Columbia TCLab Spring 2013 Urban Planning Studio: Learning, Employment, and Urban Infrastructure Projects
Learning and knowledge opportunities are at the heart of economic growth but also social opportunity and equity. Cities across the world, however, are struggling to generate employment and better quality learning opportunities even as they invest heavily in urban infrastructure. The 2013 Columbia India studio is focused the conditions under which employment, apprenticeship systems, and learning opportunities could be redesigned and structured into urban infrastructure projects to boost economic and social opportunities for low-income workers.
Last year’s TClab GSAPP studio worked with a government client in Bangalore focused on urban infrastructure development, industry and employment growth. This year, another client works on the same issues but at the vocational training and employment end.
The client is a social enterprise, LabourNet (http://www.labournet.in/), formerly part of an NGO that works with informal workers and connects them to work opportunities, skills development, and other social protection services. The organization’s stated mission is: “To transform the lives of informal sector workers, who make up 93% of India’s workforce, from poverty, deprivation, lack of social and economic mobility, to become a strong, professionally competent, empowered asset to the nation”. Unlike several other social enterprises, LabourNet works closely with policy-making in Delhi and within regional states through its focus on structural and frictional causes of unemployment/ underemployment and their 3E framework: education, employment and employability. A core mandate of LabourNet is vocational training and apprenticeship, with employment connecting people to income, but also to housing, urban rights, and other national questions of identity.
India is one of the world’s largest investors in large public-private infrastructure projects today, but employment and learning opportunities in these projects have been very poorly specified. For example, the last decade has seen a huge increase in industry and transportation investments: upgrading of roads (National Highways, State Highways), construction of metros in all major tier 1 and tier 2 cities, and immense industrial freight corridors. While the design for these are made to the best technical standards, the lack of skilled personnel from engineer to construction worker – has caused serious time and cost overruns and poor quality standards. Given the demographic of India’s large young, low-income workers and under-employment and unemployment challenges, what effects are the huge financial inflows into cities having? The problem of employment and viable learning opportunities with income and other rewards is endemic across the world, but especially acute in countries with high ‘informality’: of casual, contract, piece-rate, or self-employed workers, and those with younger populations. These cities and regions often suffer high unemployment and underemployment.
The Bangalore Spring 2013 studio will have Columbia students contribute to a new way of understanding jobs, skills, and learning trajectories in urban areas and the politics of apprenticeship design and community mobility. Gender roles and social norms in specific sectors around work and learning systems will also become more evident as the studio progresses. The Columbia team will work closely with IIHS and LabourNet. They will study 1-2 public infrastructure projects and local sites to better understand learning dynamics and skills, and the structure and institutions of global value chains in the construction sector. The infrastructure approach will help them understand the broader question of apprenticing and learning pathways that can help individuals and groups garner better life opportunities. The Columbia team will work closely with LabourNet, low-income workers, other stakeholders, and policy-makers to consider alternate evidence and planning processes, comparative guidelines and lessons from other countries and cities, and new ways in which the apprenticeship and vocation curriculum design might better reflect urban work realities in India. (see Apprenticeship Act http://emptrg.kar.nic.in/apprenticeship-act-1961.htm.) For example, LabourNet is currently working on skills and safety aspects of Bangalore’s new metro rail system under construction. Students will learn to frame and critique the context of the client’s efforts and assist the client in their mandate. Student output will help establish guidelines and standards more beneficial to employment, learning and skills, the political economy of large-scale Indian infrastructure projects, and public-private investment standards and goals. Prof. Srinivas is also working with the Indian Institutes for Human Settlements on policy inputs for a possible Indian National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=79845 . This has been discussed by policy makers and press as the urban equivalent of India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the world’s largest such program which ties employment guarantees to rural public infrastructure projects. http://nrega.nic.in/netnrega/home.aspx. The studio sites and topic are a way to understand and provide context to the NULM and find ways to integrate ongoing Indian policy efforts on industrial and technology policy, skills and education policies, economic development and urban planning.
This studio should be especially attractive to planning students interested in dealing with technology and learning questions, ways of thinking of the roles of infrastructure and economic valuation techniques and critiques, understanding the construction industry’s growth, technology standards and knowledge requirements, building joint employment and economic development strategies, connecting the role of global firms in the design and construction process to local needs, and working with community-level strategies. India provides a dynamic and troubling case that will be very useful experience for working across the developing world.
In particular, planning students will better understand and learn to more systematically address:
- The urban informal economy and how to plan for it;
- Structural and frictional employment;
- Strategies to modify national and regional plans to accommodate urban livelihood needs;
- The growth of the construction industry and public infrastructure projects;
- The connection between global industry design and technical standards in urban infrastructure projects and local skills and employment considerations;
- Vocational education and apprentice training delivery to young adult populations with low formal educational levels;
- Employment effects or gaps from large national financial investments in cities;
- The role of social entrepreneurship and community enterprise development;
- How to work with diverse government and non-governmental groups and shape public procurement and tenders/proposal requests to incorporate employment and learning concerns;
- Financing skills training when the worker is not directly employed (i.e. contracted or casual/informal)
- Difference and relationship between skilling and “up-skilling” in developing contexts.