Upskilling trans community through COVID-19
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year, it is to be fiercely resilient in the face of a storm. When COVID-19 hit us in March 2020, one of the most difficult realities we had to live through was knowing the drastic impact it would have on the trans community.
Folks who were already living an invisible lockdown for most parts of their life; would now go through another, further limiting the minimal resources, financial dignity and freedom they had.
Here’s how I learnt my first lesson. We had grand plans for the year. By February 2020 we had wrapped up REVIVE with ThoughtWorks, a residential training and employment program for 35 trans persons in Bangalore. By the end of our training, 23 of them had been placed in Bayer, ThoughtWorks, Goldman Sachs, ANZ, IBM, Refinitiv, Accenture, Amazon, PeriFerry and Vodafone. However for those who didn’t cut through the interviews, the next few months were nothing but a stretch.
Our usual post — training job conversion of 92% plus fell to a mere 65%. The job market was on a freeze. Our summer residential training that aimed to impact 75+ trans persons was put on hold. The virus hit us hard. We packed our bags and came home (literally, back to Chennai).
We spent the next few months building meaningful relationships with the community. The little things that we missed having the time for before, we vested ourselves into.
Naturally, having meetups doesn’t put food on the table but it can go a long way for those who see no light or hope. For the community, it was fuel to fight the fight harder.
By June, we noticed a renewed sense of hope and aspiration within the trans community to break free. Wanting to keep the momentum going, we reached out to one of our trusted partners. Together, the second iteration of Revive with ThoughtWorks was launched, though virtual this time around.
Our trainees from different parts of the country met everyday on Google Meet. They were further split into smaller groups and were upskilled for 90 days.
A whooping 27 out of 30 trainees graduated from the program.
We were lucky to work with trainers like Faiza & Amrita, who went above and beyond their job description to create a seamless online learning experience. It pushed us all out of our comfort zones and brought a whole range of learning that we then applied to future sessions.
At the end of November, the big day arrived! The virtual job fair had to be conducted the PeriFerry way — results over noise. 15 of our trainees were selected by Walmart Global Tech, Essar, JP Morgan, Accenture, Citrix, ANZ, and POSH at Work.
With 6 more shortlisted, things began looking up again, with respect to job creation and upskilling. A few more weeks and we’d be back to our 92% placement rate.
While things looked great online, we were still fighting on the ground!
At about the same time, one of the most difficult projects we have ever executed came along. It was an employment program for the grassroots trans community in Chennai. We deliberated and strategized on how we could sustain all the folks who came from backgrounds of begging/ sex work, for a whole month without a residence.
This was a special pilot project and it was imperative that it was successful. We maneuvered and innovated as we went along. Some days were more frustrating than others but we kept at it.
A record 14 out of 15 trainees sustained until the end of the 30 days program. Our community partners joked that we had bribed the trainees to make them continue, haha! It turned out that the secret sauce to making this happen was to deeply listen to the community’s needs and genuinely care for their growth.
It takes so little yet most people can’t afford to do so. And of course, having trainers who genuinely care, goes a long way. After this came the fundamental task of placing our trainees!
Jobs are not always available the way we would like them to be. Even if they are, they don’t always match what a candidate can offer.
For this particular group, it was extremely challenging to find the right companies to employ them with. So we dug deeper to create new opportunities, reaching out to local partners like SPI Cinemas, Chennai Metro, Tidel Park, Baalika, Vedita Ventures and the larger Startup Community in Chennai. By the day of graduation, 8 of the trainees had job offers. We continue to work with the rest to ensure they’re placed in organizations they will best add value to.
Through all this and more, we initiated 2 more online corporate training programs in partnership with Walmart Global Tech and Goldman Sachs.
With 50 trans persons being trained online and 135 upskilled through the year, 2020 isn’t ending as badly as we feared!
Through all this, I learnt my second, and more important lesson to NOT say no. Opportunities that at first glance seemed impossible in the face of a pandemic were not quite so. With careful thought and practicality, we turned many in our favor.
I am immensely grateful to our employer community who continued to believe in the potential of our folks by creating opportunities for them.
Thank you to you all. In more ways than one, your work is not only financially liberating but also life saving.
Edited for brevity: Aditi Anna Kuriakose.
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