Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mom, Dad! Listen to me for once!

Dear Mom & Dad!

Another year has passed! I am seventeen years old now! These seventeen years have brought about tremendous changes in me! I’ve learnt a lot in these years and I am a lot wiser than I was ten years ago! I have grown up listening to every word of what you say. Whatever I am today is because of you. But today, I want you to listen to me!

Today, I have completed my schooling and I am looking forward to my graduation. You are aware of my interest in painting & drawing. You probably acknowledge that I am creative. You do not know that I can excel these areas. Your definition of a career ends with engineering, medicine or an MBA. But today, the world has many more options than these. And I want to choose a different path – I want to be a painter! Will you listen to me this one time?

Mom, do you remember the day when I was five years old and I wrote the alphabets in a haphazard manner? I thought it looked artistic but you termed it as illegible. You compared me with the next door kid and expected me to be as good as him. You misunderstood my ability and pressurized me to write properly. It hurt; but it did not matter to you! Such comparisons continued all through my schooling and ended up stressing me throughout. You may not have realised the impact. But I will feel it!

Because your definition of achievement ends with my scoring more than the others, I have become a rote learner. Conceptually, I am very strong; but can I apply my learning anywhere? I doubt! I know Newton’s first law of motion by heart but I do not know where to use it! I can blurt out HCF and LCM of numbers like the back of my hand but I do not know where I can apply them! This stress has affected my learning apart from taking a toll on my health. Physics states that everything has a breaking point under pressure. This is true of human beings too. I am thankful that I did not hit one ever!

Dad, you are the wisest in the family! I believe every word of what you say! I trust your capabilities to manage the household, to take care of every one of our needs. Why don’t you believe in me and my capabilities? You have taught us the value of trusting people. But, it’s disheartening that you don’t trust me and my judgement or choice? If, as parents, you don’t believe in me, nobody will!

You keep telling me that I cannot succeed in life taking up something like painting. But that depends on how you define success, Dad! For you, success could mean wealth. For me, success could mean being happy and making others happy with what I do! Why can’t I work towards my success on my own terms?

Mom, you advise me everyday that if I need to succeed in life, I should work hard like Dad. Why then are you keen on giving me the easier options of engineering or medicine which have a sure shot career? Why can’t I choose something different and work hard to succeed in it?

I have never compared both of you to anyone else in the world. I have always believed that you are unique and I am proud of you. But why do you compare me with other kids most of the time? If other kids chose engineering, why do you insist that I choose the same? Please understand that I am unique with capabilities far different from anyone else. Try to understand that and help me grow with them rather than stifling them and making me a clone of your friend’s son!

Dad, I am aware that you wanted to be a doctor but could not make it to a medical school. But imposing your ambitions on me is not fair. It is a question of my life and I do not want to risk choosing something that does not interest me. You have taught me that to be best in something, I have to like it, love it and enjoy it! I am sure that I will not enjoy being a doctor! I agree that choosing medicine will give me a successful career. I am also aware that not choosing medicine will not result in a failed career. I have an example in you Dad!

It is not a question of engineering or medicine for me! It is a question of a cause or career! Most people do not understand the difference between a cause and a career. If Bill Gates had chosen a career in computers, he would have been working with IBM or Apple. If Richard Branson had taken to a career in engineering, he would have been an average middle class British citizen. These people committed themselves to a cause. Bill Gates wanted to make the Personal Computer truly personal. Richard Branson wanted to make flying across the Atlantic far cheaper than anything available. I can give you many more such examples. These people were successful because they committed themselves to a cause. I would like to do the same. Will you listen to me?

If you still feel that I must commit myself to a career, I will! I may not be happy about your choice but I will live with it. I may become materialistic but I will have a great career. You may feel proud that your son is a doctor or an engineer; I will be ashamed for sacrificing my interest! You will be happy that I am successful; I will regret that I lost my cause and happiness! Most importantly, you would have cloned your son to lead a life like your friend’s son; I would have lost my individuality! I am asking you one last time… Will you let me be myself?

Whatever your choice may be, I love both of you a lot!

Your loving son!
(Written on behalf of all those who wish to choose the untrodden path.) 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Let the mismatch grow!

Over the past few days I have been conducting job interviews at Jaipur for the vocational training institute that we have newly started here. The institute trains school drop-outs to become electricians, TV repair mechanics, mobile repairers, AC & Fridge mechanics, 2 wheeler & 4 wheeler mechanics etc. We are currently recruiting faculty who can teach these subjects - both theoretically as well as practically with a lot more emphasis on hands-on training. However, my experience in these interviews has left with me with a lot of startling thoughts.

We had given an advertisement in a leading daily in Jaipur (shelling out a fortune from a vocational training institute standards) asking interested, eligible candidates to walk-in for the interview. There were 4 people who turned up for the interview. Out of these one was working currently in the industry, one has been a faculty for many years and the other two were people looking for a stop-gap arrangement until their endless wait for a government job comes to a happy ending. I was shocked, to say the least! I have had similar experiences in interviews conducted across MP & UP as well.

I have always thought that Jaipur is one of the larger metros in the country, more developed than at least its other BIMARU counterparts - Bhopal, Lucknow or Patna. I assumed that getting qualified faculty would not be a problem in such a large city. Add to it, the number of Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in the state of Rajasthan - a staggering 729 (Source: NCVT Website); the third highest number of ITIs in India. On an average, each ITI has 2 trades with around 21 students in each trade summing up to 30,618 students graduating each year. Jaipur district alone has nearly 110 ITCs (Private ITIs) which has an approximate throughput of nearly 3000 students each year. These numbers would make anyone vouch for the availability of skilled manpower but sadly the reality states otherwise.

Almost all the 110 ITCs in Jaipur offers the Electrician trade. However, out of the four candidates who came for the interview, just one was from the Electrician trade. Happy to have got at least one, I questioned him on the basics of electricity and was keen to know if he can install a fan or a tube light. He drew a blank mentioning that it was not part of the "practical" syllabus. I cornered him saying that if even an untrained person could install it, why not him. He admitted that he has learnt it theoretically but never did it practically and hence lacked the confidence to do the same. That's appalling! I never imagined in my wildest of dreams that such would be the state of trained technical manpower in Jaipur. I shudder when I think of these candidates joining electricity boards and managing our power lines. The only consolation - this could be a one-off case - one candidate is not a sizeable sample to arrive at conclusions!

I have seen that most people who pursue an ITI course do so purely for a government job. In Rajasthan, the major employer is the Rajasthan State Electricity Board. In MP & UP, it is the Indian Railways. A job in the government gives them the job security for lifetime and the possibility of earning much more through other unethical means. The competition to join these departments is tough but some of the 'financially abled' make it through, thanks to corruption spread across all levels. The recent question paper leakage of railway examinations is just one case. Having spent a lot of money, time and effort in getting a government job, these people have tremendous pressure to recover their 'investment' as soon as they get the job. Bribe, otherwise called "Bhent", "Pet Pooja" or "Kharcha Paani", is such an addiction that can never stop until you quit or get caught! Even after you get caught, you can bribe your way out!

On the one hand, we have a huge population which only wants a government job and on the other hand we have a large number of students who go to the ITIs but never learn the skill-sets. The first question most students pose to our counsellors is if the course is government certified and if they can get a government job post course completion. When we reply in the negative, they are just not interested in learning anything. When we counsel them that we prepare them for self-employment, so they do not need to depend on the government, they are not very keen. Entrepreneurship is not something they wish to take up mainly because of the risks involved in it. But more importantly, for them, a government job means no risk, less work and more money!

Unfortunately, industries too suffer because of the non-availability of trained manpower. A lot of industries spend time and money in retraining these candidates to make them productive. Training institutions such as ours struggle hard to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of training technical manpower. However, while being a supplier of talent we also have a demand for skilled manpower which remains un-fulfilled many a times.

Most importantly, it is the common man who suffers because of non-availability of such trained manpower. There are not enough electricians in the market; not enough plumbers in the market; not enough AC repair mechanics; not enough Refrigerator mechanics; just not enough! The well-to-do families do not want their children to become an electrician - they would rather do an MBA and be a "Manager" or a "Businessman". The middle class families aspire their children to become "Engineers" & "Doctors". The lower-middle income families aspire their children to get into a government jobs. The lower income families are happy even if they could afford some schooling for their children. If this situation continues, 10 to 15 years from now, there will be a huge dearth of electricians, plumbers, mechanics etc.

Simple economics states that when demand increases and supply remains constant, the price is likely to go up - a situation where an electrician will make more money than the MBA. I truly hope that one such day dawns. May be then, people & government will start thinking about some serious vocational education to be included in our school syllabus. May be then, kids will also start aspiring to be electricians and plumbers. May be then, vocational education would not be only for the underprivileged or the poor.

Until that day dawns, my good lord - let the mismatch grow!