Shortage of engineers in rural areas has been affecting the quality and effective service delivery of the infrastructure works launched under MGNREGA in India. A training programme, set up by the Ministry of Rural Development with technical assistance of the ILO, addresses the skills gap while providing decent jobs to thousands of discouraged youth and promoting sustainable development in rural areas.

Sporting her navy blue Barefoot Technician (BFT) T-shirt, and cap, Hemlata Naik, 32 year old, is on her way to start her yoga class at 7 am sharp before completing her assignments, attending lectures and joining an on-site training, at the State Institute for Rural Development (SIRD). 

She is one of the few women attending the three-month training programme opened to rural youth who have completed education till grade 10th. The training teaches how to assist engineers in conducting surveys, preparing quotes and estimates, and executing processes for simple works such as farm ponds, farm bunds and other watershed structures. 

“I come from a remote district, Balod, in Chhattisgarh. At first I was quite nervous about leaving my family behind to attend this residential course. But I heard that here one is taught maintenance of rural works. I was always a good student at school and had completed my education till grade 12th. But then I got married, had two kids, and I didn’t pursue further education or employment. This is a rare opportunity for me. I learnt doing layouts, measurements, and planning rural infrastructure. I am proud to work as a barefoot technician. I will be working in my village, for my community while improving my family’s economic situation.”

For many rural youth such as Hemlata finding dignified, and meaningful employment in their local environment has become a growing priority. Gewesh Kumar, 28 year old, also enrolled in the programme: “I used to be an aimless youth who was unemployed and unsure about the future. Then, I learnt about the BFT training programme from my village head. I immediately applied. We had to crack three rounds of selection process to come here.”