal set up for domestic workers, and the objective was to build the networkto connect people with domestic help requirements. It was created to provide training and jobs to workers in an unorganised sector like domestic work. There are 13 training curriculum designed specifically for the illiterate or semi-literate workers in both domestic and corporate job roles. Shawn Run acres continues to be part of our work. The organisation has set up very good systems and processes; the conditions in which the domestic worker will work, the ways the domestic workers will be treated are very upfront and straight forward. It not only ensures that the domestic workers get their rights and understand their responsibilities, but also make it equitable and helpful for both the parties involved, even for the employers.
B-ABLE, of course, works in large number of skill areas other than DW. As I said earlier, we are one of the first partners of NSDC to build this skill ecosystem.
In your experience, what are some of the unique problems and challenges one encounters in the skills sector for domestic workers?
The first challenge is supply. Unless you identify and get people from remote areas, you cannot get supply. In this sector, the demand is far more than the supply. There area limited number of people who have already migrated and there are enough jobs for them. But in order to meet the demand, we need to create a continuous path, a chain.
Ideally the middle-men or the agencies from different states who supply manpower, predominantly from Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, etc,. Then you train and prepare them over their place of origin, provide them jobs in the city, then bring them and provide them a very structured working set up and as well as all initial supports. But that supply chain is not continuous. As a result, people like us are a little cautious, in terms of getting people from outside. We certainly don’t want to deal with the situation of migration. We intend to deal with people who are already in the city, who are skilled, and whom we can connect with the jobs. So the biggest challenge is to create the supply system and maintain the supply channel. As a corollary,the Sector Skill Council has to work towards maintaining this supply chain.
Secondly, this is an undefined sector, in terms of what all are to come under this DW sector.There could be house-keeping, elderly care, child care, cooking. There could be large number of service needs.But there was no structure earlier.There is a need to create a path for them,to show them what all can they achieve with this job or with the skills, so that the domestic workers can see it as an aspirational area of work. That did not happen, which is a challenge.
Again, when these people come to the city, they immediately want to do a job. They do not have the time or the affordability to get trained. On the other hand, the employers are also not keen to get them trained. There are insecurities in exposing the domestic workers to outside contacts and connections. That’s how our employer segment works. That poses the biggest challenge.
There is no big taker or giver for the skilling task. Government’s focus is primarily on the known organized sectors. Also, government’s programs cannot run in this unorganized sector smoothly. A lot of informal work has been happening. Almost 1.5 cr people are working in this sector across the country. But there is no formal system. That is the gap that the Sector Skills Council is trying to fill.
What are the plans for intervention?
As a Sector Skill Council, which is promoted by NSDC, having the backing from the government and the funding coming from the government, it provides an unbiased platform to talk to the government, to talk to employer community, to all the stakeholders, the unions, workers forums, RWAs, and various departments of the government.All of these stakeholders can brought to a single platform through this council. That is also the objective of the National Domestic Worker’ Skill Summit 2017which is happening in February.So, it creates acceptability, provides unbiased platform, takes up issues to be talked out, and takes some action.It also supports various organizations, state government departments through consultancy, providing the know-how, to come up with the right policies, right frameworks, right acts, etc., in order to move this sector from unorganized to organized direction. There is no other body for the stakeholders in DW sector. DWSSC,other than having this role also looks into standards, systems, trainings, and frameworks.
DWSSC has already started working on the National Skill Qualification Framework. There are various jobs and job roles. Under each job role, there are national occupation standards. DWSSC provides the yardstick, the standard platform for training. So, if a person is trained from one location, the training is equivalent to the training the other person gets from the other location. The standard for that job as well as the evaluation and assessment criteria are well defined. The certification is also uniform. It can also provide for the standards for how the sector would be looked after by.
What are the skills in focus? How do you go about infusing this new way of thinking and skills training for domestic workers?
We need to look at the things in demand first, instead of being futuristic. This is one criteria of determining which skill we need to focus on.
Second, no skill is fix or static. So, how can we make people grow in that skill? There are different levels to education and skill sets. National Skills Qualification framework provides that pathway, which automatically defines the level one needs to start with and the level one needs to reach through defined gradual steps.
“ A good domestic worker can bring in many changes in the home zone, can act as a mentor to a child, can make a child happy. It’s a far more evocative and interesting work, provided, we can make it aspirational.
Third is more specific to the DW sector. The skills in this sector are not watertight. A domestic worker needs basic 3 to 4 skills, in order to get a decent job, which are like, the basics of house-keeping, how to use the mops, how to clean, what is cleanliness, what are the standards of hygiene, how to operate a toaster or a mixi, basics of cooking , basics of child care, etc. They end up doing multi task. That is one of the areas we need to start from.
We may not call it as aspirational initially. But that can be a starting point. We can then build on it in two ways. One is to go vertically up, in getting skills at different levels, one by one. If a domestic worker works as a child care support, she can get more traning for child care at different levels as there are intricacies. End of the day, she can become a governess or an expert support in the stream. In old systems, the governess is the one who understands child psychology. If we go further deep, these skill group can avail opportunities in other countries, as expert care takers. In middle east or far-east, the need for this work forceis huge. That is about creating skills at a different level. In Singapore, it is much more a dignified job. They have more say in the child’s development than the parents. Parents too trust them, because they come with the desired qualification and behavior like a professional.That is how the future of any skill looks like.
There is a lot of focus on the technical skills of domestic workers. What about the transversal side of skilling?
That is very much a part of skill building. There are different kinds of skills that are being taken care. Technical or domain skills, which includes things like how to cook, what kind of spoons or cut leries to be used, which light has to be used, etc.
Second is behavior or life skills- which is about the softer side of the job roles, like,how do we manage, how do we understand the need, how do we handle, how to show discipline, etc.Third is about language skill or communication.
Then, there is the enterprise skill. This is about the need to have certain skills relating to sensitivity, about reactions to particular situations and the ways to deliver the job. For acquiring domain skills, theory is available, which one can teach. But it is difficult to demonstrate enterprise skill. Each situation can lead to a discussion about what a worker can do. So situations are created to make them understand what action is appropriate for them to do and what not to.
Then there is one program, which is about training new people, and then there is recognition of prior learning. People who are working in households are recognized, but not their skills. There is another program which is to recognize them and certify, assess it and certify. This will make them feel that inspite of working in the field for 4-5 years, they have nothing to show for it.
What are the skill areas B-ABLE focuses on to?
We focus on the basic 3 to 4 skills including house-keeping, child care, cooking, elderly care, etc. The trainings that we provide are much more interactive. In most of our training cases, the trainers themselves are domestic workers. Use of technology or any other advanced procedures are less visible, but the trainings are imparted in very interactive way, to make them comprehensive for the domestic workers.
“ Providing them skill is the first step. We have to give them the destination. Destination is to support them to rise to whichever level they wish to, using their skills and competency.
However, we have to do a lot more at the fundamental basic level. The training is even downstream. We need to create an ecosystem where domestic work is recognized as one profession or vocation.The work that DWSSC should take up on priority is to work with centre and state governments to disseminate all the policies and acts, make people aware and capable of implementing them, and then facilitate their formulation and their implementation where they don’t exist.
What are the governance issues you identify in the skill sector?
Governance issues lie with the accountability of the workers as well as with accountability of employers. When you are taking up a formal job there is a clear accountability, which is missing in domestic work sector.
Taking care of their basic needs, their banking, insurance, minimum wages, due leave periods, working hours, etc are the other kind of account abilities posing for governance issue.
What are the suggestions for making the stakeholders accountable?
Primarily, facilitate awareness as Sector Skill Council. Then create adequate policies, acts, systems and then help implement it. Domestic work is equally a respectable job as is any other job. A good domestic worker can bring in many changes in the home zone, can act as a mentor to a child, can make a child happy. It’s a far more evocative and interesting work, provided, we can make it aspirational. In the developed world, domestic workers are not available adequately and there is huge demand. So we need to build this profession in such a way that it is treated as a very respectable job.
What are the targets you have set for B-ABLE?
We have taken a target of starting with Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and agreed to do 2000 RPLs. We haven’t yet reached near that mark, as the government program which was supposed to do this has not yet started. As part of RPL, we take people who are already working somewhere, give them some awareness, some information about their job role, train them for what they could do, and where they could go. Then we assess them for their skills and certify appropriately. That is the initial step.
“ It would be rewarding, if we can bring some change in the lives of the workers and the way the profession is looked at by the workers themselves.
Then, we set up skill centres, preferably at source point of domestic workers. Because, once the domestic workers come here, she would not be sent by her employer for any kind of training. They need to be trained at the source, wherever they are from. If the worker is from Jharkhand, we need to set up a centre at Jharkhand. Then the government has a role to support, so that they can come to the city and are looked after well. B-ABLE so far has not taken up the migratory labour force for trainings, considering the risks and issues attached to the core. But now as the SSC creates this pathway, we would definitely like them to make use of the trainings.
How to bring balance between skills for economic development or knowledge development and skills for poverty alleviation?
Skill is for providing better livelihood and doing well in life. Skills are for poverty alleviation. But that would be limiting the larger impact of skilling the domestic workforce. It is not a good way to do, if we do skills for poverty alleviation, as that won’t be aspirational. Skills initially do serve that purpose of getting people out of poverty. But without a strong foundational skill, we cannot get people out of poverty. We cannot keep giving them support, subsidies, NREGA, etc. As soon as that initiative is stopped, they go back to the old living. However, if we give them skill, they can use that to continue to earn.
Again, providing them skill is the first step. We have to give them the destination. Destination is to support them to rise to whichever level they wish to, using their skills and competency.
Are we in the path towards corporatization when we speak about an entrepreneurial domestic workforce?
It is certainly not a corporate and the intention is also nowhere to move that way. This is an unorganized sector. In corporate sector, there is a defined and very large customer base.Here the customers are individuals. Each customer has a very different need. If we call the skills of the DWs as product, the product has to be customized to the needs of the customers in the end of the day. It is just to make the system more equitable. It is not only that we need to meet the requirements of the DWs. We also need to meet the requirements of good governance in this system, to make it more organized. However, this will remain informal, not a corporate.
What are the milestones B-ABLE has been able to set?
I am happy that through our network of domestic workers, we are able to place them in decent work. In last 6-7 years since DomesteQ started, these workers with the constant support, mentoring and coaching are now earning decent and attractive. As an individual organization, I can say, we are able to achieve that. Whereas, we know that these DWs when come through middle men, their earning Is compromised, as also there are several other exploitations. So that’s my achievement. What we have not been able to achieve is numbers and that’s because of the ecosystem. Unless the ecosystem is built, there is no point focusing on the targets or numbers.
What will be the most rewarding part of your work with the domestic workers?
It would be very rewarding for me or for B-ABLE when we can say that as one of the very early and key promoters in this sector, we have been able to create a very strong ecosystem, in terms of the right policy, the right skilling programs, standards, systems, etc, allowing the employers and workers to do the right thing.
For training people, it would be rewarding again, if we can bring some change in the lives of the workers and the way the profession is looked at by the workers themselves.
In places like Jharkhand or West Bengal, they send their children out for work till the time they get married. As soon as they get married, they stop working. So it is under distress that they work. Many of the domestic workers are supporting their families. I would be very happy to see the change, may be in five years down the line, when the parents would send their children gladly for this work, quite like parents sending their children abroad for further studies or to make career in IT. When they can say with dignity that yes, this is a good job and I am willing to send my child for this work, then we can see fulfillment in our work.