This is a story of social innovation that became a part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of Tega Industries, Kolkata, India.
Workers’ Training is the theme of the story, which started out as an experiment, maturing into a full grown CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activity.
What prompted the Experiment?
For years we have been led to believe that workers are to be trained in the work they do in the factories. The concept is based on the inaccurate understanding that both work and workers are something similar to machines since a factory tends to work like a machine day in and out. Therefore, their work can be reduced to some simple steps and techniques that are teachable through standardized methods.
Therefore, the courses and training so far imparted to workers have been very dry, technical and often boring in nature, for instance, how to operate a lathe or a press or how to weld and cut etc.
No doubt it is important for a worker to learn the basic tricks of the trade. But somehow on the way we forgot that a worker belongs to the human kind and is not a robot designed to perform boring and repetitive work hours on end. The worker like most humans would want to know the why, what and how of most things and thereby derived the necessary self esteem to live, respect others and understand the interdependent connections they have with others.
We also forgot that with the growth of technology and innovation humans have become appendages to the machines they work with. That is the design of the machines slowly and surely over time evolved to be free of human interferences operating with some sort of machine ‘intelligence’. Examples abound. Humble lathes have transformed into CNC machines. Welding is no longer dependent on human skills of weaving, moving and lifting but on fine controls of welding pugs and automated machines, and so on…
What does that mean?
It means that the tedium of repetitive work has now been taken over by machines liberating the human spirit in search of something beyond themselves. They can now create value through various interactions and dialogs created in the context, employ technology in more skillful ways and understand the why, what and how of things to improve further.
It also means that never before in the past 200 years of our industrial age society, workers got opportunities to raise their real self esteem, respect the skill and contributions of others and realize that they and their work are all interdependent part of something much bigger than what they can individually produce.
Issues considered in design of Social Innovation
There were four more issues that informed our design of the new approach to educating workers in the context of of present reality. These were:
a) People learn best from each other and through their own work than they ever learn through teachers. In this process only skillful ‘facilitation’ helps. For example, in the initial years of computer literacy in India, people learned from each other not from established institutions and officially designated teachers. This is the single most important factor that helped fuel the computer revolution in India till the “burden” of making people literate has now been hijacked by mushrooming technical colleges imparting computer education.
b) At no point of time in the last 20 years has foreign investment – direct and portfolio – exceeded 10 percent of our domestic investment. Our growth is due to our domestic savings which is again predominately household savings. Our housewives require awards for our growth not any western fund manager. It means that if the earning capacity of the workers can be increased in real terms then a company actually contributes to the national growth in ways apparently unseen. To my mind this is the real cost benefit of conducting a CSR activity where for a very small cost both the company and the nation benefit multi-fold.
c) In India, families are organized while governments disorganized. Organized family has been the mainstay of Indian civilization, culture and national wealth. So, can our course be designed to strengthen familial bonds to strengthen the economic base of the nation.
d) As a civilization, Indian culture places a lot of importance on ‘learning’ to the point of reverence and considered as a prime component of life and living.
With these in mind we set about designing an appropriate course for the workers with an eye to life long learning supported by the company.
The Practical Solution
The structure as it evolved centered around 4 main subjects, which were the following:
a) The practical applications of Science and Maths with an aim for self discovery by the participants in their daily work.
b) The practical application and use of English language with the objective of enhancing self esteem and understanding issues involved in their environment much of which were built on the use of English.
c) Skill enhancement to not only apply computer applications in a practical manner in their field of work but also to assist their supervisors in computer related work.
d) Personality and attitude improvement through understanding and discovering the self and eliminating weakness in personality and attitude through self rewiring of the brain. For this the method of ‘graphology’ was introduced and applied.
Anyone willing to undergo the course was registered for the course. The company provided the necessary space and resources. However, each worker invested two hours of their own time for five days a week to undergo the program. The program has three levels of difficulty to master where a year for mastering each level was given to the workers.
Four skilled facilitators leading ‘authentic’ lives took up the challenge to engage in movement.
This pilot course is now two years old and the results have been more than astounding. Some of which are the following:
a) The workers self organized themselves to install a new machine in three days time before the engineers of the manufacturer could arrive at site for installation. When the service engineers arrived on the scene they were taken aback by the accuracy of the installation, which would have normally taken them five days to achieve.
b) All the workers showed marked improvement in their performance and quality as evidenced in structured surveys conducted by the company to monitor the progress and effectiveness of the training.
c) Many were found to operate computer applications to keep track of their own work and assist their supervisors in creating and maintaining production records.
d) Many found themselves in the permanent role of the company thus enhancing their pay and benefits that largely contributed to enhanced savings for their families. For some workers the average household ‘savings’ have doubled in two years time.
e) Large number of small innovations were done by these workers in a self organizing manner.
f) Many reported improved marital and family relationships that enhanced their internal motivation at work and living. There were many specific cases where participants were able to come out of emotional confusion, depressions, emotional distress and stress, migranes, effects of traumatic childhood expriences and personal limitations thereby leading more happier and productive lives.
g) Over 60% of the participants reported increase in household savings in real terms as compared to previous years without any real increase in wages compounded to an average inflationary rate of around 10%.
h) And 100% wanted to continue the education for more years and even thought of converting it into a personal life long effort.
Traditional workers’ training is ‘physical’ in its form and function. This new program addresses the issues of learning and improvement of work, life and living from the ‘mental’ and the ‘spiritual’ planes of human existence. If the results are any indicators, the way it has unfolded; the approach of addressing human issues and problems from the human spirit holds promises to redesign for the better many of our human activities in the future.