Hyderabad: Shanmukha Bangaru scans the newspaper every morning in his room, with an eye on pharma and oil stocks. A slim 20-year old with warm eyes and an excitable manner, he checks the benchmark Sensex and Nifty indices, and considers with some dread how the market’s downward spiral might affect his job selling insurance policies for Religare Securities Ltd.
It’s a typical morning for young professionals in Hyderabad, but for Bangaru and his roommate Nalla Shekhar, who came to the city from a remote tribal district in eastern Andhra Pradesh, it’s a remarkable transformation.
The first job: Roommates Shanmukha Bangaru (seated) and Nalla Shekhar in Hyderabad. Both hail from a tribal district in eastern Andhra Pradesh and now hold sales jobs in Hyderabad. Shashi Kiran / Mint
Andhra Pradesh invested Rs135 crore this year in a training programme to make the state’s rural youth employable and pull families out of poverty. Since the efforts match a push by retailers and other companies to tap rural markets, sales jobs like Bangaru’s position with Religare are snapped up by many of the programme’s participants.
The course graduates have “market knowledge,” and a “dedication towards the work,” says Gangadhar, a manager from Eenadu, the largest Telugu language daily newspaper, who uses only one name. He has hired some of these young people as sales promoters.
The demand for trained salespeople has increased so much, says Meera Shenoy, executive director of the programme, that Andhra Pradesh will launch a rural sales academy to produce more targeted hires and fill the gap.
“If an ISB student can have choice,” Shenoy says, referring to the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, “Why not the poor?”
In rural areas, sales positions are some of the most easily accessible.
“Sales is becoming the portal for less skilled people to be entering the workforce,” says Manish Sabharwal, chairman of staffing firm TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd. “It’s the equivalent of the most blue collar white-collar job... Those most amenable to quick training is sales.”
And as Bangaru and his friends worry about the effect of a financial crisis affecting India, sales jobs also tend to be among the most recession-proof. That point is not lost on those trying to “skill up” the youth.
“In the next 18 to 24 months, salaries are not as crazy, it’s time to build new muscle, especially in sales, in areas they (companies) haven’t covered yet,” Sabharwal says.
The state’s programme, known as the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission, started in 2005 with Rs10 crore, and has taught 120,000 students in 300 centres spread across the state.
With arms that include the Rural Retail Academy and the English, Work Readiness and Computers Academy, it matches students with employers from industries ranging from outsourcing and retail to manufacturing.
Reliance Retail Ltd, HDFC Bank Ltd, Bharti Airtel Ltd, and Hindustan Unilever Ltd regularly hire from the courses. For some companies, the government-trained workforce has even become their primary source of hires in the region. Around 80% of McDonald’s employees in Hyderabad and Bangalore, Shenoy says, come from the courses.
“There are lots of people who need to find their first job, and first jobs are something that this programme has made very easy for them,” says Nalini Gangadharan, chairperson of the CAP Foundation, which works on employability programmes with several states in India. “The confidence they get, the aspirations that come in, it’s what the employability model across the country is doing, but they were the first to take it to scale.”
The state’s efforts have also attracted national interest. Shenoy says she has fielded calls from most Indian states looking to replicate Andhra Pradesh’s success. After the first batch of trainees were placed in jobs, she says, local residents translated an article in The Hindu newspaper about the programme into dozens of tribal languages.
To be sure, the possibility of recession might dampen some of the enthusiasm for companies to hire large numbers at the entry level and the corresponding skills-building programmes that feed them. But no major signs yet point to every industry scaling back rural efforts, say both employers and trainers.
“We’re talking about a subzero level, so there is space,” Gangadharan says, referring to efforts on the part of insurers and retailers to move into rural areas. “Instead of Kolkata, (companies might look to) Siliguri or something like that.”
Shifts in company strategy might also help out those in the lower ranks, and those in sales roles, which are jobs that human resources directors often consider among the most necessary in a downturn.
“It’s a bitter sweet thing,” says Teamlease’s Sabharwal. “A lot of companies want to re-finance their existing sales force, but companies are also using this time to bulk up.” Sabharwal hasn’t seen many attempts to dial back plans for non-urban markets, particularly in consumer goods and telecom.
The government’s efforts have also had the effect of wooing more businesses into Andhra Pradesh. Sudhakar, who handles human resources for SPAR International in India, says that Spar decided to open a store in Hyderabad once it had access to a new labour pool created by the state’s jobs training programme. “In Bangalore, we can recruit from competitors, but in Hyderabad, (retail) is new,” he says.
Sparr hired 46 students before opening the store this month.
The distance recruits travel is sometimes both literally and figuratively far. “We would be hunting animals, (we would) collect fruits, collect the trees, brew kallu (a local liquor),” Bangaru says when asked what he would be doing if he was still at home in Srikakulam district. He used to work a job in a local medical shop, he says, that paid Rs1,000 per month.
The government-sponsored course he took last year taught him to speak basic English, use computers and survive in a modern workplace. “How to behave properly to girls,” and “respect them,” Bangaru says, describing what he learnt.
“How to button the shirt,” his friend Shekhar adds, removing a few buttons to expose his chest and show how he used to wear his shirts.