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Explained: The apprenticeship model for rural women by MSMEs

India has seven apprentices, per 10,000 workers, as against a minimum target of 250 – less than 20 per cent being women. Also, there are challenges in getting apprentices and apprenticeship promotes employability and not necessarily employment.

Women entrepreneurs: Detailed and long-duration training, the necessity of formal educational background – mostly beyond the primary level and creating employability are some of the salient features of apprentice programs in India. However, India has seven apprentices, per 10,000 workers, as against a minimum target of 250 – less than 20 per cent being women. Also, there are challenges in getting apprentices and apprenticeship promotes employability and not necessarily employment.

With around 99 per cent of MSMEs having less than 10 workers, these MSMEs are not statutorily (statutory requirement being a minimum of 30 workers) obliged to keep apprentices, which is how it should be. Now, among the 21 million manufacturing MSMEs, 18 million are own account or broadly household enterprises and they neither have the bandwidth nor the need for apprentices.

It is the 3 million factory sector, i.e., the relatively bigger micro (they being 99 per cent of the total) as well as small and medium enterprises, that function in a local (locally produced)-global (globally sold) framework is the appropriate candidate for promoting apprenticeship. They are equally found in the rural and the urban sector.

The low turnout of apprentices, despite regulations, shows that the market is all pervasive. So, in the absence of regulatory needs, apprenticeship will follow market signals and that is absolutely fine. In a market scenario, neither the provider (MSME) nor the taker (apprentice) will be interested, in any activity that does not give immediate business gain and fast. So, an MSME appointing an apprentice will be interested, if it can gainfully employ an apprentice, at the earliest.

Similarly, an apprentice, especially in the context of a rural woman, although being currently underemployed or even in a state of forced leisure (unemployed or doing some non-wage-based activities) in a market sense, her expected return in the short run (with low-income naturally prohibiting long run thoughts), from apprenticeship, is zero – unless there is a guarantee in terms of employment or job work. Thus, apprenticeship will be an inferior choice as compared to her current status of full or partial unemployment. Besides both parties are interested in reaching the outcome fast.

If this apprentice happens to be a rural woman, then there are some additional challenges. Women in the rural sector are less mobile when it comes to going out long distances on a regular basis. This inertia, is directly proportional to the distance of her residence from a city, often due to social tabu or the misplaced belief that women are supposed to do all daily chores.

Interestingly, when employed in economic activity at home, they mostly work as support hands of male workers, or do work which is not for creating any ‘commodity’ and therefore either do not have any claim of money-wage earned while doing a support work for a male member or do not earn any money-wage at all, respectively. Also, women are often not formally educated, most being in the pre-primary/primary stage and are constrained to learn in the absence of local language as a medium. There is a general lack of digital infrastructure for remote learning

Given the above, we can think of two models for promoting apprenticeship by MSMEs functioning in a local (produced in the rural setup) and global (sold globally) framework. Both the models need to have the following characteristics: (a) there should be definite scope for employment or job work for the apprentice at the conclusion of apprenticeship – provided she reaches the pre-defined desired standard, (b) level of formal education should not be a criterion, unless absolutely necessary, (c) the maximum training period maybe three to four months, (d) apprentice need not be made an expert in multiple processes, but very specialized, e.g., making buttonholes in a garment, (e) training by factory master trainer with support from expert wherever necessary and (f) linked to the immediate business necessity of the MSME, etc.

Given the above, in the first model, apprentices situated in and around factories, can come to the shop floor on a regular basis but at timings suitable to them and they must be given wage employment or job work at the conclusion of the apprenticeship. In the second model, the general learning inputs, kept at the minimum, can be given at a common place where most of the apprentices are from, say in a village, which can then be followed up by digital in-house training in the local language.

To start this process there will be developmental expenses in terms of the creation of digital infrastructure, online training videos, wastages during training and unsuccessful apprentices, who cannot be employed. This will definitely boost the apprentices in the country. Support mechanism needs to be worked out to promote such interventions based on innovative programs, provided, at the minimum, the MSME definitely employ or gives job work to the successful apprentices at the conclusion of the apprenticeship.