Recognition of Prior Learning for Future Progress

“I am a Bunkar Sakhi (a Community Manager), and I have been associated with Jaipur Rugs for the last 15 years. My responsibilities include looking at the quality of work and taking care of all of the weavers in my village. Under the prime minister’s Skill Development Plan, we took part in the nine-day RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) training where we learned about leadership, teamwork, computers, cashless payments, and the supply chain. Earlier, when I used to say something to the weavers on their quality, they would get angry and say, ‘you think you know something we don’t. We make the entire rug ourselves. You only check it out.’ However, after all of this training, so much understanding has been built on both sides that the weavers now pay attention to their quality, work together on the loom, respectfully explain their mistakes to each other, and when I arrive now, they request my advice to improve further. After the training in the village, there is a wave of confidence. We all care for each other more, we take better care of our health, and most importantly, through this training, we have discovered our identity.”  – Prem Devi, Alwar, Rajasthan

Jaipur Rugs Foundation Implements RPL, Giving Nearly 5,000 Indian Weavers a Brighter Future

There are millions of skilled artisans in India, most of whom live in rural areas of every state. The overwhelming majority of these talented individuals can only dream of formal training as they generally receive informal instruction from village mentors or family from one generation to the next. This transfer of knowledge and skills over hundreds of years, in and of itself, is amazing to witness. But there is a downside. With global demand for artisan handicrafts declining at a rapid rate, a lack of formal education or structure in place to ensure further skills development forces artisans to survive amidst a stagnating practice, leading to reduced income and risking complete job loss in the not-too-distant future.

With the goal of training and certifying 2.5 million people from the informal labor sector, the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is an initiative established in 2016 by the Indian Government’s Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), the flagship skills certification program from the public sector. This is a truly momentous development, as it is a first-of-its-kind intervention from the government in the artisan industry.

The initiative has vast implications because it professionalizes traditional skill sets previously unrecognized—thus undervalued in Indian society—and elevates their value, producing a host of benefits through its intent to formalize a large portion of the informal sector.

RPL is designed to measure and align the existing competencies of the informal labor sector with the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF). The expectation for the scheme is to produce two outcomes, benefiting both the individual and the industry. The first objective is to formally certify a large number of skilled laborers who will then be “on the market” and aware of relevant job opportunities. The second is to motivate skills development and career advancement among informal sector laborers by offering an array of formal training opportunities.

Given the scale of the initiative, the RPL framework, which aims to formalize informal sector workers, offers a straightforward roadmap summarized in five steps. Find a detailed explanation of each step further below.

Jaipur Rugs Foundation as an RPL Project Implementing Agency
Targeting the empowerment of 5,000 artisans in the hand-knotted rug industry, the Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF) serves as the Project Implementation Agency (PIA)—an organization designated by the government to execute the initiative—for an RPL initiative that launched on March 3, 2017. The Foundation’s network of over 40,000 weavers gave it the scope to launch the initiative immediately and cover substantial ground.

The three initial states JRF selected for implementation were Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. While the first official launch site was in the village of Manpura Macheri in Jaipur District, eight other RPL centers also emerged, following the success of 480 artisans who began the certification process on that inaugural day. To date, JRF’s rollout of RPL has seen 4,726 beneficiaries pass in just four districts in Rajasthan for hand-knotting, with another 30 beneficiaries in Jharkhand passing for hand-tufting.

The RPL training, and the accompanying bridge course developed by JRF took a predominantly female candidate pool through subjects of finance, entrepreneurship, health and safety, and digital tools to build their capabilities and propel them towards independence. While the RPL certificates are important, the initiative also resulted in positive changes to the candidates’ confidence and business skills, which in turn fostered feelings of independence and pride from the recognition from society of their hard work and dignity.


Next Steps
The RPL program, as implemented by the Jaipur Rugs Foundation, has been a standout initiative with the likes of the National Skills Development Corporation’s (NSDC) CEO, Shri Manish Kumar, who personally visited the JRF candidates and praised their progress and results. Given the rate of success with only 23 hand-knotting candidates failing out of a total candidate pool of 4,779, an energized JRF will continue to implement this initiative as broadly as possible. With the help of other government schemes, the Foundation hopes to provide a formal structure of employment and a fair socio-economic standing for the thousands of other marginalized weavers.

JRF has shown that with the structure and backing of large institutions such as NSDC and the national government – along with the inclusion of a tailored curriculum created by organizations who already have great working relationships with the communities in which to deploy such programs – there are no obvious barriers to growth for RPL and similar initiatives. The Foundation hopes to partner with other industry organizations to reinforce its work and widen the scope and efficacy of these programs.

The Five Steps to Recognition of Prior Learning, Explained

Step 1: Mobilization
The first step of RPL requires either a worker’s employer or a mobilization partner such as an association or NGO to set up a skills assessment plan, calling for significant planning and identification of the ideal stakeholders and their responsibilities.

Step 2: Counseling and Pre-screening
RPL facilitators encourage participants to submit required documentation, including proof of previous labor, acceptable forms of identification based on residence location, and a valid bank account. This requirement also supports the government’s goal to better track and provide official identities and benefits to an underserved population. Once the documentation is accepted, the candidate receives an overview of PKMVY and the benefits of the RPL program before undergoing a self-assessment, which ensures the candidate’s skills and needs align with the program.

Step 3: Orientation
Orientation consists of a minimum six hours of industry-specific training and an introduction to important soft skills. Depending on the domain for which the training is being held, the candidates may receive skills bridging or job-specific training kits. For instance, Jaipur Rugs’ training kits around weaving were specifically created and distributed to participants.

Step 4: Final Assessment
The project implementation agencies (PIAs), which can be either public or private organizations designated by the government to execute the initiative, must seek out a third-party Sector Skill Council-certified assessment agency to conduct final assessments of individual workers. These autonomous, industry-led bodies organized by the government grade the candidates based on an A-D rating scale and test them against the NSQF for their particular career. Within two days of the assessment, the results, along with candidate feedback, are uploaded to a central database.

Step 5: Certification & Payout
Candidates with passing exam results receive certificates, mark sheets, and a 500 Rupee bonus for RPL completion. Candidates who fail with a D grade receive their mark sheet but are denied certification through RPL. The payouts for those with passing grades are direct deposited into the candidate’s bank account and both passing and failed candidates receive further instruction for up-skilling or new training opportunities, leaving no potential for growth behind.

This post was previously featured on Pyxera Global’s Global Engagement Forum. Pyxera Global is an NGO dedicated to creating groundbreaking partnerships between the public, private, and social sectors to create shared value and innovative solutions to complex global challenges.

Vipin was born in India but hasn't spent time there since his move to the U.S. at age 6. He understands the magnitude of change the country has gone through in the last 21 years but is now thrilled to experience it first-hand. He hopes to use his skills in digital marketing and technology to help bridge the gap between untapped artisans, skills building, and leadership training at Jaipur Rugs Foundation. Before becoming an AIF Clinton Fellow, he's had the unique experience of working directly with AIF as a volunteer with the New York Young Professionals Chapter for the past four years to raise funds and awareness about AIF's programs among young South Asian professionals. One of his goals is to see if what he's learned as a physically distant volunteer, effectively translates to the work required on the ground. Another goal? He wants to try as many regional varieties of biryani as his ten months will allow him to stomach and see if his current favorite, the hometown Hyderabadi variant, can be topped.

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