Friday, July 8, 2011

Aklala's Apprenticeship Program

With Ashley gone back to the states for two weeks, it’s just Emily and me here trying to wrap up everything she needs to do before she leaves on the 18th as well as manage communication between Nest and Chantal.  Chantal is ridiculously busy right now, she always gets inundated with orders this time of the year due to the high volume of tourists and expatriates who seize upon her unique batik work and products. In addition she has a couple more Nest orders lined up that will ideally be completed before the end of August, and with these orders she will be able to pay off the last of her loan installments which is such an accomplishment for her and for Nest!   
While Chantal is happy to have all of this demand and told me that busyness is good for business, I’ve noticed that she sometimes experiences stress with managing the influx of orders in the  time requested while still ensuring the high quality of her products.  This can largely be attributed to her lack of an adequate and equipped production workshop and the underutilized local talent of young women as potential apprentices. These past two weeks we have worked with Chantal to enumerate the details of her proposed apprenticeship program as well as developed a plan for bringing it to fruition.
            While craft apprenticeship programs are commonplace in Kpalimé, they are often expensive and exclusive to those who can afford them, which is unfortunately a small portion of the population. By denying access to training programs that could translate into future productive employment for Kpalimé’s youth, apprentice programs are not taking advantage of potential talent and community development and leaving many young girls with little economic prospects. In addition to these financial impediments, many girls face additional gender discrimination in the workplace. The prevailing cultural mentality in Togo is that women should be confined to the domestic sphere while men are the breadwinners.  Chantal wants to challenge both of these social injustices by offering free apprenticeships to local orphans and disadvantaged youth, especially young girls, and helping them learn a trade that has brought her and her family out of abject poverty.
            Chantal already has 5 women working for her, including newly hired apprentices.  Ideally she wants to hire about 5 more apprentices at the time as soon as possible to begin their training even if the workshop construction is not complete.  The official apprenticeship contract of Togo lasts for a duration of 3 years, but if the apprentice has demonstrated exemplary skill mastery, capability, and a strong work ethic than the program can be terminated in 2 years, culminating with a countrywide examination granting their diploma, so that the apprentice can start to earn an income. Chantal has the intention to hire her apprentices after their completion of the apprenticeship program.  She currently has a lot of demand for her program, but doesn’t have the capacity to take on more workers so she has turned away many prospective apprentices due to a lack of the construction of the workshop.  When she is equipped to hire she will distribute a questionnaire to prospective apprentices asking questions about the conditions of their lives, their goals and intentions for enrolling the program, what they want to learn, and what their plans are for after completion of the program.  She will select those that are in the most need and that show the most dedication and promise both in the questionnaire and in a follow up interview. She intends to start a model whereby she takes on five apprentices each year so that way she is not starting from scratch after each group graduation.
            After the apprentices have been selected they will undergo a two-month training program that will cover comprehensive but basic skill training. Once it has been determined that they are ready to progress, the next couple of months of training will focus on business education with Nest’s curriculum as well as the more intricate and complex sewing and construction techniques. If after two months an apprentice doesn’t show promise in terms of motivation, willingness to learn, work ethic, and basic comprehension, then they will not continue on with the program and a new apprentice will be found in their place.
            With existing apprenticeship programs in Kpalimé, it is the apprentice who pays an initial program fee for their education and skill training that they will receive, and then they are not paid for their work that they complete while an apprentice.  Chantal, by granting free apprenticeships, will not additionally remunerate her apprentices during their time of apprenticeship, but will provide free lodging, one meal a day, and will cover all medical expenses and basic living necessities that their families can’t provide. In this way she is allowing them to work off the costs incurred in giving them free apprenticeships and then once the program has been completed she will hire them as paid employees. 
            As for start up capital for the apprenticeship program, Chantal’s minimum requirements are a completion of her workshop to provide space, equipment, and all other necessary production requirements.  Once the workshop is completed, she also would like to purchase 5 more sewing machines at 38,000 cfa which is about $85, so that every apprentice/employee has access to one in the workplace.  Chantal thinks that it would be beneficial if the apprentices could get some sort of loan in order to purchase their own sewing machine to keep at their houses for additional practice.  This loan would be distributed throughout the duration of their apprenticeship, after they have demonstrated promise and commitment in the program and are reputable to pay back their loan. After the apprenticeship is completed they would spend a set period of time paying it back with Aklala in the form of product and orders.
            Chantal believes that  once the workshop and storefront are completed, she will be equipped to handle the level of production needed to sustain this program and allow for future growth.   However in order to be at this level, Chantal also needs more markets in which to sell her goods.  The expectation is that once her production capacity can be drastically increased and production time decreased, large orders can be taken on with much more facility.  Chantal has had great success with ethical sourcing partnerships with Nest and wishes to continue engaging in them as well as seeking out more local alternatives to sustain her in between orders.
 I am so inspired by Chantal, not only with the way she has been able to create and sustain her own business but also how she wants to use her successes to provide opportunities for young women in her community. Artisans helping artisans and women helping women.

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