Home / Technology / News /  On blue-collar job apps, brokers still hold sway

MUMBAI : Like most startups, KaryaMitr pivoted to address the immediate needs the pandemic presented. The blue-collar job mobile app, which is free for users, shifted its focus from skilling to aggregating jobs for workers returning to their hometowns, and expanded to Uttar Pradesh.

On KaryaMitr, demand for jobs in home repair services, warehouse delivery and loaders, pharmacy delivery boys, cooks and kitchen staff has picked up. “Many job seekers, even if they are blue-collared, have sector-specific skills like technicians or patient care. However, currently the jobs that are seeing an higher uptake on our app are the services sector," said Sanchayan Paul, co-founder, KaryaMitr.

The pandemic has thrust digitization on people and companies, and apps catering to blue and grey-collar workers have received backing to expand their footprint in the last six months. The main challenge though is moving beyond the hiring needs of the services sector. The other challenge is keeping job brokers out of free-to-use apps.

“In the last few months, demand from the services sector has grown, unlike manufacturing and construction. The attrition rate is also high in services so there is constant demand," says Kunal Patil, co-founder of employment app WorkIndia which matches job seekers and employers. The pay is relatively higher in construction and manufacturing, which require certain skills that many of the returning migrants have.

With 18 million visits and 5.5 million calls a month, WorkIndia claims to have a high volume of job seekers and givers in its network as compared to other job apps. Yet its nemesis has been spurious placement agencies, which post jobs for a fee on the platform. WorkIndia itself does not charge workers a fee for listing or placement.

Such is the scale of the problem that in the last month WorkIndia has blocked 1.5 lakh companies with the word ‘consultancy’ in their names as it’s a term placement agents and job broker use. One placement consultancy may use as many as 20 aliases on an average on a job site to draw desperate job seekers. “There are 1.2 lakh registered placement consultancies in India. Our estimate is three times this figure, if you include the illegal agencies. We use tech to block placement agencies signing up on our platform to protect genuine job seekers," says Patil.

KaryaMitr realised that placement agencies were misusing its platform after some users complained. With a history of placement agencies fleecing workers, most are wary and prefer to rely on their peer network to find jobs.

Most blue-collar workers are more comfortable with videos than texting so platforms allow users to upload a video resume. But that’s not enough. “These job apps assume the person can articulate competencies and skillsets, like a white-collar worker does. This is a challenge. In India, you can’t just be a job listings platform, you will need to do things like verify the jobs to create meaningful impact. So, the onus on these platforms is quite high," says Aditi Surie, consultant, Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS), who is researching the nature of employment in the platform economy in India.

The apps also address the job requirements of certain sections of blue collar workers. The largest number of blue-collar workers is in construction and informal logistics like coolies and APMC markets, says Gayatri Vasudevan, co-founder and CEO, LabourNet, a social enterprise for livelihoods. "However, we don’t see platforms addressing these communities," she says.

Interestingly, Bandhu, a two-month-old mobile app with backing from MIT, is partnering with NGOs and using WhatsApp to test the interest among workers in the construction sector in seeking jobs using an app. “The construction sector has the lowest entry barrier but it’s also the hardest to crack," says Rushil Palavjjhala, founder of mobile app Bandhu. Construction runs largely on a network of contractors and sub-contractors, who handle all sourcing, transportation, logistics and payments of workers instead of having separate vendors for each. These contractors often take a commission for providing jobs. “If we can add value to this sector, and make hiring or getting a job more efficient, it will have a huge impact on workers’ lives," says Palavjjhala.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rashmi Menon

"Rashmi Menon writes on diverse topics and is beat-agnostic. But you will find her mostly covering the intersection between work and life, trends in workplaces, profiles of business leaders, tech and culture, environment and lifestyle for Mint Lounge. She is based in Mumbai. "
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