In 2008, Shipra started a small skill centre in Jaipur. At present, she has more than 40 skill centres across the country and is also a training partner in the Skill India Mission.
You are a woman, why do you want to start a business? If you want a loan for your business, can’t you just ask your father, husband, or brother? If you really want to start a business of your own, how about opening a boutique or a parlour?
And there were many more questions bombarded at Shipra Sharma Butani in 2008 when she was starting out to set up a small skill centre in Jaipur.
Now, ten years down the lane, Shipra has more than 40 skill centres across the country and she runs the Quantum Career Academy — a training partner with National Skills Development Corporation (Government of India). She claims to have provided skill training and employment opportunities to more than 20,000 people, which includes prisoners, army widows, and war-affected women in Afghanistan.
However, her journey was anything but easy.
Finding the gap
Born in Mumbai, Shipra lost her father at an early age of ten. Her father’s business had to be shut down and her family moved back to their ancestral Kekri village in Ajmer district, Rajasthan. She recalls,
“After my father passed away, I realised the importance of education. I studied hard and went to Birla Balika Vidyapeeth, Pilani.”
In Pilani, Shipra studied science and then went on to do an MBA in entrepreneurship and business from IIM Calcutta. Talking passionately about entrepreneurship, she says that in business there is a greater possibility of achieving phenomenal growth as compared to a regular job. “I have always been inspired by Ratan Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani, Aditya Birla,” she remarks.
After her completing her MBA, Shipra became a lecturer in economics and business at BIT Mesra, Jaipur campus. It was while teaching that she came across the gap between the education imparted at colleges and the skills required in the industry.
“Many of my students, who were engineers, didn't get a job. There was a huge disconnect between what they were being taught and the industry in which they had to take a job,” she says.
Therefore, she set up a small skill enhancement centre for her students, where she gave them an exposure to the industry trends. Shipra says, “We started an engineering class on cloud computing, web designing, and digital market. We provided them with a certificate for the courses.”
Still, there were many who had misconceptions about the skill centre. Shipra says, “They asked me if I was teaching a coaching class or providing a distance learning course. They just wanted a degree which is rather a piece of paper and not the attainment of a skill.”
Shipra soon realised that she needed to go beyond her students. She comments, “Engineers and MBAs have an advantage over people who never had any kind of education, as they can still manage to get a job. No one is bothered about those who lie at the bottom of the pyramid.”
With the aim to provide livelihood to them, Shipra started Quantum Career Academy. But when she visited the bank for a loan,
“The bank manager refused and asked me to start the business with my father, husband, or brother. I was an alumnus of the IIM, but he didn’t even acknowledge my educational background. I refused to listen and got the money by mortgaging my jewellery,” she says.
“In Rajasthan, it is very difficult for a woman to start a business, as it is seen one of those things only men can do,” Shipra adds.
With this, Shipra started helping rural youth to get employment opportunities with various retail stores and MSME in Jaipur. She highlights that her course was for three months wherein the students were taught English and were exposed to the specific skills required in the industry, through practical knowledge which was not found in the books.
Everybody deserves a second chance
In the meantime, Shipra started visiting the central jail in Jaipur and realised that many inmates needed a second chance at life. She explains,
“Everybody deserves a second chance. In a prison, around half of the inmates were guilty of incidental crimes. Therefore, it was more important to connect with them and understand their stories. Otherwise, after they serve their terms, it would get impossible for them to find a respectful job.”
Shipra started working with women prisoners; she provided them with the training to work as beauticians and taught them to cook and make products out of paper and bamboo.
“These products were put on sale at ‘Aashayein, The Jail Shop’, where tourists would buy them and the money would go to the women in prison. She could either send the money to her kids for their school or hire a lawyer to reopen her case.”
Further, Shipra points out that women prisoners are often more vulnerable as they get abandoned by their families.
The other section which Shipra found vulnerable was of the army widows. In 2010, she associated with South-Western Army Wife Welfare Association and worked with widows by providing them skills in data entry, and for making leather bags and quilts.
It was in 2014 that Shipra came across people affected by the war in Afghanistan in her Jodhpur skill centre. She says,
“They came to me and informed me about the unemployment among women due to war and asked me for help. Therefore, for Afghanistan, we designed a special course and developed a different content and study material, which would help them work from home. A few trainers came to India; we skilled them so that they could go back to their country and train others.”
“They can now at least work in BPOs, or do data entry from home to China, India, or London,” she adds.
Connecting skill to industry
Shipra’s skill centres are operating out of seven states — Tamil Nadu, Assam, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Karnataka. These are state-of-the-art training institutes which provide employability linked training in various sectors such as electronics, electrical, handicrafts, mining, apparel, etc. Every year around 6,500 students obtain industry oriented-training in these centres.
To become closer to the local community in different regions, Shipra always appoints someone native to the place as the head of the centre. She asserts that it important to understand the students and connect with them before providing them with the skills they need.
In 2016, she started off with a new venture ‘SkillconnectIndia’ — a mobile app which maps and connects skilled manpower and industries. The app is said to have 50 lakh skill manpower data. Shipra says, “Any person can download the app, and register as an employer has to be skilled candidates from Govt. Certified Training Institutes and Skill centres. We take the full responsibility of the employee.”
She has also received a loan from NSDC to start the fee-based training programme under Skill India Mission.
“We then shortlist the candidate according to the needs of the industry; hence, it becomes easy for the employee.”
For each placement, SkillconnectIndia charges Rs 2,000 from the company. This is not only the source of income for Shipra’s Quantum Career Academy as 60 percent of its revenue is generated through sponsorship by the government and CSR activity. The rest 40 percent revenue is generated by students who enroll in the academy. Students are charged around Rs 4,000-5,000 for a three-month course.
She says that in her journey of 10 years, she has learned that the faster she recovers from failures, the better it is.
“A woman has to work four times harder than a man and in return, she just receives one-fourth of the respect and appreciation she deserves,” she adds.
Shipra has won 14 awards in the span of nine years but says that there are still many who are apprehensive about the work she does. She remarks,
“It doesn't bother me anymore. A woman should not be treated as a goddess nor should she be sexually harassed. She should be treated as equal to her male counterparts.”