Showers and Supportive Work Environments

Guardian has an interesting article on Youth unemployment: can mobile technology improve employability? by Linda Raftree (@meowtree) and Nick Martin (@ncmart). Excerpts:

The ILO reported that 74.8 million youth between 15 and 24 years were unemployed in 2011, an increase of more than 4 million since 2007. Globally, the youth unemployment rate is almost 13%, and youth are nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed. In some countries there are no jobs. In others, there is a skills mismatch and with some quality soft and hard skills training and support, young people could be ready for existing, unfilled jobs.

A 2009 meta study on the links between ICT skills and employability in the US by the Technology and Social Change group determined that “ICT skills are almost never the missing link that miraculously transforms employment prospects.” It goes on to note that lower wage, lower skill workers face a multitude of other barriers that are much more complex than unfamiliarity with ICTs, and that “ICT literacy cannot be isolated from larger social and personal contexts. Soft skills as well as solutions to challenges such as childcare, transportation, time, and appropriate attire are important.

India has a definite case of skills mismatch. There are many efforts underway to address these issues as evidenced by National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC) and our very own AIDA (this is perhaps your most favorite effort, right? RIGHT? ;-)).

crowded bus in india, (cc) dhruv panchal

crowded bus in india, (cc) dhruv panchal

This reminded me of an observation-cum-solution from the Managing Director of a large hotel chain in Chennai. We were discussing employability and skill training for new employees in customer-facing jobs in the hospitality industry, especially in luxury hotels like hers. Youth from underprivileged backgrounds cannot achieve or attain these jobs. One aspect of employability training is to provide skills that prepare young people for these jobs. For instance, in areas such communication, spoken English, and confidence. However, there is also another aspect that is sometimes overlooked.

Let us say a disadvantaged young woman has managed to overcome the many socio-cultural and economic barriers and obtained a job in a luxury hotel in the heart of Chennai. How can she keep her job and move up in her professional career?

The Managing Director pointed out that the new employee probably lives in the outskirts of Chennai. She will start out fresh (showered, ironed clothes on, etc.) from her home. She will have to take over-crowded trains and buses to get to her job. By the time she gets to the workplace, she is sweaty; clothes are wrinkled, etc., all factors affecting her professional appearance. This results in her languishing at the workplace with no growth path ahead of her, since professional appearance is critical in the hospitality (or any services) industry.

In this specific case, the Managing Director had noticed this barrier and made alternate arrangements. The hotel provides showers for their employees, who can now freshen up and get back their professional appearance AFTER arriving at the workplace. I was extremely impressed with her sensitivity and search for a workable solution to a known problem for a specific set of employees. This is probably one of the best places to work in Chennai.

Employability. Workforce development. These antiseptic words sometimes mask the multitude of individuals, their contexts, and challenges. It also obscures what a long and hard slog it is for someone who does not have the many advantages that we take for granted. However, all is not lost (thank goodness!).

There are those who make it through the journey, thanks to supportive work environments. And, most importantly, people who care. All critical lessons for us as we go about our work at AIDA.

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