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Business News/ News / India/  Job fairs see thousands of hopefuls, but most return home disappointed
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Job fairs see thousands of hopefuls, but most return home disappointed

Secure, better-paying jobs are few and far between, and there’s a beeline for them
  • In small industrial units, well-paid jobs are a mirage
  • Hundreds of job aspirants from lower caste and class backgrounds study in Buddha Vihars, temples or public libraries to prepare for recruitment exams. (Jaideep Hardikar)Premium
    Hundreds of job aspirants from lower caste and class backgrounds study in Buddha Vihars, temples or public libraries to prepare for recruitment exams. (Jaideep Hardikar)

    Every time he fails to crack a competitive exam or get hired in a recruitment drive, Akhilesh Meshram steels himself for another fight. He knows his chances of landing a government job are fading fast. “I am 31," he said, “I have at the most a couple of years to keep trying." After that, he may set up a small motor garage or find a small-time job in a private company. “My BA degree means nothing; I can’t compete with others with higher and better education."

    Meshram is among the 22,000 job aspirants, who enrolled themselves during a three-day Youth Empowerment Summit hosted in early January in Nagpur by a not-for-profit backed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislative council member. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, Union minister and BJP heavyweight Nitin Gadkari and a battery of Maharashtra ministers attended the event and spoke of a promising future and expanding opportunities. Meshram and the others who gathered there seemed utterly unconvinced.

    None of his friends has had any luck with a job one with a decent wage, some security and acceptable work conditions.

    Political parties host job fairs take our resumes, register us, give us lectures on self-employment and say they’ll notify when they find something. In five years, he has attended a dozen such job fairs hosted by political parties, MLAs or MPs. They were of no use.

    The January summit had sessions on opportunities in the region; banks and government departments put up stalls to exhibit programmes for entrepreneurship promotion.

    My focus is not on providing employment, but on self-employment and, wherever possible, hand-holding the youth said BJP MLC from Nagpur and former mayor Anil Sole, who founded the Vidarbha Fortune Foundation. This is a platform to bring youths aspiring for jobs, budding entrepreneurs and employers who could guide them, he said.

    For those without any entrepreneurial skills or capital, Meshram said, there was nothing on offer.

    Meshram is a Dalit from the lower middle class in Kanhan, a small town near Nagpur. Fifth of six siblings. Four of his sisters are married; his father retired as a worker from the Western Coalfields Ltd. Unlike his father, Meshram has held many jobs over 10 years: supervisory, training-oriented and as a salesman. All short-lived. “You are fired every six-seven months," he said. From that income, he foots his bills and funds the post-graduation of his younger brother, who has also begun a job hunt.

    Meshram is the face of an ever-burgeoning crowd of job seekers primarily from a lower caste and class background in India’s underbelly. He has struggled to finish his basic education for want of money and grapples daily with a thousand anxieties and nagging depression. I prefer a low-category government job for its promise of security,he said. He’d do any government job—a gangman in the railways, a constable in the security forces or a bank clerk—but says his chances are diminishing with his advancing age.

    Bees and Beelines

    Last week, Maharashtra’s industries department, headed by Shiv Sena minister Subhash Desai, hosted a job fair at a private school in Nagpur in memory of late Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. Job aspirants queued up outside the classrooms where they were interviewed and assessed by the representatives of companies participating in the sarkari job fair.

    It’s no use, I know, but I brought my sons to register and they came for my sake, lamented Tarachand Khaire, a retired private bank employee. His sons Ashish, 43, and Atul, 41, enrolled for the fair, hoping to find a job. The former drives a cab, the latter is currently jobless. Both of them are post-graduates and unmarried. They have lost hopes of getting a steady job with decent salary,their father said, as he looked at them standing in the long winding queue of aspirants. My heart sinks.

    Secure, better-paying jobs are few and far between, and there’s a beeline for them. More than 7,000 candidates, graduates and postgraduates, even those with engineering degrees, applied for 13 positions of waiters at Maharashtra secretariat, an official said last week. The eligibility for the position was Class IV.

    In Pune, early January, thousands of poor youth from nine states and four Union territories stood in serpentine queues to appear in a recruitment drive for 96 posts in the 101 Infantry Battalion Territorial Army Maratha Light Infantry. Local NGOs, temples, gurdwaras and generous individuals pitched in—they distributed food, gave them blankets and beds to sleep on the streets, even water. There’s more: over 20 million applicants are vying for 90,000 low-level jobs in the Indian Railways.

    Every time he goes to an exam venue, Meshram dreads seeing the same faces. We don’t talk, but we know we are in the same boat to nowhere.

    He has tried his luck with every recruitment exam: from the banking sector and the railway recruitment board to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and the Maharashtra police. He slept on the streets when he went to appear for the CISF recruitment drive once in Pune. He went hungry, he recounted, having run out of money while travelling to another town for a police recruitment drive.I’ve done everything I could.

    Every morning, without fail, he and his friends hit the highway for a workout, Meshram said We run, exercise, do our physical training to prepare for police recruitment drives," he said. Through the day, if I am not working, I prepare for the next exam." About a fortnight ago, he went to Amravati to appear in a railway recruitment board’s examination for a Group D position.It was very tough, I just gave up." That exam, he said, was meant for a 10th or 12th class pass, but there were many engineers, MBAs, even Ph.D holders around.

    When I find engineers vying for lowly paid clerical or police jobs, my heart just sinks," he said. We don’t stand a chance if there are highly educated aspirants vying for clerical jobs

    Competing for a job

    In small industrial units, well-paid jobs are a mirage. Nagpur does not have big industries. So better-off youths migrate to Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad for high-end jobs, while hundreds of job aspirants from lower caste and class backgrounds study in Buddha Vihars, temples or public libraries in the city to prepare for recruitment exams.

    “I finished my BE four years ago," said the 25-year-old son of a daily wager at a library in a north Nagpur locality. “But beyond a salesman’s job, I could find nothing." In the library, nearly a hundred young job aspirants sit quietly every day, buried in their studies to crack the competitive examination for a government job.

    A mile away, in the study hall of a women’s hostel christened “Nalanda", there are about 50 girls quietly studying for different competitive exams. It’s a facility run by a Buddha Vihar, one of the hundred or so libraries in this part of Nagpur.

    “We can’t explain our anxieties," said a girl in her mid-20s, daughter of a retired army man. “Most of us want to be financially independent." Jobs, she said, are an important prerequisite today for them to get decent marriage proposals.

    The groups in these libraries have varied educational qualifications: some of them are engineers, several others have masters in arts or commerce or social work; some of them have MBAs. In the last four years, their experience has been that there are no jobs.

    “Unemployment is a dormant volcano that may erupt any time," said Ashish Taiwade, a Nagpur-based soft skills trainer, a postgraduate in mechanical engineering who decided to quit his job and become self-employed when he found that there is no security in a private job and firms are offering poor wages. As opportunities shrink, he said, better educated candidates vie for low-level positions out of desperation. That hits the prospects of pure graduates and people with limited skills.

    What next? “I have another test coming up," Meshram said. How does all this affect his personal life? “I can’t plan my wedding," he said. “On both fronts," he quipped with a nervous smile, “time is running out.

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    Published: 05 Feb 2019, 11:52 PM IST
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