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Aatiqa Lateef is the CEO of TAF Foundation (TAFF), a related entity of the Byco Group and Premier Systems and also currently serves as an Independent Director on the Board of Khushhali Micro Finance Bank. Prior to her role at the foundation, Lateef was the Chief of Staff and Corporate Spokesperson for Byco Groups. She has also served as General Counsel for the transitioning of HBFC from the public sector to private. Lateef hails a Doctor of Law (J.D.) from South Texas College of Law Houston; holds an MBA in Strategy from Texas A&M University and is a B.S. from The University of Houston. BR Research recently caught up with her at her offices in Karachi where she discussed the burgeoning market for female skilled labour and talked about the foundation’s unique model of providing demand-driven vocational training to women, while also connecting them to potential employers.

Business Recorder Research: Give us a brief background of your model and how it works.

Aatiqa Lateef: This is the first of its kind program in the country and to our knowledge, the first of its kind program in the world. The idea came to me while I was looking for my own domestic helpers and found a lack of trained resources in the city. I realised that we have an entire workforce in our own country, once trained professionally, that could be hired into these spaces

We are a zakat run organisation and a charitable Section 42 company under the Companies Ordinance. The foundation has existed for a long time but previously was a charitable organisation providing money, rations and charitable donations to needy individuals. Its patron is the Abbasi Family of Byco and Premier Systems.

The first project that has always be on my mind was substituting imported domestic help and filling this gap with women from our labour force or even outside the labour force who could be employable. The challenge was how to get them employed. There are vocational training institutes around the country, and a lot of efforts are made that take women out of their homes, train them but then leave them with those skill sets without a way to reach the next step: employment. We realised that women don’t know how to go out and get employed.

Our market research showed that the highest demand for female domestic help was in cooking, housekeeping, elderly care and child care. Elderly care had the highest demand, but we didn’t start with it as there was a very serious responsibility involved here when you are training caretakers. We decided to start with training for cooking and housekeeping so that we are able to build the framework that is required to build an elderly care workforce.

There was no curriculum for domestic help training, no trainers and no best practices. It took about a year and half to secure all the partnerships that were required to begin developing the curriculum and begin training the trainers. Essentially, we train, and educate, and then we put our graduates through to our placement center, which is working actively out in the market to find these women employment.

BRR: What is the objective of this program, and what has been the response and success rate?

AL: Our objective is to create an entirely brand new skilled workforce that we lack in our country. Our aim was to start small and become sustainable over the long term. It is a development project and our objective has been to impact the lives of marginalised individuals, but it is not going to work if the market doesn’t demand what we are supplying.

When I said it is the first of its kind in the country and the world, I meant there hasn’t been a market driven approach to development that we know of in the past, specifically in vocational training and more specifically with respect to women. We launched our pilot in November, ran it till March, and we are currently in the third term with graduates already added to the labour force.

BRR: How do you connect the trained women with potential employers?

 AL: Most of graduate placements come from referrals. People who have already hired domestic help from our program refer us. We are using social media platforms to target our market as well.

Regarding the industry, most of the connections come through our Business Development Team. For example, a financial services head informed us that they are looking to hire a 100 customer service agents. Another company, a retailer, one of the largest names in the country, approached us for training saleswomen. We can provide these trained workers.

BRR: How do you recruit these women for the program, and what does the program entail?

AL: We have three teams in place—recruitment, academics and placement. The recruitment team started out by securing community coordinators around the city who are typically individuals that call informational sessions for the women in different neighbourhoods. We then conduct an open house and we talk to the ladies about the program. When I first started, nobody had ever heard of TAF. We understood that number safety was the biggest issue. So we offered pick and drop services. We knew that they were from marginalised households so we offered lunch. And then we knew that these women were typically earning between Rs2,000-4,000 a month, and to keep them from losing that basic level of income we decided to pay them to come to our institute.

The program is three months and three weeks long with vocation training for cooking and housekeeping, and then we teach some very important soft skills such as legal empowerment, financial empowerment and communications and ethics. We have a legal aid partner, H&H Law that helped us build this curriculum that focuses on understanding what basic legal rights are for women and then what contract law means in the workplace.

All graduates sign a contract when they are being employed. We serve as the caretaker of the employment contract they sign with their employers for which we take a placement fee, equal to one month’s salary. The contract encompasses the terms the graduate and the employer have mutually agreed upon.

For our financial empowerment course, Khushhali Bank is our partner and we teach about money management, investing, compounding, and budgeting, which are much needed skills when you enter formal employment. We don’t want these women to put money under their pillows.

BRR: Do you pay your partners?

AL: No we don’t pay them as they want to do this as part of their CSR initiatives. We have had different partners to build our curriculum. We reached out to Zia-ul-Haq & sons for cooking and housekeeping training. The legal module we did with H&H Law, Legal Aid, while Khushhali Bank is our partner for financial empowerment.

BRR: How do you choose the women that participate in your program?

AL: We are looking for a particular type of woman. If you have a matric degree, we don’t necessarily have to help you get trained, but if you have an education up to the fifth grade or even the third grade, there are no opportunities for you. A matric or intermediate is required for certification in more complex courses such as elderly care.

Secondly, we take women between the ages of 18 – 45 as 18 is the legal age to work in our country and 45 is the cut off for us because the work required is physical in nature. We often make exceptions in the maximum age limit though.

Thirdly, acceptable candidates must demonstrate ability to read and write so they are subsequently able to read our manuals. These women go through a medical clearance as we have to ensure health safety, because they are handling food and household chores for their employers. After the medical exam, they are short-listed.

BRR: There are a lot of women migrating from rural to urban areas looking for employment but they won’t fit into your model given your criteria of being able to read and write. Do you plan to ever tackle that burgeoning potential supply of labour? 

 AL: Not yet. We expect to address this issue in the future. We are thinking of coordinating with an NGO that would do a three month reading and writing program so women who come to us who can’t read or write can qualify to enter our program. But the existing demand and supply in Karachi is big enough to justify launching this program with our criteria in mind for now.

BRR: How big is this demand then; and how have you ascertained it?

 AL: It is a huge market. We hired a market research firm that gave a guess-estimate of 20 million people, of which 8 million women currently in domestic help, including cooks, ayas for elderly care, etc. And there are some 4,000 help imported across Pakistan for different domestic help services.

We are now being reached out by companies looking for trained workforce. Customer Service, Sales Training, Food and Beverage Industry all have come to us, and we were happy to help as we now have a system in place. Our graduates have been promoted in these jobs, moving from kitchen staff to customer service.

BRR: Where do you see yourself expanding into?

 AL: We expect to expand to Lahore and then Islamabad. By 2019, we expect to graduate 1,000 students per term, per the three big cities. With CPEC coming in, the demand we anticipate will allow us to scale up. But we need to be training what the market requires. We don’t want to be in a position of training women who cannot be employed, because that demand does not exist; or they were trained wrong.

In terms of the type of vocational training, our objective is not to only train and certify housekeepers and cooks but expand much further. Elderly care is next. Agha Khan University is our partner in that, and we have launched the first elderly care assistant program in the country. AKUH set the criteria at minimum 10 grade education. In this training, the soft skills are the same but vocational training for physiotherapy, cleanliness, nutrition, etc. will be part of this curriculum. We have two instructors who are RNs (registered nurse).

We have been approached by transport ride companies who want female drivers, so it will scale towards market demand. For child care, we are working on collaboration with a UK based nanny company. This is market based and what the market says it needs, if women can fit that space that is how we will scale. We have just received the Sindh Vocational Training Board Certification, and we are now seeking ISO certification for all the work we are doing, so that we can take this model and apply it to different studies

BRR: What are your sources of funds and what are the costs associated with your program?

AL: We are looking to make this program a sustainable model, in that it should pay for itself. We are targeting Rs20,000 in the next term. Our overhead is the most expensive for us. As for funds, we have an advantage of having one family making annual donations to us that are large enough for us to operate right now.

BRR: You are depending on one big source of fund. How do you achieve this sustainability?

 AL: The model that we are building is towards sustainability. Currently what we earn through our placement fee—a one-month salary—does not cover the cost of our students.  But in about 8 months, that one-month salary is expected to cover the cost of students, because we will have economies of scale.

Our patrons are the Abbasi family who has pledged the amount for as long as this foundation is in place. Two of the members of their family are on the board. But in the long run, we do not want to be dependent on this funding, but be sustainable.

BRR: How are you monitoring your impact and what are your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?

 AL: We are focused on the impact with respect to the full cycle. We expect our graduates to be paid a minimum wage as required by law, so our graduates earn between Rs15,000 to Rs30,000. This is along with benefits like medical, provident fund etc.

Our KPIs are linked to the salary after we place them, and after three-month probationary period, the employers’ feedback on that individual. Thus, the total transformation of the individual over an 8-month period and the new living income being earned by the graduate is the key Indicator of Performance.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2017


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