Tata Technologies has been taking major steps in improving the quality of the technical workforce in India through CSR. In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Mr Ajit Habbu, Manager, Corporate Sustainability and CSR, Tata Technologies talks about the organisation’s CSR initiatives in India.
1. Technological development is the future of sustainable development. However, the digital divide in the country serves a major hurdle to it. How can India Inc. contribute to bridging this gap? What role does Tata Technologies seek to play in this effort?
Technological development probably is going to be only a solution for all these sustainable development objectives. The digital aspect of the technology does not only have the purpose to serve as a media to transfer the knowledge, but it is a big technological development in itself.
Over the past couple of decades, Tata Technologies has a vision of engineering a better world. With this vision in mind, we have derived all of our corporate social responsibility initiatives. Very specifically in the technology space, Tata Technologies has chosen two major areas to address in through CSR.
One is the employability aspect of engineering graduates. The program called ‘Ready Engineer’ is aimed at providing training and hands-on skills. Under the program, we give our beneficiaries access to solving real life problems in MSMEs around the institutes. This way, they get access to the latest technologies and get a hands-on experience.
Another program which we are focusing on, is a kind of backward integration into Ready Engineer program, which is the STEM education program. Under this, we have a series of initiatives such as digital classrooms, teachers training, tinkering labs, career counseling programs, career exploration program, etc.
2. Women in Tech, especially at leadership position, is still a rarity. How does Tata Technologies address that?
Gender equality or women empowerment, is not a mere initiative for Tata Technologies. It has been identified as one of the major material issues for the organization as part of our sustainability framework. On this basis, we have a dedicated program in our CSR portfolio which we call Empowerment via Education.
Through this program, we support women from low income families to complete their entire engineering education. This entails complete upkeeping as we take care of their college fees, their hostel fees, their day-to-day expenditure. It also includes additional expense of education aids, instruments, or if even if they want to pursue some certificate programs or specialization.
And it is not only their college or education scholarship program that is being provided to them. They are also trained over the four years where along with technical skills they are also taught soft skills, personality development, etc. They are provided with opportunities to interact with industry experts, visit the industrial locations, etc, thus giving them a holistic hand holding.
In addition to this, we also ensure that they are placed in a good corporate at the end of their third or final year of engineering.
3. A majority of the population in India lives in rural areas where the digital poverty is particularly prevalent. How does the company envision playing a part in the quest of rural technological development?
We have considered this quite sincerely. We realise that while there are a lot of programs for education sector in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, a majority of the issues which we are facing are in the rural parts of the country. So we started with a very small program in 2017-18 in the aspirational districts like Osmanabad in Maharashtra with a water conservation project. Eventually, the Water Conservation Project developed as an Integrated Rural Development Program, which we implemented last year. This is a holistic program which is designed and conceptualized keeping the rural population in mind especially the youth. Our major focus is on education, and as part of the program we upgrade the school infrastructures in the rural areas. We have also set up a Shikshan Ranjan Kendra or School Entertainment Program, which is outside school campus. Through this platform, we get a lot of opportunity to interact freely with these students and provide them general knowledge and other insights.
We conduct many agriculture related programs in there and give access to all the newest technologies. We provide training to the farmers and undertake water infrastructure projects like developing check dams or water conservation, soil conservation programs, etc. We provide them access to all the high end training programs in order to aid them in upgrading their own agriculture process.
There are many more initiatives that we take as per the requirement. So it is necessarily a need-based model wherein interventions are designed specifically for a particular village. It is quite similar to adopting a village and then working on it over a period of two to three years.
4. While working in these rural areas were there any any challenges that the team faced during the implementation?
Yeah, of course. Particularly in these areas it is it is very important to onboard the farmers or the villagers. So you need to spend a lot of time with them, understand the requirements, and interact with them closely to convince them that all the interventions that the company is are trying to bring in that village are beneficial not only within the span of, say, one or two years, but in long term. For example, we have a horticulture program wherein we set up a fruit farms in these villages. In one village we interacted with farmers, showed them some case studies of other villages programs where we had done the same, and onboarded about 300 farmers. We set up 300 fruit growing farms in the villages and impact is such that the income level of these families have gone up by almost three to four times within a span of two years. So that’s the impact of it. But before getting into that impact, we spent lot of lot of time convincing farmers to give us their land and join us in this new experiment as they were not ready for it in our first meeting with them.
5. While many people are educated in the Indian labour force, they are not necessarily employable by the companies. What role do the educational institutions and the companies need to play to ensure that the youth are educated as well as employable?
It is very discouraging to see these figures of unemployability. You come across all these reports, that talk about employability levels as below as 20% or below that. If you go deeper into these numbers, you see India is one of the top five countries in terms of number of engineering graduates that we produce every year. So the number is on our side, but not the quality of engineering graduates that we produce.
When we talk about industry-academia relations, they need to, come together and implement joint programs. If you see last two or three years, many programs have come up by corporates and industries where they’re trying to bridge the gap between the two. Syllabus is being upgraded. Most of the colleges are now autonomous so that they can develop their own content and syllabus.
We started working on this whole employability concern in 2010-11. We started the program with the intention of recruiting good quality engineers within Tata Technologies. We started from that standpoint and gradually we started spreading this program in Tier 2 and tier three cities. There are about six or seven interventions we carry out as part of Ready Engineer program.
The students need to have access to all the latest technologies which are currently relevant. So one of the major part of the program is providing access to all the contemporary technologies to the students, especially of automobile sector of which we have the expertise. We develop our own content. Our employees that are working on our customers’ projects, develop courses on automobile design on electric vehicles. And these courses are provided to students.
Another aspect which we are trying to address is working on fundamentals of engineering. We have understood that within the engineering students, while they are good with the technologies but from innovation standpoint they should be also very clear with the fundamentals of engineering
The third major aspect is soft skills. In Tier 2, Tier 3 cities, students engaging in soft skills and personality development is very important.
Recently, last two years we have added two major elements to the program and have been very relevant in the current time. One is the employability assessment. Any corporate now going to college for recruiting, the first step they take is conducting an employability assessment of students – the aptitude test, logical reasoning, cognitive skills, communication skills, etc. Students are not aware of these kind of examinations unless and until they directly face those tests from the corporate. And here is the issue we have observed: even the brightest of the students in their own domain failed to pass that test. So it is important to prepare them for it. Therefore we conduct trainings and mock tests to help them improve on this.
Another major element which we added very recently is on innovation wherein students from third year and final year are provided with real life problem solving experience in the nearby MSME industries. We connect the students with the MSME industries around the colleges, and we assign every student with one MSME and one problem statement. The student then visits these factories, spends time of almost two to three months, and conducts the research. They then come up with a solution, implement it and in the process we get innovative solutions to a real life problem in our industry.
We have seen a huge impact of this initiative. Over the last three years, we have seen almost 12 startups coming out of these programs.
6. In the wake of World Environment Day and global call to action for sustainable development, what role does Tata Technologies seek to play in helping India meet its Nationally Determined Contributions?
Environment is one of the major issue. Being a Tata group company, we have certain targets or practices that would follow within our own premises and facilities. We do a lot of energy conservation activities within the campus or within the facilities. We ensure most energy-efficient of processes and consumption methods are being followed so that we reduce our carbon footprint at large.
On the environment part, all the waste disposal which we do, is recycled. We have set up our own recycling plant within our campus where all our kitchen waste is being recycled into quality manure, which we distribute to nearby farmers. We have 100% water recycle plant within our campus.
Apart from this, we conduct many tree plantation drives with our employees throughout the year. We do it at multiple locations in a year on Environment Day and many other occasions. We also organise many cleanliness drives as part of our employee volunteering activities.