Why organized and formal training is needed for skilling and upskilling in handicrafts and carpet sector

Informal learning plays an important role in ‘kaarigari’ or craftsmanship. Most artisans (kaarigars) learn on their own by observing the seniors and acquire the knowledge and skills to create an artefact. The dexterity with which they use their fingers to mould the clay, or chisel the wood or use a tool, comes with years of practice and perseverance. In order to preserve the craft and the skills, we need to train and educate the younger generation.

At present, most of the learning happens in the family of the craftsperson. It’s most likely that in the family of artisans, the younger ones playfully pick up the skills and knowledge to make the crafts. Up to a certain age, the children assist their parents after coming back from their schools or in their free time. Learning mostly happens informally through transfer of hands-on skills that is the core of ‘kaarigari’.

In today’s competitive world, this model of learning will not help in sustaining the crafts to enable livelihoods of the craftspersons or help in gainful employment. Let’s look at few examples:

In the case of the makers of Kondapalli toys, wooden craftsmanship is acquired over the years and it has survived till now. However, the craft is on the brink of extinction with few people who use their generational knowledge to keep it alive.

Similarly, Bidriware, the unique metal craft, involves a lot of instinct and a completely manual process from casting to oxidation. It is time-consuming and required real dedication to the craft to practice.

Another craft that draws our attention is carpet and rug weaving. Many techniques and patterns are lost over the years in the absence of sustained, formal training to transfer the knowledge and skills from the master craftspersons.

Need for formal and organized training for skilling and upskilling

If crafts such as those mentioned above have to grow and survive, we need more people to learn the craft in addition to the limited number of families practising it. Also, the younger generation in most families have preferred other jobs and opted to move out of their native places.

At the same time, for those who are engaged in the crafts, there are other challenges that need to be addressed. These include:

Boosting production, delivery and sales of the crafts through knowledge and skill updation: Let’s assume, few artisans who make earthen and ceramic products, get online order and they need to deliver the product carefully so that it reaches the customer in proper shape without damage. How to package it? How do they work with a logistics service provider? These aspects of delivery need upskilling and linkages with relevant service providers.

Creating awareness about the crafts and growing the market: It’s well known that handicrafts have a huge potential in the export market, nevertheless, the awareness about these markets is limited among the craftspersons. They need networking, communication and promotion skills besides using the latest technologies to communicate and reach out to potential buyers.

Ensuring quality for global exports: Anything handmade poses a challenge in meeting quality standards since it is typical of a craft to have certain uniqueness that may be seen as imperfections. Since most handicrafts are not mass-produced, they have to consciously follow few quality standards to meet the expectations of the global market. This is where upskilling in improved production and packaging processes will be of great help.

Today, even though most learning happens informally, we do have instances where organizations that are into marketing and selling these crafts also take up the responsibility of skilling people to help them craft their livelihoods, mostly in rural areas. While it may be difficult to ascertain the willingness of the artisans and master craftsperson to share their knowledge and skills with others, we need ways to document it and make it transferable through competency-based training frameworks like NSQF.

Generational skills of the artisans and traditional wisdom can be captured and presented in the form of learning material with active participation of the artisans as key resource persons. To make it organized and formal we need to map it with existing Qualification Packs (QP) and National Occupational Standards (NOS) and create new ones to include skills for proper use of new technologies and tools. Whether it is availability of raw material and its procurement or skills in the domain of finance, marketing, human resources, logistics, the handicrafts and carpet sector has to prepare the artisans for a world that is fast changing and markets that are spread far and wide!