Key stakeholders come together in Big Bazaar pilot project for youth with intellectual disabilities
Opportunities at the workplace are opening up for people with disabilities with greater awareness and sensitization, something that is even more critical when it comes to intellectual disabilities which are often invisible and nuanced. Keeping this in mind, v-shesh Learning Services Pvt Ltd, Evoluer Solutions, Skill Council for Persons with Disability, and DFID have come together to start a pilot project for this group at select Big Bazaar stores in Chennai and Gurugram.
For Yashasvi differentiating between colours is not easy so the first task assigned to him at the Big Bazaar store in Sohna Road, Gurugram is to segregate heaped up towels according to colour, fold and then place them in racks. Fellow trainee Daksha, who would ask for frequent breaks, has now graduated to working for longer periods of time under the firm and patient guidance of a buddy at the same store.
These are just some examples of the learning curve that 25 youth with intellectual disabilities have experienced during a three-month training programme currently underway at select Big Bazaar stores in Gurugram and Chennai. This is as part of a pilot project that aims to equip them with skills for the retail industry.
First of a Kind
The project has been started by v-shesh Learning Services Pvt Ltd (v-shesh), Evoluer Solutions, Skill Council for Persons with Disability (SCPwD) , and the Department for International Development (DFID) . This is the first time that organisations with so many skill sets and competencies in their respective fields have come together to develop an authentic pilot programme for youth with such disabilities.
The candidates were put through pre-training, says Shaloo Sharma, Founder-Director, Evoluer Solutions. “This was an extensive essential skills programme directed at work experience towards employment”. Among the avenues that was thrown up was retail, says Sharma, who says the training will give a clear picture as to whether retail would be a conducive place to work for people with intellectual disabilities.
The pre-training focused on personal adequacy skills, awareness sessions, communication skills, strengthening of cognitive skills, socio-emotional maturity, work ethics, motor skills, sex education, self-advocacy, as well as domains specific to retail and hospitality. Modules were designed by specialists based on visits to Big Bazaar outlets to understand job-specific needs, workplace and social requirements. Based on this, Individual Transition Plans (ITPs) were developed to chart development areas and the progress made.
Alongside, a sensitisation programme was conducted for Big Bazaar employees. Each trainee has been assigned a specific work section with a buddy to assist and train. Coaches from Evoluer and v-shesh accompanied the candidates to make the learning process easier and act as an interface.
“Our job coaches ensure that the specific needs of each person are understood by employers”, explains P Rajashekharan, Co-founder, v-shesh. “The instructions given are clear and communicated such that they are easily understood”. Tasks are broken down to generate the best output and there’s a weekly follow up mechanism to review productivity and performance.
“We started initially for four hours and then increased their timings”, says Pooja Dawer, Head, Human Resources, NCR, Big Bazaar,. “They are helpful on the floor and their presence has helped increase customer goodwill. It also helps correlate with Big Bazaar’s core values of adaptability and value, and nurturing relationships”.
The buddies have made a special effort to establish a bond with the candidates so they feel comfortable. On one occasion, when Nikita, an intern, got hurt while attaching tags to clothing items, a security guard left her post to administer first aid. “The staff enjoys and learns while working with them”, adds Dawer.
What is visible is positivity and empathy, adds Sirisha Reddy, Head, HR, South, Big Bazaar. “All members communicate with each other. The training has sensitised the team to the difference between empathy and sympathy”.
The project hopes Dr Niharika Nigam, Head, Standards & Quality Assurance, SCPwD will help bring down the barriers for people with intellectual disabilities at the workplace.
“There is a lagging behind in terms of employment and training opportunities and the SCPwD is working closely with stakeholders to encourage workplace inclusion. This project will have learnings for everyone”.
What makes intellectual disability especially challenging, says Rajashekharan, is the diversity of learning. “If you look at other disabilities, there are clear accommodation requirements like screen readers, hearing aids, etc. Here, being invisible, the coaching method is individual driven. Given the varying needs, it is difficult to crystalise as an accommodation”.
Sharma is hopeful that the programme will lead to jobs for 80% of the candidates. “If they clear the assessment, we are hopeful that jobs will be offered but this is totally Big Bazaar’s decision. The point is they are open and that’s the great thing”.
Read more about Big Bazaar’s initiatives for people with autism: