Chennai: A venture of the Indian Institute Technology, Madras, or IIT-M, is training villagers for employment in retail, business process outsourcing and security services, in an attempt to bridge the urban-rural divide.

“If you take any industry, companies are always looking for people. Considering that majority of the population lives in rural India, we realized that they can be trained and brought to the same level as those in urban centres—and employed," says Richa Pandey Mishra, founder and chief executive officer of eJeevika HR Pvt. Ltd, a start-up incubated by IIT-M. “This would help corporates battle labour shortage effectively."

Rural resources: Richa Pandey Mishra (in black), founder and cheif executive officer, eJeevika HR, with her employess at IIT Madras. Babu Ponnapan / Mint

The entrepreneur invests some Rs50,000 on a couple of personal computers, a broadband Internet connection and power back-up.

The franchisees then identify potential candidates who are then trained by eJeevika according to the requirements of its clients.

For now, eJeevika has developed training modules for security services, retail and business process outsourcing and would develop modules for other sectors depending on client requirements.

Villagers who wish to be trained register with eJeevika’s website after which the company conducts an online interview in the presence of its client. Once the client gives a go-ahead sign, the candidate pays a fee and undergoes online training. Mishra says the fee is “nominal," without elaborating. The candidate then has to clear online tests, interviews and a final face-to-face interview with the client. The entire process takes around a month, said Mishra.

The firm has successfully piloted its model in Cuddalore and Tiruvallur districts of Tamil Nadu, she said. EJeevika trained and placed some 100 candidates with the help of a network of 20 franchisees in a few retailers and security services firms. Mishra declined to name clients citing business confidentiality.

“This is what we need at the moment. There is a shortage of labour supply. There are talks about inclusive growth and here is a good example of inclusiveness," said Rajesh Sukumaran, investment manager for Singapore-based angel investment fund Mercatus Capital’s India operations.

With a nine-member team backing her, Mishra plans to train and find jobs for some 200,000 people in the next couple of years through a network of around 1,000 franchisees in the rural districts of India.

“We will handhold the franchisee owner to help him set up the centre. What we are looking for is that he should be dedicated, besides being computer literate and a local guy," Mishra said.

EJeevika has a mix of field workers and technical staff. It also has tied up with corporate human resources experts who help improvize on training content to make it relevant to villagers.

“India requires innovations like these," said Ravi Narayan, managing director at Mentor Partners, that works closely with start-ups. “IT (information technology) as a business model has become passé. How one uses IT to scale up is what many companies have increasingly started to look at."

But, how will the company overcome constraints like limited broadband connectivity and erratic electric supply? “We will first go wherever there is connectivity," Mishra said. “India is bound to grow and we will ride on that wave."

“Their scalability would depend on the quality of training that they provide to the candidates but it is definitely a scaleable model. With technology like 3G, issues like broadband connectivity form a temporary picture," Sukumaran pointed out.