Leveraging mobile phones to boost skilling initiative
Mumbai: Girish Chaturvedi, group vice-president of digital marketing firm Netcore Solutions, firmly believes that mobile phones are the best medium to target audiences on a large scale. So when the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship needed a plan to reach the unemployed and school/college dropouts for its flagship programme, a skills training and certification initiative termed Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), Chaturvedi’s team at Netcore Solutions decided that mobile messaging would be the best channel. Netcore Solutions got involved in this campaign when it was brought in as a technology partner by the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), who took this initiative to help the PMKVY.
Netcore Solutions was a finalist in the government and citizen engagement category at the mBillionth 2016 awards, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
The PMKVY initiative aims to impart vocational training and certify skilled persons to enhance employability and help grassroots entrepreneurs raise funds via formal channels. Marketing skills training at traditional formats, such as kiosks and fairs, are less effective at reaching bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers, and also cannot be scaled up to reach millions of India’s unemployed youths. Radio and cinema are also not effective at reaching the poor who may lack access to such media. But mobile phones have a wide reach. “We decided to use an SMS campaign to generate interest in PMKVY,” Chaturvedi explains.
A month ahead of the PMKVY’s launch on 15 July 2015, Netcore Solutions’s team launched a pilot campaign in Bihar, sending out bulk SMSes in partnership with Airtel. Using keywords such as ‘sarkari’, ‘naukri’, and ‘muft’, they sent the message out that individuals looking for skills training and certification should give a missed call to a designated number. Those who did, received an automated voice call that recorded the caller’s age, gender, location, employment status, and according to the location, directed them to the nearest skills training centre for counselling and enrolment. “Though our campaign initially reached only Airtel customers, the missed call number became very popular and within a week we had Idea and Vodafone customers calling in,” Chaturvedi says.
What were the key takeaways from the pilot programme? “For location profiling, we initially used to ask for the caller’s STD code, but were surprised to learn that people were more aware of their pincode than the STD code. So we changed this input variable. We were able to enrol 25,000 people for skills training in less than a month, meaning one out of eight people we targeted ended up enrolling,” he says.
The campaign tied up with all the major telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular, who offered their services for free. In total, 440 million text messages were sent out, while 16 million missed calls were received. The campaign received responses from 7.5 million people, of which 2.73 million profiles were compiled. What explains the wide gap between the responses received and actual enrolment? Chaturvedi is not sure, but he thinks it may have to do with poor mobile literacy. “Several times, the callers entered invalid responses, and we were thus unable to record their profiles or could only capture the data partially,” he explains.
Netcore Solutions’s campaign was aided by its partnership with the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), while in Bihar they tied up with a skills training company called Centum. Netcore Solutions has also recommended setting up online portal for PMKVY, not unlike online marketplaces for job searching. “We created an online platform for NSDC (National Skill Development Corporation), so that different training companies could access job-seeker data classified according to various districts, constituencies and states. However, the NSDC has not yet implemented our suggestion. Such a platform has the potential to act as a marketplace whereby employers can look for skilled workers. Moreover, such a platform could also be used for real-time monitoring of the tasks being carried out at the 230 training centres across India,” Chaturvedi adds.
Chaturvedi points out that the biggest learning was an assessment of the extent of mobile literacy in the country. Actual enrolment fell far short of the missed calls received due to callers entering invalid responses. While Netcore Solutions’s campaign has won it several awards, Chaturvedi clarifies that the company is not involved with the second chapter of PMKVY that is expected to run until 2020.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.