Hyderabad: On one hot morning last month, on a 12km stretch of the outer ring road being built in Hyderabad, women in stained, fraying saris carried loads of packed earth on their heads. Nearby, another group of construction workers reported for their first day on the job with safety helmets, bright orange vests and sturdy black shoes.
Building careers: Students of the new training school in Hyderabad are guaranteed a job at the end of the month-long course. Aruna Viswanatha / Mint
They are part of a test batch of students from one of the first for-profit construction training schools in India. The company, called Pipal Tree Ventures Pvt. Ltd, was formed last year as another way to match rural youth with the then booming construction sector through an approach that would create students who were more “industry-ready” than those that generally came out of government-funded vocational institutes.
The timing may be less than ideal, as the real estate market cools and projects are being put on hold. But, by relying primarily on infrastructure projects that are less subject to economic shifts, and bringing professionalism to a field that has been dominated by contract migrant labour, Pipal is betting it can take the model in Andhra Pradesh nationwide.
“The basic problem, and it is true for other institutes in India,” says Shailendra Ghaste, one of Pipal’s first investors, is that “what is imparted as educational training is not in line with industry requirements.”
So, Pipal worked with KMC Constructions Ltd, a builder of the outer ring road and whose director is also part of the team that launched Pipal, to figure out what KMC needed and worked backwards to develop the training.
“Here, they took our requirements,” says B. Subramanya Reddy, manager of the project site.
V. Rajnikanth, a 20-year-old student from a nearby village who was testing some of the construction materials at the outer ring road site, says he is prepared for his first day on the job. “I already got practice in training, so I am comfortable with the tests,” he says.
Pipal’s recruits are primarily those who left school somewhere between classes V and X, and each class of the four-week course is designed, to account for short attention spans, to be no longer than 45 minutes. “Too much of teaching is not required,” says Anant Sapre, Pipal’s head of training. “Give it to them without too much physics.”
Most of the students say they joined Pipal’s course because it promised something akin to a career for them, the same idea emphasized by Pipal’s rural recruiters. “There is (a) good future here,” says Vijay Kumar, a newly minted construction worker, who used to build flood barriers in his village of Mirkhanpet. “Work is more difficult, but (the) scope is more.”
D. Krishna, who comes from a farming family also from Mirkhanpet, said he joined for the “regular income” construction would provide.
Pipal uses a train-to-hire type model, where students are recruited from rural areas, asked to pay Rs3,000 upfront, and guaranteed a job at the end of the month-long training that pays at least Rs5,000 per month. “We look at some basic aptitude, and a willingness to grow in life,” says Pipal’s chief operating officer Santosh Parulekar.
The initial fee covers some of the room and board expenses at a residential campus coming up outside Hyderabad, and Pipal will deduct the rest of the Rs15,000-20,000 payment in instalments over the course of a year and a half.
Pipal trainers come, for the most part, not from construction but from other teaching fields, and the company brought professional teachers from Germany and Australia to train the trainers. Now, the staff plans to follow each student for a year, evaluating their progress every few months, and tweaking future training sessions.
The company was the result of a demand one friend saw that met the supply for another. “I’ve been working with companies in infrastructure, trying to help them in raising money,” says Ghaste. “Before the market crashed, most of them had the view that (there were) enough projects, but had problems in having trained manpower.”
Simultaneously, his college classmate, Parulekar, worked in microfinance, regularly visited villages and realized that a nascent labour pool existed in rural areas. “He realized (that) if you go to interior areas, (class) VI, VIII pass students have no avenues for getting permanent jobs,” Ghaste says.
And, while Pipal’s new campus is being built, its makeshift headquarters is another meeting of two worlds. The institute rented around 20 houses in an area called Laxmi Mega Township, a housing development project just south of Hyderabad that looks like what it sounds like—a new complex made up of rows of identical, cream-coloured box houses with blue gates and dusty-pink awnings.
It’s a no-frills set-up, with a dozen metal-framed bunk beds in what would be living rooms, but with all meals cooked by a contractor who also rents a house in the township.