Without any income for nearly two months and with five mouths to feed, he started delivering for online grocery Grofers. Here, he is paid per order. The monthly income doesn’t add up to what he made from the food stall, but in a market where companies were mostly firing, he had little to choose from. “I don’t think people would return to eating fast food anytime soon either," Sharma said.
As millions of migrant workers walked back to their villages in April once the lockdown was declared, it left the door ajar for local workers who were hired by delivery companies in cities to meet the rising tide of online orders. Now, with India opening up, delivery jobs continue to remain hot—in fact, today, the entire logistics supply chain signals some sort of green shoots in India’s employment market. A few more bright pockets have started to emerge too.
Aishwarya lost her job in a Pune-based BPO in April. By June, she had a new call centre offer. “I was earning ₹31,000 in my previous job. The new offer is for ₹17,000 for the night shift and ₹13,000 for a day shift," she said. “There are BPO jobs if you are willing to work for a lot less."
BPOs are rebounding since in the next normal, corporates are under pressure to reduce business processing costs. Contracting rates could be a casualty but more processes are expected to be outsourced to low-cost destinations. Meanwhile, other industries have reopened since the first week of June, so support staff—which includes facility management and security guards—are back in business. Moreover, given a worsening economy implies loan defaults, financial institutions have started boosting their collections teams.
While many of the low-skilled positions are mostly replacement hiring, there is some new demand in the white-collar space. Home healthcare jobs are seeing a spike and so are those related to online education. At the tip of the pyramid, software and hardware jobs are making a comeback after a brief lull. Companies now have a distributed network of employees—at home and in office—which is fuelling a need for more cyber security-related roles.
Santosh Desai, MD and CEO of Futurebrands, a brand consulting and management firm, felt that the pivot to digital should usher in new jobs, going ahead. “The overall feeling is very subdued. However, conventional players are reorienting themselves digitally in order to meet the needs of the new landscape. There are new roles and capabilities they need to build," he said.
The green shoots hold out hope after two months of utter distress. According to jobs site Naukri.com, overall hiring across Indian cities slumped more than 50% in May this year compared to the same month in 2019. Recruitments in hotels, restaurants, travel and airlines industries slumped 91%. Anecdotal evidence and data now suggest a reversal. The unemployment rate, as measured by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, has fallen since the last week of May.
Nevertheless, the volumes of open positions across different industries are very low still. Some staffing firms Mint spoke to said the demand is a third of what is usually seen in the same period in a normal year.
“Just in Bengaluru, all logistics companies put together hired 13,000-14,000 people a month pre-covid. That number has declined to 5,000-6000 a month," Pravin Agarwala, co-founder and CEO of Betterplace Safety Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a blue-collar employee management company, said. “These are largely delivery and warehouse roles. But there are also packaging jobs, roles in back-end operations and drivers of tempos," he added.
Can the jobs market recovery be sustained? What if there is a second wave of the pandemic? Can geo-political tensions and protectionism suffocate industries this year? Few know these answers but considering that the virus spread can be controlled, there is not much room left for a further downward movement in the market, experts felt.
What the numbers say
Naukri.com recently launched a microsite with a live hiring tracker, which details the companies and the industries hiring in the last seven days. As of 21 June, about 1,680 companies were hiring actively for over 19,200 positions. Technology services companies are in business—Accenture had 624 openings, IBM about 297, and Mphasis around 227. Tech Mahindra and Cognizant showed over 50 openings. L&T had 117 openings.
The jobs site also tracks the keywords used by companies to look up candidates. The search term “information security" saw a 100% jump compared to the first week of March 2020. Similarly, searches around “network security" spiked 221%. In the past seven days, IT-software had over 9,700 openings. BPO, banking and finance and the healthcare industries all had nearly 2,000 openings or more. E-commerce was hiring for 1,000 positions.
Staffing company Teamlease provides a dashboard of top active job roles as well, a reflection of entry-level and blue-collar hiring across sectors. There were 3,149 active jobs in sales and marketing, 3,073 in IT/software, 1,639 in BPO, 890 accountant roles and 353 active jobs in delivery. However, there were no vacancies in tourist guide and bouncer positions.
Bengaluru, among cities, is showing stronger signs of revival and Gurugram early signs of recovery, OLX People, a recruitment agency, informed. “Mumbai is the slowest city to show signs of recovery. Companies are also hiring in tier-III and IV cities where they are expecting a ramp-up in the coming months," Nilabh Kapoor, head of revenue at OLX People, said. Companies, he added, were hiring in Ahmednagar, Solapur, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Nashik, Surat, Vadodara, Visakhapatnam, Warangal, Patna, Guwahati and Ranchi. Besides delivery and logistics roles, fintech firms in these cities are hiring in merchant sales.
Shades of blue and grey
Major Manjit Rajain, back in office after nearly two months, talked of two kinds of companies. There are corporates who are comfortable continuing working from home and those that are itching to open up their premises. His business is limping back on the back of the second category—Rajain is executive chairman of Tenon Group of Companies, a security and facilities management services company that employs 77,000 guards. “The demand for security guards had dipped quite a bit with the lockdown. There were certain services that couldn’t be performed. About 7,000 of our guards provide escort services to women employees. This crashed to zero," he said.
A number of escort guards have come back in June. “In a van, you typically had six women employees, one security and a driver. Now, there can only be two employees because of social distancing norms. Some customers are demanding more guards and vehicles," Rajain said. Similarly, SIS India, another security agency, stated they hired over 1,500-plus employees in security and facility management in May— over two-thirds were replacement demand.
Meanwhile, a higher demand for collections professionals in the financial services industry is expected soon. But then, this is strictly not blue-collar work. “They are graduates or 12th standard pass-outs. They understand basic math and English, can use applications we give them to fulfil paperwork. They are more grey collar," Lohit Bhatia, president of workforce management at Quess Corp Ltd and president, Indian Staffing Federation (ISF), said. The grey-collar sits between the blue-collar and the white.
Why will collections jobs rise? India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, had announced a moratorium on loan EMIs till August, 2020. “As India unlocks, the focus of the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) industry would be to ramp up their collection teams. The consumer behaviour may have changed or the discipline may have gone away. People need to be reminded to repay," Bhatia said.
Pramod Bhasin, chairman of Clix Capital, a digital lending NBFC, pointed out that the number of calls that have to be made have increased since customers are asking for restructuring of their loans. “People are asking if they can pay late or early. This is taking a lot more effort. We have engaged with collection agencies a month and a half ago," Bhasin said. “There will anyways be more defaults because of worsening economic situations. The effort of collections would go up regardless of the moratorium," he added. Clix Capital has about 50 people in its collections team.
Not every covid positive patient needs hospitalization—the mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic can be isolated and treated at home. It is possible to remotely manage their care. A new breed of medical call centres do the job.
Home healthcare company Portea Medical was contracted by the Delhi government to manage home-isolated patients but the arrangement ran into rough weather recently when the Delhi Disaster Management Authority made it mandatory for all covid patients to stay in institutional quarantine for five days. The order was later retracted but as of 23 June, there was little clarity on the future of the contract with Portea. Even so, the possibilities of remote monitoring underline new employment opportunities.
“Of the monitored, few need to go to a hospital. The stress on the hospital infrastructure is reduced drastically. Every day, we are adding 1,000 new patients for home monitoring in Delhi," Meena Ganesh, MD and CEO of Portea Medical, said.
Employees at the call centre (normal call centre employees with a bit of training in healthcare) in Bengaluru call the patients regularly to check on their health. If they show symptoms, a tele consultation with a doctor is arranged. “We have a team of 100 deployed for Delhi. We are working with other states on similar lines," Ganesh added. For the next quarter, Portea plans to add 300-400 people more around the medical call centre, besides 150 nurses and 100 nursing attendants every month.
Just like healthcare, online education is in the middle of an aha moment. Schools are shut and most mom-and-pop physical coaching centres aren’t operating. Edtech firm Vedantu, which is an online alternative to tuition centres for school students, has soaring traffic. Vedantu made its platform free for students in the last week of March. Ever since, over four million have taken its live classes—from 150,000 a month pre-covid, the company stated.
To capitalize, Vedantu is roping in academic counsellors who can articulate the company’s programmes to parents. For the June quarter, the company plans to employ about 1,000 new counsellors. Competitive exam preparation company Unacademy, in similar fashion, is recruiting 400-500 new educators. The firm has doubled its sales force from 300 before the lockdown.
A third bucket of white-collar jobs is around cyber security and cloud computing. Indeed, a job site stated that postings for cyber security-related jobs increased by 6% between February and May 2020. Sanjay Manohar, MD of cyber security company McAfee India, said that the demand for McAfee is stemming from technology and banking customers. “These sectors are aware of the risk because of work from home. Their budgets have gone up and it is counterbalancing a negative demand from the government," he added.
The pockets of recruitments are encouraging. But those in the staffing industry prefer to tread with caution. Getting back to pre-covid levels of hiring will be a long haul for many industries.