A million Indians enter the workforce every month. Lacking skills, most struggle to earn a living wage. At the same time, skilled handymen, such as plumbers, electricians or painters, are hard to find. Though India has 13,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), they barely make a dent, as they can train only two million students annually.
As an academic at Delhi University, and later while working with the International Labour Organisation, Gayathri Vasudevan had seen this challenge up close. Searching for a viable business model, which would impart skills and impact livelihoods, she set up Labournet in 2008. "Our goal was straightforward," says Gayatri. "How do we ensure a 10 per cent increase in income post-inflation for a person within a three-year period? "
Labournet developed modules for a range of skills - masonry, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, beautician and more - with the twist that these would be imparted onsite. "People who take our courses cannot afford any time off," she says. "They are paid by the hour or by the day or per job for whatever they are doing. But we thought that - for masonry skills, for example - if we pitch to a large builder that because of our training, quality work would be executed in shorter time, the builder would see economic value in our proposition and be willing to finance it."
Labournet concentrates on the construction, apparel, leather and rubber industries, where manpower needs are huge. Initially, it focused on training people working on metros, power plants, road construction, and water bodies. Some of those trained eventually became local contractors themselves, building toilets or houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. A classic example is Muniyappa, once a construction worker earning Rs 400-500 a day, who today takes on projects worth lakhs of rupees and employs people. "Labournet trained me in masonry," he says. "After a year and a half, I started taking up small projects such as constructing compound walls for empty sites. Now I take on complete house building contracts."
From raising angel funding to support from grants by the government under the National Skill Development Corporations to Series A funding from Acumen and the Michael and Susan Dell foundation and Sankhya Partners, Labournet is a social enterprise but is also sustainable and scalable. Last year it had revenues of `92 crore and was profitable says Vasudevan. Labournet works with more than 200 clients across 28 states. "The opportunity is so large and there is hunger to improve livelihood by upgrading skills," she adds.