Connecting Rural Youth to 21st-Century Jobs in India

Girl sits in her home in front on a sewing machine

Mittal Vasava, age 20, was living in rural Gujarat when she learned from a friend about Yuva Junction. Mittal’s family belongs to India’s semi-nomadic “scheduled tribes,” among the country’s most marginalized groups. With no business connections and no high school education, Mittal had dim prospects for a 21st-century job. But she was eager to learn and try.

In India, over half of the country’s population is under age 25 and faces high unemployment. Job prospects among rural youth—like Mittal—are especially limited. According to the World Bank, over half of India’s secondary school students lack the basic digital skills needed for 21st-century work. Even worse, opportunities to gain skills to prepare for jobs beyond traditional farming are slim.

When her parents asked around about the job classes at Yuva Junction, an innovative training program preparing rural youth for 21st-century careers, they heard the program had a solid track record—including eight years of training young people and placing two-thirds of them in meaningful jobs. They also knew the Aga Khan Rural Support Program, AKF’s implementing arm in India, had a good reputation. Mittal’s parents are farmers. They didn’t have much to spare but they agreed to pay her tuition of 1,600 rupees (about $22 USD).

Every day Mittal made the half-hour trip to the training center in the nearby town of Dediapada. For Mittal, who had never used a computer before, the lessons were challenging at first. “I was hesitant and scared,” she said. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to learn. But my friends encouraged me.” With the course, she became more comfortable using a computer and developed both her skills and her confidence. The best part was the life skills classes. “They taught me how to interact with customers,” she says, as well as how to deal with city life elements like commuting and apartment rental.

Mittal’s instructors understood her because they had once been in her shoes. They had come from small villages and struggled to find work. Now, as teachers, they helped her learn and get excited for her future. One instructor named Kusum had her own tale of a first job’s broken promises and lacking the skills for navigating the work world before participating in Yuva Junction. The experience showed her the value of Yuva Junction–style training and support. Kusum took interest in Mittal’s growth and her plan to get a job in the city. After finishing the course, Mittal had help from Yuva Junction to find work.

“Kusum told me about the job” with a pizza company, Mittal says. “She went with me to the place. There were three of us girls.” She was thrilled to start the job in Ahmedabad.

Mittal had never tasted pizza before. “It was strange, but it was nice.”

Mittal’s parents remained supportive. Her mother reassured her in phone calls while she adjusted to the bustle of city life. “I’d tell her, ‘You can stay a bit more there, try doing the job.’”

Mittal’s starting salary allowed her to save and even helped her buy a scooter that her brother used in his work. “I bought the scooter for the family,” she says proudly.

Mittal gets three days off a month, so she regularly comes home to visit. Her father and brother pick her up from the bus at the main road, on her scooter.

Recently Mittal got a promotion. She still feels connected to her family. Her new job is helping with the costs of new irrigation equipment for the farm, and with an addition to the family home.

Instead of creating a divide between a rural youth and her parents, Yuva Junction helped Mittal and her family strengthen their ability to face the future confidently together.

“Whenever she comes home, it gives us great joy,” says her mother.

Girl smiles as she sits on a scooter

“Before, I was scared. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to cope with city life. Now I feel I can deal with it easily. At first I relied on the Yuva Junction staff. Now I feel I can switch jobs easily.”

Now in 2020, Yuva Junction’s training programs are preparing youth with the skills they need to support their communities through the COVID-19 pandemic. Read about how 20-year-old Karishma is using the sewing skills she learned at Yuva Junction to make face masks for vulnerable families in northern Bihar, India.

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