Breaking Barriers: Step Up Empowers Youth, Especially Women, with Opportunities for Employment

Labour market insertion
Kavya Biswokarma01.11.2023
The Biratnagar-Itahari corridor in Koshi Province, eastern Nepal, is a thriving economic hub with encouraging growth in entrepreneurship and small business ventures. Despite its promising potential, the region faced notable challenges in unemployment which was indicated to be approximately 10.2% in 2018 as per the Nepal Labour Force Survey.  One of the reasons was a lack of vocational skills in people, making it challenging for them to secure a job in the ever competitive market.

Although there were a multitude of Training Service Providers (TSPs) in the area, their training programs were driven by supply rather than demand. This created a considerable challenge in aligning the skills imparted by traditional training programs with the actual market demands as many youths faced difficulties in finding job opportunities.

Recognising the untapped potential of youths and the role of TSPs in delivering trainings to generate employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, the Step Up project conducted a thorough market assessment. The project strategically selected three trades: Industrial Sewing Machine Operator, Electric Vehicle Repairing Technician, and Construction Lab Technician and developed a curriculum for each. With the aim of providing trainings that align with the market demands, Step Up conducted a Training of Trainers (ToT) for trainers of partner TSPs. The main objective of the ToT, the first of its kind in the economic corridor, was to create a pool of trainers who can provide relevant training to aspiring entrepreneurs.

One of the partner TSPs to receive the ToT was Jaya Nepal Hotel Management and Technology Training Pvt. Ltd. that has been at the forefront of vocational training in Biratnagar for several years. They offer a diverse range of trades, including plumbing, masonry, electrician work, and beautician courses.

“In partnership with the Step Up project, Jaya Nepal is actively promoting demand-based vocational training in Biratnagar through Industrial Sewing Machine Operator training,” shared Mohammad Irshad Ansari, Director of Jaya Nepal. “We did not know the importance of this prior to taking part in the ToT provided by the project. It helped us gain more knowledge that we now share with others,” Ansari further added. Jaya Nepal then established a training facility with essential machinery and is partnering with local garment industries, like Fahad Apparels, for the On the Job Training (OJT) and job placement.

*Neelam Ali using an industrial tailoring machine

Neelam(1) is one of the ten trainees who received training on industrial sewing machines from Jaya Nepal. The intensive three-month training program focused on equipping young women with the necessary skills to transition from using traditional manual sewing machines to operating industrial ones. “Having used a manual tailoring machine for years, I had no idea what an industrial (Juki) machine was,” said 19-year-old Neelam, “At the beginning of the learning process, it took 45 days for me to sew one shirt, now I can make a dozen in just two days.”

Despite Neelam's strong passion and determination to work harder, her journey faced initial challenges. Being a young girl in a conventional household comes with restrictions of its own. “Initially, it required considerable persuasion on my part to gain my family's approval to let me work but as I started earning some money, they eventually became supportive of the work I do,” Neelam explained.

Neelam Ali is among seven other women currently working at Fahad Apparels as a part of their OJT. These women initially faced the shared challenge of being restricted from working outside their homes. However, as they started receiving the training, securing a mostly probable job in the future, their enthusiasm and the support from their family only increased. 

“I had paid NPR 1,000 to take part in the training and it has thus been a worthwhile learning experience”, said 21-year-old Ghajala Khan(1). For youths like her, the skills they received from the training translate to life-long skills that are demanded by the labour market. As a result, aspiring entrepreneurs are able to secure employment opportunities and access the market. Since April 2023, Ghajala has now been officially employed at Fahad where she earns a monthly salary of NPR 12,000 by skillfully sewing shirts that are then sold by the company.

The Step Up project builds capacities of existing public and private labour market insertion providers, like Jaya Nepal, especially regarding the provision of timely and relevant information on job, business, and demand-based training opportunities.

Earl Electronics and Technical Institute (EETI) is another training service provider that participated in the ToT conducted by Step Up. They have been providing technical training in electronics (basic and advanced), computer hardware and software and chip level repairing, mobile and laptop repairing, electrical house and industrial wiring, plumbing, cutting and tailoring, beautician and any other vocational training required in the labour market. Managing Director of EETI, Yagya Raj Dahal shared, “I have learnt more about entrepreneurship and business management from the ToT that I received from Step Up than from any other trainings I have taken before.”

Eleven participants underwent a comprehensive 30-day training on Electric Vehicles (EVs) conducted by EETI in January 2023. The training specifically targeted the operation of E-rickshaws, which serve as a popular mode of transportation along the Biratnagar-Itahari corridor. Emphasising practical skills, the training delved into aspects such as the rickshaw's body components and motor wiring, equipping participants with valuable knowledge in these areas. Except for a few, all the participants are currently employed and are working in showrooms and repair workshops.

“Although I have been running a rickshaw repair workshop for the last ten years, I was lacking enough knowledge. I would barely know how to explain the technicalities to the customers”, said 28-year-old Yubaraj Rai of Sundarharaicha, Morang. After taking part in the EV training, he expressed a notable transformation in his approach to work, experiencing a newfound ease in repairing tasks. He shared, "Previously, I believed that motor controllers could only be imported from foreign countries, but after the training, I began repairing them independently." Rai reconsidered his plans to migrate abroad and settled in Nepal, having confidence in the work that he does.

With the aim of expanding his business, he is now planning to sell E-rickshaw batteries as well.

1 Names changed

Yubaraj Rai repairing a rickshaw at his workshop
Labour market insertion, Migration
Step Up – Improving labour market access for unemployed
Nepal faces enormous employment challenges that are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Difficulties to find gainful employment for the unemployed include lack of information on jobs and business opportunities, appropriate skills and access to networks and support services such as career guidance or counselling. In addition, business support services that provide entrepreneurs with services to start, sustain and improve their businesses are weak or even missing. The project aims to address these deficiencies in the current employment ecosystem and contribute to the Government of Nepal’s efforts to increase job creation and the employability of its labour force.