October 2014 | Cynthia Rodrigues

Striving to empower

Tata Strive, the group-wide, group-led skilling initiative, aims to set up a replicable model for training and skill development

'Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened’ is a saying attributed to the Buddha, and one that suits the Tata philosophy just as well — for decades, Tata companies have invested in activities related to skill development in communities around which they operate.

Tata Steel imparts skills training in the area of housekeeping to potential candidates
Tata companies train over 60,000 students in India every year in trades relating to their core businesses. Now, under a formal programme, aptly called Tata Strive, the group has set itself a larger goal: to spread its skill-building activities across the globe. As its mission spells out, Tata Strive seeks “to develop the required capacity to train youth for employment, entrepreneurship and community enterprise”.

Anita Rajan, chief operating officer at Tata Strive, says there is a strong business case for the skill building initiative: “Companies need skilled labour and spend considerable money on skilling them. A group-wide skilling initiative will allow companies to share these costs.”

Tata Strive is backed by both the group and the individual Tata companies. Companies can either work on their own, while following the guidelines set by Tata Strive, or work with the group. Tata companies can also set aside a portion of their mandatory 2 percent corporate social responsibility (CSR) spend for group CSR programmes such as Strive.

Explaining the basic idea of Tata Strive, Sudhakar Gudipati, general manager, Tata Sustainability Group, says, “The aim was to leverage the strengths of Tata companies and to create courses that would help build and supply trained manpower to companies.”

Tata Strive is built around certain guiding principles. For example, the programme aims to reach out to the underprivileged and those who have traditionally been denied access to such training, on account of gender, disabilities or ethnicity. The model is scalable, and designed to need decreasing financial support from the Tata group.

The quality standard for the programme has been set high — to ensure that Tata Strive will be recognised as a byword for quality skilling education in the future. Sustainability is key to the exercise — trades or skills to be taught at a particular centre are based on the demand and the need in that region, thus ensuring that beneficiaries can benefit from a choice of job opportunities.

Engaging with Strive
Tata companies can participate in Strive in many ways. They can fund the programme, become a Strive partner, encourage employee volunteering, or send people out on secondment. Volunteering is a critical part of Tata Strive. Mr Gudipati explains: Tata Engage (the group-level volunteering programme) and Tata Strive are “a great combination”. Under Tata Engage initiatives such as the Competency Enhancement Programme or the Leadership Exchange Action Programme, employees can, based on their skills, teach or help to build the curriculum.

The availability of the army of helpful hands — all volunteers under Tata Engage — could be put to good use. In fact, the concept of the group CSR programmes is based on scaling up social intervention by involving the thousands of volunteers who have signed up for Tata Engage.

The standards for Strive will draw from the best of what Tata companies have to offer, besides those coming from national and international partnerships, so as to make the programme globally competitive. Strive will address both the organised and unorganised sectors, and have hygiene and quality standards in place. It will be continually monitored by master trainers, who will uphold the quality structure of Strive. The partners will be equally responsible for ensuring consistency in quality.

Tata Strive will train the trainers to teach and to carry out assessments. It will bring in expertise, set standards and identify and share best practices. It will also develop curricula, assess the trainers, provide certification and facilitate placements. The partners will be responsible for providing the infrastructure, handling the operating expenses and day-to-day functioning.

Partnering for progress
Under the partnership model, Tata Strive will get into partnerships with Tata companies and nonprofits, and non-Tata companies, government agencies, foundations, trusts and banks. Mr Gudipati says that the realisation that the Tata group is engaged in a skill building effort of this magnitude could attract other corporates and organisations to partner with the group.

Tata Motors has partnered with ITIs and nonprofits to help with need-based training programmes
India’s industrial technical institutes (ITI) are a big component of the partnership model. The state of Punjab has been the first one to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Tata Sons. The Strive team is working to build the Amritsar ITI into a model institute and identify the issues, ranging from infrastructure, equipment, capacity of the teachers, needs of community and industry, and governance and systems, that hold it back.

Tata Strive is discussing opportunities to partner with nonprofits across India and overseas. Partnering with Strive will enable ITIs and nonprofits to not only expand their offerings but also make them market relevant as these programmes would be developed by companies based on their needs — for instance, an auto mechanic course designed by Tata Motors or a refrigeration mechanic course designed by Voltas. In the partnership model, banks will play an important role. A partnership with a bank will enable students who wish to set up as entrepreneurs to receive loans. The bank will undertake the due diligence required to ensure that the best candidates have access to necessary funds.

Centred thinking
The captive centre model will be completely driven by the Tata group. To start with, four centres will be set up in four regions of India. The centres will be set up in buildings owned or leased by Tata companies, thus leveraging existing infrastructure. This model will give Strive the on-ground experience of running the centres.

Mr Gudipati says, “This experience will help us to understand how the whole system works. Having our own centres will also give us the freedom to experiment and evolve faster.”

The first three years are intended to be a pilot, allowing the model to be accepted, to evolve and to begin making a difference. Within Tata companies, the mood towards this programme is extremely positive. There is a perception that, given the scale of the group and the resources and the wealth of knowledge and intellectual capital it holds within itself, a programme such as this could change the face of India and many other countries. Mr Gudipati says, “Companies are happy that this programme will open up a large number of trades and partnerships, enabling the group to take advantage of all its resources.”

There are many expectations riding upon the programme and the Tata group is determined to make Tata Strive a success. The vision for the programme can be expressed in another saying attributed to the Buddha: “If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your path.”

Combining resources
The genesis of Tata Strive lay in a Tata group decision to consider the work achieved through group corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes as a combined effort. For this the Tata Sustainability Group (TSG) was formed on January 1, 2014. Sudhakar Gudipati, general manager, TSG, says, “Up till now, most of the CSR activities were undertaken by Tata companies. The formation of TSG will help drive group CSR programmes and expand the scope of their delivery to relevant causes.”

In the beginning, a working group was constituted for Tata Strive, comprising most of the CSR heads of Tata companies, and representatives from Tata Strategic Management Group (TSMG) and the Tata Council for Community Initiatives. The chairman was HN Shrinivas, former HR chief of Indian Hotels Company. TSMG pitched in by studying similar models elsewhere and helping TSG to map them to the needs of nations like India.

When TSG studied the impact of the community-driven programmes undertaken by individual Tata companies across 16 areas in 2013, it realised the scale of the work undertaken, and the social impact of that intervention. That realisation fuelled the belief that if the group were to consolidate and coordinate its activities on the strength of a well thought-out strategy, the effect would be tremendous. The thinking was further honed by critical inputs from S Ramadorai, vice chairman of Tata Consultancy Services, who served as part of the prime minister’s advisory group on skilling. As several Tata companies were already working in the area of skill development, this gave the skilling initiative the potential to make a massive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people across India. This set the context for Tata Strive.

Read more about Tata skilling initiatives around the world

Overview: How to catch a fish
Skilling initiatives from the Tata group aim to help youngsters around the world become employable
Life skills for India
Tata companies are training thousands of youth across India in skill sets that make them employable and productive
STEM talent for America
Tata companies are addressing the deficit in science, technology, engineering and math skills in America to build a much-needed talent pool
Grooming young talent in China
The TCS China University steps up to offer soft skills training in partnership with 25 universities across the country
Skilling up in Singapore
NatSteel's upskilling initiatives are tied to the Singapore government's aim of building a more competitive workforce
IT's raining skills in Africa
In South Africa, TCS is empowering local talent by training students in a wide range of IT skills