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In India, 'paraskilling' creates new jobs by slicing old ones to bits

India uses 'paraskilling,' dividing tasks into jobs requiring more or less skill, to create new job opportunities and increase productivity.

By Jean PaytonGlobal Envision / March 6, 2012

Students gather at a morning assembly at a school in the the Ahmednagar district about 155 miles southeast of Mumbai, India. An experiment in 'paraskilling' in some Indian schools allows teachers to be assisted by junior teachers from the community, training young teachers and raising academic performance.

Danish Siddiqui/Reuters/File

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How can you reduce surgery costs while boosting local employment? Paraskilling, that’s how.

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The paraskilling framework is as old as the assembly line, but it's got a new modus operandi.

By re-engineering complex systems into simplified tasks that can be performed by a larger, lower-skilled workforce, an organization is able to cut its greatest cost: highly skilled workers. This creates a subsequent increase in development and employment in disadvantaged communities.

India provides two paraskilling success stories: the Aravind Eye Care System and Gyan Shala School.

Aravind Eye Care employs para-skilled paramedics to assist the patient through most steps of a procedure. The doctor is only responsible for diagnoses and surgery. Paraskilled workers then take over a wide range of clinical duties, such as outpatient care, counseling, operating-room assistance, and administrative staff. The result is a boost in community employment and clinical productivity. Aravind completes 2,400 surgeries per doctor per year compared to 300 in standard Indian clinics.

Gyan Shala shows us that applying paraskilling to the education system can also produce significant results.

The Gyan Shala education model has split the traditional headmaster/teacher hierarchy into three new roles: design-management team, senior teachers, and junior teachers.

The management team designs a standardized curriculum, adding extensive learning aids and lesson plans. High-school-educated junior teachers instruct, and senior teachers monitor junior teachers and their class.

Classes are generally located in one-room buildings close to slums, making them more accessible to needy communities. Because junior teachers are recruited from the area, staff have close ties with students and their families, hold themselves accountable, and take greater pride in their community. As junior teachers improve their skills, they have the opportunity to become senior teachers.

Not only are residents gaining more skills, but student enrollment has increased. And they’re learning – a lot. Gyan Shala students are outperforming public school children in nearly every category, according to the 2008 Gyan Shala Annual Report.

Sounds great. So why aren’t more organizations paraskilling? Too often they focus on minimizing labor costs. Poor staff and sub-par training lead to program failure.

Training and retention is the real value driver, ensuring both success and sustainability. After all, paraskilling is really an investment in community. Continuous skill-building creates opportunity for upward mobility, leading to job satisfaction and low turnover. Efficient and effective training also allows the model to scale quickly and better serve the needs of the community.

The paraskilling model could work well in other emerging economies, too.

Communities in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and former Soviet republics could enjoy huge social and economic impacts through the paraskilling model. It has the potential to lower organizational costs, increase employment opportunities, improve education and labor skills, and improve the quality and efficiency of health care.

The real question is: What’s stopping us?

• Read the full report, “Emerging Markets, Emerging Models,” by the Monitor Group here.

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

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