“I didn’t feel like I was making enough of an impact, and I knew that I needed to learn more before I could offer more. I joined not to learn welding, but to understand the ecosystem of an ITI”
In August 2014 Archita Sisodia took a bold career step. As an employee of Quest Alliance she liaised closely with Industrial Training Institutes. But in order to really understand more about how they worked, she decided to enrol as a student of one. Archita was the first to engage in a ‘learnership’ – envisaged by Quest as a program to allow passionate individuals to design and execute their own learning journeys – with a view to using these immersive experiences to drive ideas that have the potential to transform the learning ecosystem.
Roughly five years older than most of the other 40 students on her welding course, she was also the first woman to undertake the program. What followed was a year in which she not only discovered a great deal about the internal workings of an ITI, but also gained insights about her own strengths, and ultimately forged a new career path as an entrepreneur in the education sector. This is her learnership story.
Observing the ITI as a student, Archita was able to see various cycles at work, with many issues feeding into others, in a self-perpetuating circle. This was especially the case with regard to the way in which demotivation and poor attendance plagued both faculty and students.
“If I could change just one thing it would be the infrastructure. At the most basic level, I’d provide the students with a great environment to come to—fans, good ventilation, good benches. Secondly, I’d make sure that they had access to technology—at the most basic level, access to a computer lab. Thirdly, I’d want them to have a library. A library which had not just physical books, but means of accessing online material for learning.”
Some of these cycles are visualized below:
“The students start with big dreams, but these very quickly disappear. And as for the teachers—most have lost hope. Very few of them are interested in providing their students with an uplifting experience.”
While unable to get to the root cause of many of the larger issues within the institute, Archita was able to use her network to organize workshops and guest lectures for her fellow students, on topics she felt would help enable them to take ownership of their careers, and set them on the road to become lifelong learners.
While initially the workshops were as poorly attended as the core classes, as time went on, they gained a reputation for being useful, and more students began to attend.
Particularly popular were those with an obvious correlation to employment, such as the industrial day visit, or the creativity workshop, which showed students the diverse ways they could use the welding skills they had acquired. ‘There was no instructor for Employability Skills, and we didn’t have much of an idea about the subject at all. I would have only learned about welding and technical aspects, but because of the workshops I learnt about work readiness, communication, attitude, creativity and other skills,’ says Archita’s batch mate Srinivasalu.
Archita, in turn, found that her fellow students had a lot to offer one another: ‘I discovered that I could depend on my peers for support. Each of my peers had the ability to contribute, and as a result, I could delegate some of the work involved in organizing workshops. This showcased the students’ ability to undertake and deliver responsible tasks,’ she says.
Ways of Learning
Despite the fact that the ITI restricted access to its computer lab to students of the Computer Operator & Programming Assistant course, in many ways Archita’s fellow students were ‘digital natives’, comfortable absorbing information and exchanging ideas in new ways.
Archita observed that the use of mobile phones was completely entrenched, to the extent that a student would prioritize reading a text over talking to someone next to them. The digital divide here was between the institute and its teachers on the one hand, and the students on the other: The way that young people receive information and ideas has changed, and interaction has decreased. People are more used to talking to one another over a video or a chat. But ways of teaching have obviously stayed the same. A huge gap has opened., says Archita.
While there are limits to what can be achieved immediately, Archita’s understanding of the workings of the ITI has helped her to co-found a startup which addresses some of its most pressing needs. Superheros Incorporated aims to increase the employment chances of ITI students. In order to make that possible they provide employment opportunities to the students after training them in life and career skills.
“There are some things we have no control over, and other things which we can influence. I’m focusing on something I can actually change—which is supporting students in their careers through interacting with them, and understanding where they want to go.”
While there is a degree of skepticism amongst the ITI faculty about what can realistically be achieved, Archita’s efforts are appreciated and her status as an ‘insider’ gives her startup a considerable advantage. ‘Archita’s team is very enthusiastic, but as we are a government institution we are not able to meet their expectations and give enough time for them to do more sessions. But their effort is appreciated. Despite the fact that we don’t have an Employability Skills teacher, students are now more aware of their goals and how to achieve them. They are now more confident to face the real world of work,’ says Mr Mallappa, a teacher on the welding course, showing an appreciation of the non-cognitive dimension Superheros Incorporated is able to bring to the ITI.
Learnings from the Learnership
While Archita didn’t enroll to learn welding, neither did she expect to found a startup. As a lifelong learner herself, her biggest takeaway was not technical skills, or even business ideas, but a better knowledge of herself: I learned to embrace my authenticity, and to take ownership. The fact that I cared about what I was doing stayed with me, but I also think that it stayed with the people I met. For once I put my ideas into practice and to see them both fail and grow was beautiful.
COO, Superheros Incorporated
This article was originally published in The Learner 2017