Riding the Skill Train

  • SkillTrain offers training programs on vocational skills like computer hardware repairing at different centers in India. Photograph courtesy SkillTrain
  • SkillTrain participants get training in beauty and wellness. The organization offers its courses on a blended learning format—audio and video learning combined with practical training at its certified training centers. Photograph courtesy SkillTrain
  • SkillTrain members counsel a local resident in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, where it offers practical training support. Photograph courtesy SkillTrain
  • Ganesh Balasubramanian, founder of SkillTrain, receives a NASSCOM Social Innovation Forum’s Catalytic Grant from Ravi Shankar Prasad (center), Union minister of electronics & information technology, in 2015. Photograph courtesy SkillTrain
  • The SkillTrain app helps users learn new skills or upgrade their existing ones. Photograph courtesy SkillTrain

Fulbrighter Ganesh Balasubramanian’s SkillTrain provides technology-enabled vocational training on various skills to rural school dropouts and urban youth.

Millions of children drop out of school every year in India. They fail to go for mainstream education for several reasons, including ineligibility, their family’s financial conditions and regulatory requirements. Regular vocational training is not an option for many of these dropouts not only because of financial barriers, but also because it often becomes difficult to reach people in remote areas. The outcome is shortage of trained manpower and unemployment.

What if it were possible to combine the power of online, mobile learning with person-to-person training and official certification in a number of well-paying trades? And, what if this system could reach remote locations across India? All this has been made possible by SkillTrain, a technology-enabled vocational training organization.

SkillTrain uses a blended learning format of online and offline training to impart skills like repairing of mobiles, electronics, computers and electrical appliances as well as plumbing and masonry to rural school dropouts and urban youth. These skills enable them to become self-employed or employable.

Established in 2013, the organization has developed video content on 13 of these skills in Hindi. These videos are offered for free on mobile phones and through online channels. This is followed up by on-the-field practical training, evaluation, certification and employment support for successful learners.

SkillTrain has been founded by Fulbright Fellow Ganesh Balasubramanian, who acts as its chief executive officer. He is a social entrepreneur and has set up seven vocational training institutes across Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Excerpts from an interview.


What would participants who have found employment after the successful completion of your program have done without SkillTrain?

Without SkillTrain, the candidates would have explored the possibility of doing a paid training program in a nearby city or town, if they could afford it. Otherwise, many of them would have worked as manual laborers or farmers. Some would have just remained unemployed or eked out a living through odd jobs.


Could you give us an idea about the income level of a successful graduate of SkillTrain?

Typically, a successful graduate from SkillTrain can earn between Rs. 4,000 and Rs. 5,000 per month once they complete any of our basic courses. However, if they come back and finish higher-level courses, their income levels can go up to anything between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 18,000 per month.


How has the SkillTrain app helped you reach more youth?

We launched the app on February 14, 2017. It has been over a year and more than 15,000 students have registered through the app and are pursuing various courses.


How has your experience as a Fulbright scholar contributed to your success with SkillTrain?

The Fulbright Fellowship was the seed that helped me build SkillTrain. My research during my Fulbright Fellowship was on using technology to enable mass vocational education. During my research, I visited a number of institutions in the U.S., including the U.S. Department of Defense training center, Harvard Graduate School of Education and several community colleges to understand how technology is being used to deliver vocational training on a large scale.


What aspects do you consider most vital to the continued success of SkillTrain?

SkillTrain’s success hinges on the following three key aspects: First, the ability to create new content and courses in varied languages on newer skills; second, the ability to build new partnerships to help scale SkillTrain’s reach; and third, the ability to enable impact on a sustained basis.
We have already launched the app in Kenya and are exploring possibilities of scaling it up to other countries.

Are there any success stories of participants you would like to share?

There are many such success stories. One of our learners, Naresh Kumar, in the town of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, was a school dropout and did not have any skills. He completed the course in three months and wanted to become an entrepreneur. One of the mentors from SkillTrain gave him directions on how to open a repairing shop. With this help, he started his own repairing shop in his village, Patan.

Similarly, a farmer, Ramgopal Dhakad, from Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, registered for a SkillTrain basic electrical training course after he continuously faced problems in repairing the submersible motor pump used in his fields to water the crops. Within a month, he learned the basics of electrical repairing and was able to repair his motor pump by himself. He was so successful that his neighboring farmers and other villagers started calling him for electrical repair work in their houses and fields. This new skill has started giving him additional income to tide over low-income months, while giving him a lot more respect in his village.


Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature and contemporary culture at New York University.