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Datamation's Train-and-Hire Program

The Problem
In India, low literacy rates, traditional gender roles, lack of marketable skills, and lower educational levels make it difficult for women to find employment, especially skilled or technical jobs. Women often must settle for jobs that are low paid and require little skill. The problem is compounded for women from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are often forced to work in the informal sector of the economy which affords little job security or growth potential.

The IT sector has become a driving force in India's economic development, accelerating job and revenue creation. As the opportunities continue to grow, IT jobs have the potential to create financial stability for greater numbers of employees. Lack of adequate training, high illiteracy rates, and low familiarity with computers and the Internet have kept women from entering the IT job market in significant numbers thus far, despite the fact that women employees bring other valuable qualities to the workplace like loyalty, attention to detail, and good interpersonal skills.

Recognizing the benefit of increasing the number of women in the workforce, Datamation Consultants Pvt. Ltd. is using IT training to extend job opportunities to women from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These women not only lack the technical training and skills that would otherwise allow them access to these jobs, but often lack even basic education. Through an innovative public-private partnership program, Datamation works with local nonprofit partners to give these women the training they need, and then recruits successful trainees for full-time jobs within the company.

Company Profile
Established in 1987, Datamation is a multi-service data processing and consulting firm, offering a suite of services including data processing, software development, medical and business transcription, data conversion, direct marketing and CRM, DC/DVD reproduction, imaging and GIS processing, and project management. Datamation provides services to both Indian and international corporations, including Fortune 500 companies. Datamation's sales topped US $6 million in 2001-2002, with projected growth to US $50 million in 2004-2005.

Datamation employs nearly 2000 workers in 30 offices across India. Major offices are located in Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai, with several others in rural locations. Whenever possible, international contracts are serviced from the rural locations, creating both social and financial benefits. The work extends the IT sector into underserved areas of the country while generating higher profit margins due to lower operating and labor costs.

A major company with ISO 9000 status now under review, Datamation has a strong commitment to social responsibility. The logo on its Web site,, flashes a rotating tag line with slogans like "At the convergence and intersection of information technology and human development" and "Committed to the creation of employment opportunities for deprived youth, women, and physically handicapped." Datamation views its activities not as charity, but as social investment, that simultaneously benefits individuals, communities, and its own business interests.

The Model
Datamation's train-and-hire program is based on an extensive public-private partnership between the company and more than a dozen private nonprofit NGOs, including the Datamation Foundation, Nari Raksha Samiti (NRS), Prayas, Action India, Nanhi Kali, Katha, Arise & Shine Church International, Deepalaya, Udayan, Help Care Society, Azim Premji Foundation, the American India Foundation, and several other smaller NGOs. Partner NGOs are selected according to a number of criteria, including the strength of their institutional capacity, seriousness of their mission to create sustainable job opportunities, efficacy and impact of their efforts in serving their target communities, and their ability to implement low-cost IT training courses.

Partner NGOs offer free or low-cost six- to eight-month IT training courses to marginalized groups of women. These courses cover basic computer operation, various software applications, including Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint, and the fundamentals of software development, though trainees are not expected to become programmers. Efforts are made to provide training in local languages, as English is not widely spoken among students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Knowledge of English is not a prerequisite to hiring. Since the overall goal of the program is women's empowerment and personal development, the Datamation Foundation also provides life skills training in topics such as healthcare, communication skills, professionalism and work ethic, and knowledge of worker's and women's rights.

Successful graduates of the training course can apply for entry-level jobs with Datamation. Recruitment tests examine technical skills, numerical and quantitative analytical aptitude, and written and spoken communication skills. They also assess professional attitude and work ethic, and the ability to cope with the stress of working long hours at a computer terminal. The women are not given preferential treatment in the hiring process and must pass the same rigorous recruitment testing process as all other hires. Datamation is committed hiring women who have the skills and qualifications to succeed on the job; compromising hiring standards would not be of benefit to the company.

An ongoing mentoring and training system has also been established to ensure the continued success of new employees. Mentoring focuses on professional etiquette, stress management, communication skills, life skills, and new developments in technology as they relate to their jobs. The cultural transition that occurs once the initial hire is made often requires daily attention, and mentoring has been seen to play a critical role in employee retention and success.

Driven both by changes in social norms and financial necessity, an increasing number of Indian women are seeking employment outside the home. As women are increasingly seeking independent identities and building professional capacity, many Indian households depend on a woman's supplemental income to support an immediate and extended family often living under one roof.

In the IT sector, highly-trained professional software and hardware engineering and project management positions are still typically filled by male employees, but there are vast numbers of jobs that are less technically intensive, for which Datamation considers women well-suited. Much of the work involved in data processing, for instance, is repetitive and detail-oriented and requires diligence and a stable workforce. While it is difficult to generalize about specific aptitudes across gender, social conventions in India often influence women's greater need for balance between their professional and family lives. As such, women may be attracted to jobs that are not as professionally sophisticated but are less demanding or time-intensive. Moreover, a large number of women have good interpersonal skills and are often able to adapt well to new cultures and languages. These skills are needed in India-based business-process outsourcing and call centers that serve foreign clientele.

Of Datamation's nearly 2000 employees, 35% are women, and 85% of those women are from disadvantaged backgrounds. In India, women working in the IT sector earn approximately 88% more than those in non-IT jobs, and Datamation's salaries reflect this trend. A newly-hired trainee can expect to earn US $60-70 per month starting salary, with growth potential to US $100 per month after the first year of successful performance. Over the next few years, Datamation expects to add over 3000 additional jobs, with a significant percentage of those available to successful graduates of the training courses.

Datamation maintains a close working relationship with its partners, especially the Datamation Foundation. There are regularly scheduled staff meetings, and frequent opportunities for communication and feedback. The staff of Datamation Consultants regularly works with Foundation and other partner NGO staff, resulting in an efficient hiring process following the training program.

The Datamation Foundation acts as an umbrella organization for the nonprofits in the partnership. Under its guidance the NGOs have developed a platform for networking and creating common strategies and objectives. Established as a private non-profit entity, the Datamation Foundation was set up by Datamation Consultants as a way to focus on Datamation's social goals in a structured and independent manner. The Datamation Foundation's stated mission is to provide social services and outreach to marginalized groups in India through innovative uses of ICTs and the creation of employment opportunities. The main activity that supports its mission is working with Datamation Consultants on the train-and-hire program.

Datamation Consultants also provides technical support to partner NGOs in support of their wider organizational needs. This may include hardware and software development, Web site design and maintenance, and tech support. Datamation conducts a need assessment of each new partner NGO to determine the extent and type of technical support needed. Dedicated staff hours and resources donated for all the partner NGOs are estimated at a cost of US $3000 per month, including overhead and administrative costs. Funding in the form of cash grants is not a major provision of Datamation's partnerships with NGOs, though some funds may be disbursed on a case-by-case basis. Partner NGOs have independent funding sources.

The Datamation Foundation is entirely funded by Datamation Consultants. The train-and-hire program has proven to be very cost-effective for Datamation Consultants because it creates a loyal employee base and therefore reduces manpower attrition rates. However, Datamation Foundation is currently seeking outside donor funds, especially for the vocational training component.

Integrating women from backgrounds of extreme poverty, marginalization, and even abuse into highly competitive professional environments has not proven to be a straightforward task. Receiving job training is only the first step towards making lasting changes in these women's lives. In addition to acquiring new job skills, the women may need to make enormous changes in their attitudes, behaviors, and expectations, and this often requires a significant amount of consistent time and effort, both for the women themselves and for the counselors and mentors provided by Datamation Foundation. Investing in these women's futures is not a one-time event; rather, Datamation recognizes this as a long-term, ongoing development endeavor.

Professional development and continuing technical training is provided to all of Datamation's staff, but Datamation has found that more consistent technical "refresher" courses were needed for the women hired from this program. Lack of good primary education and low familiarity with technology means their need for retraining is higher than other recruits.

The staff time needed for this ongoing support does incur additional cost to Datamation, but a large bulk of the interaction and retraining is supplied by the Datamation Foundation's board members and volunteers, and thus does not subtract significantly from the company's bottom line.

Lack of government support has also been a challenge. There is a need for adequate transportation for workers, as well as subsidized quality daycare facilities. Daycare and a connectivity infrastructure that would facilitate telecommuting would help address the challenge of post-maternity retention. Currently only about 40% of women employees continue working after their first child is born, which represents a significant loss of the female workforce and associated training costs.

Key Lessons
Datamation is an example of how business model innovation involving the use of ICTs can accelerate social development and corporate success. Datamation's social investment efforts expand the traditional definitions of corporate responsibility and corporate citizenship. Investment in training provides significant benefit to the workers, while also helping to ensure that the company has a strong, skilled workforce. And the results at Datamation have been very encouraging-while the majority of the female workforce hails from underprivileged segments of Indian society, the training and support services provided by partner NGOs enables them to function as loyal and disciplined employees.

The success of Datamation's program lies in its innovative public-private partnership. The partnership allows each party to leverage its comparative advantage to achieve greater benefits; it creates a cost-effective means of achieving parallel social objectives for both Datamation Consultants and the partner NGOs. Through this partnership, Datamation is able to bring minority and disadvantaged women into its organizational mainstream, a segment of the population which does not have substantial access to employment opportunities elsewhere.

The model also highlights the potential of ICTs to penetrate poor and uneducated social groups, thereby transforming individuals and communities. Datamation's train-and-hire program offers a tangible and profitable way that technology can be used by people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. Bridging the digital divide implies providing access to technology in ways that are relevant to people's lives, defeating the notion that technology is the exclusive domain of affluent or educated populations.


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