Bracing the COVID-19 impact has led to national distress, the biggest victims are our frontline workers as they face a job loss, unpaid salaries, migration, and work from home. We speak of a manufacturing boost and SMEs being the backbone, yet the on-ground situation lacks a mechanism and system that is dated as per the times. “At present, there are over 250 million blue-collar workers in India. Aided by affordable internet connections, rural India had 227 million active internet users, 10% more than urban India’s about 205 million. With the help of internet penetration today Apna has the potential to enable talent access in urban as well as the remotest of the areas,” opines Nirmit Parikh, CEO & Founder, Apna. In a conversation with CXO Outlook, Nirmit Parikh talks about the impact of technology in the lives of our frontline workers, the blue-collar job market in India, the growth of online blue-collar hiring in India and much more.
How is technology bringing change in the lives of our frontline workers? Can you please share national and local statistics on the state of the blue and grey collar workforce?
COVID-19 has transformed the role and importance of digital technology in people’s lives. Even businesses will need more agile engagement strategies, now and in the future, if they want to thrive. Frontline staff is undoubtedly a valuable part of the overall business and it is for this reason that hiring strategies when it comes to blue-collar, grey-collar, and entry-level white-collar workforce is imperative for ensuring smooth operations across verticals. At present, there are over 250 million blue-collar workers in India. Aided by affordable internet connections, rural India had 227 million active internet users, 10% more than urban India’s about 205 million. With the help of internet penetration today Apna has the potential to enable talent access in urban as well as the remotest of the areas.
For instance, Jyoti Shukl had lost her job at the onset of the nationwide lockdown in 2020. She joined the platform in search of a job and started posting general tips related to Covid-19 on communities. As the connections in her professional network began to grow, she got noticed by one of the most prominent private hospitals in Mumbai and landed a job as a nurse where she was responsible for taking care of Covid patients. Her livelihood was restored and her wish to help the country was being fulfilled too.
At Apna, we reiterate the power of professional networking and how anyone can create a powerful professional digital identity on the platform to move ahead in life. providing access to hyperlocal opportunities which includes work from home and part-time jobs on mobile phones. By providing direct access to the employer and HR that optimises the time for hiring, Apna has helped millions of people in getting interviews fixed within minutes.
How big is the blue-collar job market in India and how Apna is acting as a technology enabler in the current scenario?
The total size of this population is publicly reported to be more than 250 million in India who are working directly or indirectly in blue-collar jobs. Since 2020, we have seen that companies cannot afford to meet candidates offline just for an interview. And in a critical sector like healthcare, where trust, urgency and speed all play an important factor, technology must help recruiters find the right candidate for the job at a quick turnaround time.
Apna has made its products and services available free of cost, in its bid to support businesses and communities across India to stand up against COVID-19. Apna’s mobile app makes it easier for India’s workforce to discover the right opportunities from over 100K listed jobs on the platform and connect instantly with the employer via the in app call and messaging features. Employers can post a job within 2 mins from Apna’s employer web portal. Apna’s platform will help them connect with relevant candidates that match the job qualification criteria and pass an assessment, to make the connection seamless.
With over 8.5 million registered users on the Apna platform to find the right employment opportunities and network with people of their professional community, the app comprises vertical communities for skilled professionals like carpenters, painters, field sales agents, security guards, delivery personnel, masons, artists, tailors, beauticians, and many others. These communities are helping people in establishing a professional network among themselves and creating more awareness about sectors amid these challenging times.
What is your assessment of where we are in the fight against the second wave of COVID-19, in light of job opportunities?
The first wave of the pandemic hit India hard, yet it was far less devastating than the current surge we experience today as a country. As the second wave decimates major industries in India, it is no longer just the brick-and-mortar retailers or SMBs that are hit. Even sales, revenue, labour participation and employment have all fallen like never before.
For us to bounce back, we must be focused on a post-pandemic future built on the foundations of resilient and sustainable growth, enabled by technology. Apna has facilitated over 35 million candidate and recruiter interactions since the pandemic started with over 7 million that have taken place in the last 30 days.
In a growing environment with new technologies emerging faster than anticipated, what are employers doing to make learning and enhancing skill-sets infectious for the employees today?
Many companies have realised the need for upskilling blue-collar workers due to the gap or scarcity created and felt during the pandemic. Companies are now more conscious of the need to upskill the backbone of their organisations. Thus, skill development for blue-collar workers is gaining much popularity. Employers are adopting new-age platforms for upskilling and engaging with their existing workforce.
Apna has also introduced weekly skilling master classes for its users in sectors such as beauty & wellness, digital marketing, English learning among others. Apna, through its vertical communities, helping people with verified information and creating awareness about safety, job opportunities, fitness and many relevant topics.
Recently, Apna has also signed an MoU with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to provide the first-ever professional networking platform dedicated to the blue and grey collared workers. For the first time, these candidates will be able to be a part of communities based on their verticals and skillsets.
UNICEF and YuWaah have been committed to creating dynamic opportunities for India’s youth so that they meet the ever-evolving needs of the economy. Apna joins them as a Solution Partner, determined to together make this vision a reality. With a resolve to connect 100 million young Indians to aspirational opportunities, YuWaah and apna join hands to further strengthen India’s workforce.
Which sectors are witnessing a resurgence in demand for blue-collar workers?
One of the biggest growth drivers of blue-collar jobs in India is the e-commerce and logistics sectors including product-retailing platforms, food delivery services, and professional service providing platforms. We have also seen a steady surge in demand for delivery workers over the past few years and it is only expected to grow further in the next few years as India is still an underserved delivery market. The pandemic has accelerated the growth in the delivery sector, with new delivery jobs posted on the platform growing at 30% in Mar-2021 when compared to Feb-2021.
An increasing trend can be seen in the acceptance of work from home jobs, particularly in job segments like sales, telecalling, digital marketing, content writing, etc. that do not require an employee to be physically present at the job location. For instance, business development and digital marketing jobs available on the platform have increased by 15% in Mar-2021 (vs Feb-2021) due to the potential for people to work remotely.
Due to COVID-19, job segments that are linked to essential services like nurses, pharmacists, ward helpers and delivery professionals have seen a steady increase over the past months and are expected to continue to increase. Micro-entrepreneurship has been on the rise with the advent of the gig economy, with multiple blue-collar workers choosing to operate their businesses, especially in segments like driving, beauty and wellness.
What is driving the growth of online blue-collar hiring in India? Are there any challenges and how do you plan to surmount them?
Traditionally workers looking for blue-jobs jobs leverage their circle of friends and family to access jobs. However, 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 past one year. Apna has provided a free-to-use platform for these non-formalized jobs and the tremendous scale of our jobs marketplace to bring over a 1M+ jobs to blue collar workforce through the app and website.
Over the years, the Indian economy is sharply changing from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy. Thus, the demand for blue-collar workers is increasing steadily with a decline in agricultural employment in the rural areas. Companies are finding various innovative models to engage blue-collar workers more professionally and imparting more responsibilities to the migrant workers and upskilling them at the same time.
We have witnessed a sharp rise in professional conversations on the platform, from 5M in March, 2021 to about 7M in April, 2021. This is an indicator of the power of harnessing communities where people can ask and offer advice, counsel each other, share important information and even synergize on a mutual business opportunity. Besides the 1M+ job openings for our candidates online, it is the access to a network that unlocks endless opportunities for them.
While access to skilled professionals remains a challenge for the industry, employers are actively seeking for skilled professionals to enhance productivity and output. Addressing one such challenge, Apna has partnered with NSDC to provide access to professional networking opportunities to all Skill India certified professionals who can contribute to bring India back to work. Apna has also launched skilling courses to meet the employer’s demand. These online skilling courses will assist the users to bridge their skill gap and get access to the right opportunities within a short period of time.
About Nirmit Parikh
Nirmit Parikh is a man on a mission to empower frontline workers with opportunities to find work fast and near to their homes, using the latest in technology. Perturbed by the conditions of unemployment and job losses because of the pandemic he and his team got together to use modern tools to solve this perennial problem. A breakthrough was created in the form of an empathetic, Apna app that will connect the candidates to potential employers in the most effortless manner.
Nirmit, with his team, has created the Apna app, that brings the blue and grey collared workforce on to a platform dedicated to them. When the job seekers see relatable people on the platform they join these conversations. It is a very overwhelming space where we see the less vocal get a voice and express. The Apna App brings in a radical cultural and social change in Indian society with this technology marvel. Using the app the candidates have brought a radical U-turn to their lives by finding a job directly without any middlemen, in their proximity, and with no waiting time. The app is a breakthrough in economically uplifting the family incomes and raising the standard of living.