How to find a cook

A clutch of websites helps organise and train millions of informal workers in Indian cities,from drivers to domestics,beauticians to sales people,and connect them to employers like you.

Written by Nandini Nair | New Delhi | Published:March 31, 2013 1:29 am

A clutch of websites helps organise and train millions of informal workers in Indian cities,from drivers to domestics,beauticians to sales people,and connect them to employers like you.

Meet 21-year-old Naseem Ali,from Chhapra,Bihar. His home,where his family grows wheat,is 960km from Delhi,he tells us. He ran away a decade ago,not because his parents used to scold him but because “dimag kharab tha,paise ki talaash mein aaya tha. (I was a little crazy,I came looking for money)”. Like millions of migrants,he initially found shelter within the large web of family,relatives and community members in Delhi. He worked at a shoe factory and later at the Surajkund shooting range,which was used for the Commonwealth Games. He liked working in the manager’s office,moving files and delivering supplies. But when his boss transferred him to Noida,to an unfamiliar end of the city,he refused. His story could have ended here. He could have moved from one dead-end job to another. Instead,he met Usha Devi,a community worker in south Delhi. She urged him to join a housekeeping training class run by justrojgar.com in the locality. He completed the two-week classroom training,paying the Rs 100 enrolment fee. He learned about cleaning agents and appliances,techniques and methods — first sweep,then dust,then mop. But more importantly,he acquired “uthne,baitne,baat karne ka knowledge.”

Within days of completing his training,he was placed through Justrojgar with the Batra hospital. Now that he had a regular salary,he had to pay Rs 1,000 (through two instalments) to the website as a final payment. The hospital had to pay Rs 600 for the placement and was assured of a three-month retention guarantee. Today,he wears a crisp uniform,fashionable spectacles and earns Rs 7,200 paid to him through bearer cheques. Supplementing his earnings through other jobs,he makes about Rs 10,000 a month.

Ali’s story is his own,but it is similar to the millions who relocate to cities hoping to create their own and their families’ fortunes. According to the 2001 Census,the state of Maharashtra received the largest number of migrants (7.9 million) from other states and neighbouring countries,followed by the single city of Delhi (5.6 million). Most migrants relocate without a job in hand and with a limited skill set. In cities,both migrants and residents depend on restricted personal networks and word-of-mouth work opportunities. On the other side,thousands of employers,be it individuals or companies struggle to find reliable and skilled labour. In India,more than 90 per cent of the workforce and about 50 per cent of the national product are accounted for by the informal economy,says a report on Unorganised Sector Statistics by the National Statistical Commission (February 2012). The number of workers in the informal sector is estimated to be about 400 million.

Of late,a handful of websites is attempting to bridge the divide between candidates and employers and organise the unorganised sector. Each website has its own modus operandi but all target the segment untouched by a Monster or naukri.com. The organisations seek to provide better employment opportunities for workers with the least bargaining power,who are also the most indispensable to the urban middle class and upper-middle class — domestic help,drivers,guards and construction workers. This sector remains informal largely because people like us prefer to remain informal employers,unwilling to pay for their training or compensations.

Back in 2007,the American CEO of babajob.com Sean Blagsvedt realised that a “village version of linkedin.com” could provide work to millions and help bring them out of poverty. Today,Bangalore-based Babajob,one of the biggest players in the segment,has a staff of 27,over 7 lakh registered job seekers,and almost 80,000 employers who have posted over 1.2 million jobs across India. Similarly,websites like justrojgar.com,bodhijobs.com,labournet.in and cvbhejo.com use intricate online and offline methods to bring together employers and candidates,says Mahesh Vee,founder of Development Creatives,an online forum that tracks development trends.

Delhi-based Aadhar Aggarwal,the chief operating officer of chhotu.in,a last-mile logistics company for e-commerce; Vanaja Dev,HR manager for online retailer myntra.com; and Vidyadar Reddy,HR manager of redbus.in,a Bangalore-based portal for bus tickets,are a few satisfied recruiters who have used babajob.com to hire courier,delivery and ground level staff. Aggarwal,who started chhotu.in a year and a half ago,says,“It is a difficult problem to comprehend: 90-95 per cent of the Indian population earns less than Rs 15,000 a month. But if you go out to hire,there is no one in your circle or around you who knows how to reach them. Many employers stick to substandard employees because they feel that they have put in time and training,so it would be a waste to let them go; it is also tough to find a replacement.” Having recruited close to 20 people from babajob.com,he feels portals ensure greater credibility.

While companies can hire quickly and efficiently from these portals,individuals also have much to gain. Asha Khosla,a retired teacher,living in the Delhi of high gates and long cars,along with her consultant husband and daughter,has benefitted from these sites. “I find these online portals an excellent phenomenon. It helps senior citizens like us. For us,reliability is a major factor,” she says. Most of these websites do a reference check of the candidates if the employer asks for it. Travelling often to Chicago to be with her daughter,Khosla needed someone she could entrust with her house. She found her full-time help in 24-year-old Bardani Tirkey from Bodhijobs,who started working with her in August 2012.

Soft-spoken but not lacking confidence,Bardani soon appears bearing a tray of water. She belongs to Siliguri,where her father works in a government job. The oldest of three siblings,she enrolled in a month-long training programme run by Bodhijobs in Siliguri. She learned about everything from personal hygiene to vacuum cleaners to making idli,dosas,momos and even Manchurian. Speaking in Hindi punctuated by English phrases,she says,“Before my training,I was worried. I had never worked in a house. But after it,I felt confident. I can do it.” She arrived in Delhi on a stormy night in July last year,she says. Worry coursed through her during the winding train journey but the belief that “life will become better” remained steadfast. She misses home and her friends. But life has improved. While she used to earn Rs 4,000 working in a showroom in Siliguri,she now earns Rs 6,000,transferred directly to her bank account,and Rs 400,which she gets in hand for expenses. She spends her free time reading English storybooks given by the Khoslas and looks forward to her first vacation home.

Vivek Kaushik,CEO of Bodhijobs (“bringing jobs to people” — reads the tagline),has worked extensively on MNREGA in Haryana and on increasing and promoting safe migration and skill development for domestic workers in West Bengal. Sitting behind his computer in a nondescript office behind a car market in Kishangarh,Delhi,he says that in 2011 he started researching domestic workers and found that “neither employer nor the employee were happy”. Travelling to the states from where most of the workers came from,essentially Bihar,Jharkhand and West Bengal,he realised they should start a training programme at source. Working with the local panchayat,police authorities,community workers and church,they opened a training centre in Siliguri in early 2012. The programme that trained around 60 people closed before the end of the year as the funds dried up and moving young people across the country proved too complex. Bardani,however,is one of the successful candidates hired from the programme.

Kaushik and Manab Chakraborty,a management consultant and co-founder of Bodhicrew Services,soon realised that Web and mobile services were the best way to bring together employers and candidates. Chakraborty says,“The middleman is usually the social or regional network. We are trying to broaden that circle through mobile connectivity.” bodhijobs.com went live in February this year,and they have already registered close to 11,000 candidates,far exceeding their initial expectations. They reach job seekers through four channels,the website,short-code SMS,a network of volunteers and through their call centre. They quickly found that the Web portal proved the least effective while the volunteers proved the most efficient. They have even considered putting up a booth at community marriages to give a chance to young men and women to register.

We follow Prakash Raikwar,a recruitment officer for bodhijobs.com,and Rahul K,a “Bodhimitr” as they collect names and data in the resettlement colony of Trilokpuri,east Delhi. Community workers like Usha Devi (of justrojgar.com) and Rahul provide the essential link between the online and offline worlds. They tell people they meet about the benefits of being part of the grid,and help integrate them into the system. Twenty-one-year-old Rahul exudes a quiet confidence,shaking hands and leading us to his bare-bricked house. A tangle of cables,modems and a computer screen stuck to the wall catches the eye. Educated till Class XII and having worked in a host of local NGOs,Rahul has taught himself computers. Along with providing internet to around 80 houses in his basti,he also runs a successful internet cafe. He hands out his visiting card,which reads,“RK Brothers Technologies. Hi-speed Internet and Internet Solutions. Internet Service Providers”. “Who is your brother,” we ask. “Myself,” he replies with a crooked smile.

Accustomed to conducting numerous surveys (the caste census being the last one),people open up easily to him,providing their name,age,education,experience etc,which he fills into a Bodhijobs registration form. He says that men eagerly share their information,but women veer on the side of caution,as they are afraid to reveal their mobile numbers and often share a handset with a parent. At the day’s end,he transfers the information to a computer,thereby hoisting one more person out of anonymity and into the grid,taking him/her out of the limitations of the local and into the possibilities of the World Wide Web.

While these portals benefit from door-to-door interactions,they also profit from the Indian habit of banding into crowds. A recent Rojgar Mela in south Delhi proved the power of a single kiosk and bright posters. Passersby,those enroute to work or the market stopped to clutch at employment options. Ajaya Mohapatra,managing director of justrojgar.com,along with three other colleagues,heard out the merely curious and the genuinely serious. While some candidates provide accurate details of previous employment and reasons for leaving,a few are less precise. “What job do you want?” a volunteer asked a man. “Badiya naukri (A good job),” he answered promptly,unwilling to furnish any further details.

Collecting information from kiosks erected hastily over covered drains requires patience,humour and an ability to see the big picture. Mohapatra says that they collect 150-200 applications at melas,of these only 50 people are likely to follow up and a mere 10-15 might sign up for a training programme,like the one Naseem enrolled in.

Training has been an essential component of Bangalore-based LabourNet,which has a full-time staff of 170. Gayathri V,CEO,highlights the importance of certification to link work to workers. Through training in 23 trades from beauty and hair to masonry and carpentry,they try to ensure that the “chhotu helper doesn’t remain chhotu forever”. They help provide workers with an identity card,which acts as an impromptu resume and report card. Having started in 2006,LabourNet not only brings together employer and candidate but also provides a one-stop platform for unorganised sector workers to obtain services like accident and health insurance. Since the start of 2013,LabourNet has registered and trained 10,353 people.

While websites like babajob.com or bodhijobs.com might help to connect the right employers with job seekers in the informal sector (cooks,maids,security guards,office helpers etc),Nikhilesh Tayal,founder of cvbhejo.com,found that white collar-workers in Tier-II and Tier-III towns suffer from a similar lack of exposure. He started CVbhejo in April 2011 in his hometown of Udaipur to solve recruitment problems. His website caters largely to those in accounting,marketing and the IT sector based in Kota,Bhilwara,Sirohi,Jaipur etc. With around 900 million mobile users in India and with all his candidates literate,Tayal uses mobile phone technology as the wand between candidates and recruiters.

For now,Naseem hopes to rise quickly to the rank of supervisor and one day even to manager. The oldest of three brothers,he tells his siblings,when he visits them for Eid,in Chhapra,that he never studied but that he will support their education without qualms or questions. Now that he is part of the grid,he will do the same for them.

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