Energy remains a barrier to the progress and development of many communities, and it impacts their access to most opportunities. And as the solar energy sector in India grows at a rapid pace, it is essential to ensure equitable growth, one that responds to people with needs, from varying geographies and communities. For this to happen, we need innovators, entrepreneurs and workers from diverse backgrounds.
It is broadly assumed that society is a mix of different skill sets – 80% of the people will look for a job, 15% would be entrepreneurial, and 5% would be innovators. Based on this, the Skilling for Distributed Renewable Energy (DRE) programme aimed to ensure the creation of pathways for entrepreneurial and innovative individuals from marginalised and rural backgrounds to become job creators and problem solvers. Therefore, we aimed to leverage the existing skilling institutions in the country and create a programme that would build capacity for future solar technicians, programme managers, designers, and entrepreneurs, among others.
Working with existing institutes also meant that we were primarily creating capacity-building models for the DRE sector that could be integrated with existing or upcoming programmes. While there were some concerns about the challenge of building good training modules, our experience of incubating enterprises and designing solar energy programmes gave us the required expertise to set the curriculum. The team worked in collaboration with vocational training centres, industrial training institutes (ITIs), polytechnics and other NGO-backed skilling institutes to design the programme. Together with the partner training institution, we also intended to establish the right mentorship group and exit strategy for placements.
The first phase of the intervention spanning from 2016-2018 aimed to develop training modules. At this stage, we worked on setting up templates and training modules, created content, and identified master trainers catered towards vocational training centres (VTCs) and ITIs. During the pilot phase in 2019, the team tested the developed content and captured feedback to create a replicable model, and the trainers received first-hand experience on how to execute the curriculum. Based on the feedback received from the pilot, we divided the training modules and rolled out an entrepreneur module, an innovator module, and a revised technical module to suit the diverse needs of the target audience.
Despite meticulous planning, the intervention faced several hurdles. One of them was our failure to view the programme from the student’s point of view. At the time of enrolment, students had expectations and aspirations that did not necessarily align with what the programme had to offer. This was further compromised by the incentive structure in training institutes, and the corresponding processes that they followed. Skilling programmes had become a way for rural youth to find jobs in urban areas, and students enrolled with dreams and the promise of jobs in big cities. Skilling institutes also measured their success by ensuring placement. Did this mean that the institute itself was channelling only 80% to come in? Did this also mean that the outreach and channel-building efforts had to be revised?
Additionally, chasing the dream of a job at the end of their skilling program, the students were often under pressure to join the workforce as soon as they graduated. This meant that even if they were interested in the innovation and entrepreneurship route, the pressure to earn money forced them to abandon their entrepreneurial goals. This conundrum also highlighted the role of the trainers who had to be innovative and entrepreneurial in order to support the ambitions of the students who wanted to become innovators and entrepreneurs in the future. The high rate of attrition among master trainers who would leave the programme midway was a major challenge in ensuring that.
At SELCO, we missed the opportunity to institutionalise the training modules by working in collaboration with critical stakeholders such as the Ministry of Skills Development and Entrepreneurship or the state’s Directorate of Technical Education. This would have helped in integrating the course material into the ITI/polytechnic programmes that were already in place in Karnataka and would help to better evaluate the course’s impact. We also missed the chance to work with the Skill Council for Green Jobs to revise the criteria for undertaking these programmes, while providing a grassroots-level curriculum for the Suryamitra courses.
On the other hand, however, SELCO worked with skilling partners across the country including Don Bosco Tech Society (DB Tech), Skills for Progress (SKIP), and some ITIs and polytechnic colleges in Karnataka. These institutions took up the courses and integrated them into the regular course curriculum. They saw an opportunity here and started selling this course as one of the options for the potential candidates. Organisations like DB Tech and SKIP failed at scaling it further, as they depended on raising donor money through grants or government support, to continue offering these courses.
It has to be noted that the incentive models for continuing these courses and the subsequent decision-making become critical in continuing an initiative like this. Currently, there is an opportunity to institutionalise the course curriculum and all the learning material, the content, the labs, and the practicals for solar technician training across the country. There are several partners, CSRs, institutions, and NGOs that still reach out to SELCO to learn from its skilling programme and use our modules for their programme. However, a method to mainstream the curriculum and integrate it into a national framework is yet to be figured.