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Unlocking Ability

Y4J has emerged as India’s largest organisation focusing on skilling and placing Divyang youth in jobs, writes Sekhar Seshan, a veteran business journalist.

Vangala Srinidhi, 24, did his B.Com in Hyderabad - but couldn’t get a job because he can’t hear or talk. His mother, a nurse, saw a newspaper item about Youth4Jobs, called and visited the nearest centre to check it out before applying for him to do a 45-day skilling programme there. Srinidhi now works as a cashier at the Begumpet store of retail fashion brand Lifestyle at a monthly salary of Rs15,000.“

I welcome the customers who come to my workstation and indicate that they should enter their phone number on my calculator to verify their membership card,” he explains. “Then the software takes over.” Since the end of 2017, he has been handling 99 per cent of the customers on his own; but his colleagues are always on hand to help him if necessary.

Sulochana, who uses a wheelchair because her legs were affected by polio, works at a More retail outlet for groceries and other home needs; M. Rani, also polio-affected, is a call centre operator at Amazon. They and hundreds of others like them all over India are working in the retail, BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), automobile, hospitality and other high-growth sectors. “We have unlocked 50,000 jobs!,” says, Meera Shenoy, founder of Youth4Jobs, Hyderabad (www.youth4jobs.org).

What started in February 2012 as “something small to contribute to society” by helping young people with physical and other disabilities like hearing, speech and vision impairment find jobs, has “grown and grown” to cover 32 locations in 15 states, as Meera, a business journalist-turned social worker, puts it. Now the largest organisation in India which focuses on skilling and placing such youth in jobs, Y4J has proved that its model is scalable and replicable. All, with no advertising but only through word of mouth. “Something in our model is working!” she smiles, stating the obvious.

The model is that Y4J works mainly with less-educated youth from villages to get them entry-level jobs in its target areas. Of late, it has also pioneered the ‘College Connect’ programme which assesses, trains and places educated engineers and graduates with disabilities in MNCs and large IT companies.

With a pan-India pipeline of such youth, Y4J works with a network of 500 private and public-sector companies which employ them. Acting as a one-stop shop offering companies a comprehensive end-to-end solution in inclusive hiring, it allows these employers to experience the benefits of hiring from this untapped labour pool.

The work is also important for two priorities of the Union government: ‘Skill for India’, helping to skill the most vulnerable and unreached to help the country meet its demographic dividend; and ‘Make in India’, where impact studies of Y4J work show that manufacturing companies which hire youth with disability record a productivity increase of as much as 15 per cent.

SVP (www.socialventurepartners.org) - an international platform of funding partners and NGOs -has opened up all its Chapters for Y4J. Meera enlists their aid in conducting sensitivity audits for companies and sensitivisation workshops– which she describes as “the heart of the operation” - in every city where SVP operates. Youth4jobs and SVP have now signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), under which they are working together to treble the impact from 3,500 trainees to 10,000 a year. This can be done only with the mentorship support the SVP partners provide. “We are like a conveyor belt!” she adds.


(Pic caption: Y4J Founder Meera Shenoy (third from left) with Happily Employed Alumni)