Data Driven Model to Train The Underprivileged For White Collar Jobs


Dr. Akhil Shahani

Data Driven Model to Train The Underprivileged For White Collar Jobs


5 min read

The economies of many Asian countries grew through manufacturing low cost products for the rest of the world, which enabled millions of their citizens to step out of abject poverty over the last few decades. However, with an increased focus on keeping costs low, most large manufacturers are moving towards factory automation to reduce the number of workers they need to hire. Smaller scale manufacturers and less developed Asian nations are keeping worker salaries very low while expecting more productivity out of them. Hence, workers in Asia’s manufacturing sector are less likely to move out of poverty than previous generations. A way out of this quagmire is to train manufacturing workers to become knowledge workers, so that they can join Asia’s fast growing services sector.

Trends affecting white collar employment

Two major trends need to be kept in mind to ensure long term employability in the white-collar world.

The first is that employee turnover rates have increased dramatically in recent years, with around 26% of all employees changing their jobs every year. The concept of lifetime employment is dead. People shift roles for reasons like wanting new challenges, cultural mismatch in their current job, dissatisfaction with the boss, and looking for a salary increase. Hence, knowledge workers need to develop skills that will help them be employable no matter what industry they join along their career path.

The second trend is that automation is increasingly replacing human beings in process-driven, repetitive work. The type of jobs which are more prevalent today need people who can handle a changing environment, work well with others, and develop new skills on the fly. Unfortunately, most Asian adults have gone through an education system that was geared towards creating employees who would work in the same company for life, doing jobs which were repetitive in nature.

Because of these trends, the definition of a talented employee has changed. In earlier decades, a talented employee was one who had great expertise for a specific job. Today, however, a talented employee is one who can adapt quickly to new environments and job needs as their career progresses within a company or between companies. This means that instead of hiring new employees with only the required hard skills like coding, financial skills, or writing skills, employers look for people who have the capabilities to rapidly learn new hard skills as needed. Hence, the focus has shifted to finding employees who have the personality traits to do so.

Traits for long term employability

Employers describe employees with these traits in various ways, like having a positive attitude, being a go-getter, or being dynamic. However, it is important to create a framework that reduces these qualitative statements into parameters that are measurable and can be developed in individuals.

Based on my research on employability, these are the basic traits needed for most white collar jobs across most industries:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Great team working ability
  • Quick problem solving ability
  • Proactive attitude
  • Professional work ethic
  • Competence on office IT software
  • Industry domain knowledge

How Can These Traits Be Developed?

Programs focusing on developing skills and traits can increase employability. The SAGE Foundation’s program is one example of how this can be done. Through a tech enabled platform which incorporates behavioural science and data analytics, the SAGE Foundation is able to develop the above-needed traits in non-English speaking underprivileged youth within 45 days and place them in high paying white collar jobs. Our program highlights how three driving principles, which underscore our model, can boost effectiveness in encouraging the development of these traits.

The first is the mindset of “what can be measured, can be managed”. For instance, we created the “ASK Benchmarks”, which measures our students along these traits on a quantitative scale of 1 to 10. The measurement takes place at the beginning, middle and end of their course.

The second principle is that the measures themselves need to promote behavioural change within participants to encourage them to build their own employability. For example, our course is managed by a mobile app that each student downloads. This app tracks their attendance in class and if they submit their assignments on time. These two inputs contribute to their “Professional Work Ethic” score. If a student’s attendance percentage is high and they submit their assignments on time, they would be scored higher than students who skip class or are late in submitting their assignments. Similarly, at the end of every group project, each student is asked to rank the contribution of each of his teammates on a forced ranking of 1 to 5, with 1 being the highest score. Students who score highly on this ranking across their group projects in the semester would attain a higher “Teamwork ability” score than others who do not contribute as much in groups.

The third principle is that the student’s performance on these parameters need to be made important enough for them to want to change their behaviour to score highly on them. For SAGE Foundation’s program, we told the students that their individual “ASK Benchmarks scores” would be shared with employers when they go for their job placements. Hence, if a student scores badly on their Professional Work Ethic, the employer would know, which could adversely impact their career prospects. This encourages our students to score highly on these measures during their time with us, which facilitates a behavioural change in most of them, increasing their employability.

Over the last couple of years, we have trained almost 3000 students through this model and have placed more than 90% of them in jobs in the banking sector with average monthly salaries of Rs. 25,000/-. This allows them to move away from poverty and potentially enter the lower middle class. Our next plan is extending this project into other service sector industries like ITES, Healthcare & Hospitality and into other regions of India. Over the long term, we are looking to work with local implementation partners to expand into Southeast Asia, Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

SAGE Foundation is currently looking for funding and implementation partners who can help us scale our employability model across India and Asia. If you resonate with our cause, please reach out for a conversation with us.

Our website: https://thesagefoundation.org/
Contact: Dr. Akhil Shahani


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Dr. Akhil Shahani

Dr. Akhil Shahani is the Managing Director of The Shahani Group, which runs a franchised range of colleges in areas like business, media, real estate, finance and others. His colleges incorporate global industry-oriented education systems that make their graduates truly employable. Additionally, he runs the ed-tech platform Ask.Careers and recruitment firm, Ask Talent Services. In addition, Akhil serves as the Chairman of Global Discovery Schools, which are a franchised chain of 14 innovative schools. He used to be a Venture Partner in Kaizenvest, which is India’s first private equity fund focused solely on the education sector. Akhil’s work in the non-profit space is also extensive. He runs the SAGE Foundation, which helps thousands of low-income youths gain white-collar jobs and also Unltd India, a prominent incubator for startup social entrepreneurs. Akhil sits on the board of 28 iconic colleges in Mumbai. He has completed his MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Chicago & his Doctorate in Education (Ed.D) from the University of Liverpool, where his thesis is in the area of Student Employability. Akhil has been listed among the 10 most influential education entrepreneurs & one of the top 50 Thought Leaders in Higher Education. He is the recipient of many awards for his work in education like the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, Bharat Shiromani Award, PIMR Outstanding Educationist Award, Rex Karamveer Chakra Gold Award, the Bharat Gaurav Award and the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award among others. He is a regular speaker at conferences and has been extensively profiled in the media

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