The Telegraph
Tuesday , September 11 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
CIMA Gallary

Ways to enrich some humble professions

I have written in The Telegraph earlier about the vast potentials and the huge existing number of persons in many different areas of employment. Many of these areas are not considered to be of high standing, socially. And yet our armies of the educated unemployed are forced into these positions. These jobs — like those of security guards, vehicle drivers and the like — are dead ends in themselves, offering little hope of real increase in incomes or of benefits arising from the job. Although requiring a higher level of education and social standing, jobs in call centres and BPOs are also dead ends.

Within the services sector, there are many areas of work at various levels of society. Economic growth has brought in its wake a host of opportunities in the services sector, much of which is part of the unorganized sector. Workers like plumbers, electricians, mechanics dealing with air-conditioners and television sets, auto repairers, small retailers and the like, all belong to the above-mentioned sector. In the interests of their personal development and the betterment of their family members as well as for making their occupations more attractive for future entrants, there is a need for holistic education, which goes beyond the educational directorates, as I have tried to explain below.

There is the problem of market failure: although these jobs constitute essential services and are much in demand, most of them do not command a high price as these are seen as ‘low status’ jobs. There are at least two reasons behind this. First, unlike jobs in call centres or the IT services, these services cannot be exported and do not benefit from international prices. Second, because they are seen as dead-end jobs, they do not attract good people or induce pride. There is, therefore, a need to intervene to raise the status of these jobs, increase the availability and demand for quality in them and to make these jobs financially attractive. To ameliorate the situation, a multi-pronged approach is necessary. Legislation should ensure minimum wages and service conditions, including medical and terminal benefits. But much more importantly, to achieve such a state, we have to professionalize the jobs so that they bring social credit to those employed in them and so that they become capable of absorbing the inevitable technological developments. This leads us to the issue of a holistic education, where the whole-hearted involvement of civil society is called for.

We have many industrial training institutes, which provide useful training in different aspects of engineering. But the students of the ITIs seem to be having problems in getting useful placements and this will continue unless there is a massive increase in industrialization, which is not happening. Yet there is not a city or a small town community which bemoans the lack of a readily available, professionally qualified plumber or electrician or AC mechanic.

How much more desirable the situation would have been if there were community centres which interacted with appropriate vocational training institutes to train men and women to come back and start business from those centres or even independently in the area. Perhaps we can think of community colleges with which civil society is involved.

By doing so we will minimize the waste of human resources that takes place when everybody opts for higher education in the hope of bagging elusive white-collar jobs. My attention was drawn to this problem by a recent advertisement of a training college for civil service examinations that carried an attractive heading questioning the craze for seats in Honours courses and Masters programmes when all over India, the minimum advertised qualification for a job in government is just plain graduation. If those who are almost certain not to get seats could be counselled and advised to seek admission to an appropriate training institution for a profession, it would be a big contribution to society. Since the running of educational institutions is big business now, the waste of money that is involved in getting seemingly attractive degrees at enormous costs from mushrooming, often not properly accredited, institutions is simply mind-boggling. Even more unfortunately, those passing out from institutes of the latter kind often do not get the desired placement and are frustrated as a result. How much more socially beneficial it would be if at the right stage in the educational career, parents and their offspring could assess their own limitations and see bright, achievable, prospects in a host of other fields. This, however, cannot be done without total community participation.

Let us return to one of the lowest dead-end category jobs — that of the security guard. As I wrote in an earlier piece in The Telegraph, here is an area that is employing an immense number of people, often with relatively higher degrees of education, at salaries which hardly meet the barest needs of their families at present prices. The employees also get no medical cover or terminal benefits. Their salaries will never cover the effects of inflation or meet the rising costs of their children’s education and upkeep. Yet the one hope of the employees is that their children will live in better circumstances. The national need here is to legislate that high-priced multi-storeyed buildings must employ security guards who are proficient in handling the modern security measures involving computerized entry controls, CCTV cameras, automatic warning signals and the like. Such education will be provided by special training establishments that will require in their entrants a particular standard of education. The employing firms should have decent salary grades, terminal benefits, leave rules and everything else that corporate organizations normally have. Even the firms which supply security guards to individual buildings must be brought under the ambit of these rules. If one wants to see how wastefully security guards are supplied (on the basis of the qualification, ‘as long as they are warm’, so that the employees barely read the numbers and the alphabet), one may visit the Visva-Bharati campus, where they come in hordes through a supplying company and are no better than old-day chowkidars without the latter’s sense of commitment or necessary knowledge of the area.

There is every reason these days to demand a higher calibre from vehicle drivers, especially those employed in corporate houses, so that instead of just driving cars and sitting idle for long hours, they can attend to fundamental repairs, perform efficient delivery services and a host of related activities to enrich their own jobs and prospects.

Small retailers should be competent in minimum computer applications for invoicing, making receipts, stocktaking or making accounts statements. Such qualifications are common in the West. They leave the employers with more time to be used for the gainful purpose of business growth.

Numerous recent reports have highlighted the shortage of professionally trained staff to attend to urgent but simple medical cases which should not require a full-fledged doctor. Professionally trained paramedics play an important role in countries of the West. In India, there is a considerable shortage of trained male nurses while we continue to recruit new nurses from certain states who are essentially birds of passage.

Let our cities and towns reflect their modernity by reaching out to the bearers of humble professions today.