Why Employers Should Adopt Digital Technologies in Blue-Collar Labour Heavy Industries

Saurabh Tandon , Co-founder and COO, BetterPlace | Insights Success | Business Magazine

With over 135 crore Indians and a multi-level social hierarchy like no other, Indian society has always been fascinating. In the last few decades, there has been clear progress in many areas such as economic productivity and adoption of technology, but some dimensions are changing rather slowly. In particular, the life of over 45 crore Indians who work in informal blue-collar job roles such as automobile drivers, construction, maids, logistics etc. and the 65 crore Indians who are the agricultural backbone of the country continue to face challenges such as financial exclusion, poor skill sets and lack of dignity of labour.
However, initiatives such as Aadhaar, mobile penetration and government focus initiatives such as Skill India have also enabled possibilities that one could not envision even a decade ago for this segment aka the ‘next billion’. Using these platforms, a transformation must begin to help these people climb the socio-economic ladder and escape the vicious cycle of poor skills leading to poor wages and continued services exclusion. The responsibility falls upon businesses that continue to be key job generators but are unable to do much more than that.
Our study found businesses to have the intent to solve these issues but the inability to execute at scale given challenges such as rampant attrition which leads to workers leaving jobs regularly for just a few hundred rupees of monthly increment. It is also no secret that job-satisfaction leads to improved performance, but this is not just about incentive – it is also about working conditions and much more. The floor for retention today is no longer limited to a providing a job and reasonable compensation – it extends to include things like feeling valued, being listened to, and the ease and possibility of advancement.
Statistics show that Indian blue-collar workers tend to skip work and/or frequently switch jobs. The segment has an incredible attrition rate of 80-150%. The key contributors to this phenomenon are the high demand for blue-collared workers and that employees do not experience a sense of loyalty to the business. Workers have no incentive to stay with a company when they can easily find another job after gaining some experience for slightly better wages. The solution is to enrich technical and soft-skill sets through on-the-job training. This will make employees feel that they have gained value from being a part of the company and are therefore not as likely to switch jobs. With smartphones now costing as little as Rs.2000, this is best done digitally through smartphone apps. Employees will not be unproductive while they learn as they would if they went to a physical training center, and the cost of training to the employer reduces significantly as well. As industry becomes more and more customer-centric employees with soft-skills are now invaluable. This is a win-win as employers benefit from more competent employees and employees themselves experience job-stability along with potential career advancement through skill-acquisition.
Perhaps the biggest way to foster loyalty is to help blue-collared workers where they hurt most – their financial condition. This segment experiences financial exclusion (inability to acquire loans) due to lack of data (credit history). Wages paid in cash combined with wage rates that result in hand-to-mouth situations where income is spent as it is earned. Therefore, there is no incentive to open bank accounts – which means no credit history. However, the advent of the Aadhaar card and the recent demonetization situation which gave rise to a plethora of cashless transaction options such as Paytm, financial inclusion is now actually possible. The key to this is information – making wage and salary payments through cashless transactions creates credit history which makes loans, healthcare etc. a possibility.
Unevolved hiring practices, paper-based management and a general lack of organization are also severe bottlenecks to business efficiency as well as to the career progress and quality of life of blue-collar employees. Not utilizing digitalized hiring processes that intelligently verify potential employees through proper multi-factor background checks is cancerous to businesses and to employees. Only hiring processes that verify against digital databases are trustworthy and provide quality data about a potential employee as paper-based processes are time consuming, cumbersome, and susceptible to data-manipulation. IT based verification processes standardize requirements of employee reliability which enables employers to hire only quality candidates. This also promotes better work ethic and can potentially improve employee careers in the long run. Another potential trend that would improve business efficiency is if organizations start abandoning paper-based attendance management systems (which can be manipulated) in favor of ‘smart’ tech-based ones which ensure that employees comply with company policy.
To conclude, India is steadily moving forward – but some things will not change until those in a position to incite change actively do so. With intelligence and action employer problems of attrition, poor attendance and poor performance can be solved while simultaneously solving common issues such as an unfulfilling work life, financial exclusion and a lack of dignity of labor. It seems that businesses which seek to improve the lives of their employees are more likely to flourish than those that ignore their social responsibility to enrich their workers’ lives. It is the responsibility of business to utilize the phenomenon of digital penetration to propel our society and economy and this can only be done with active participation.
About the Author:
Saurabh Tandon is the Co-founder and COO at BetterPlace – a tech platform for the lifecycle management of India’s blue-collar workforce. He is an industry veteran, a global strategic leader and an entrepreneur. Having done his MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Chicago, he has held leadership roles at organisations like Mu Sigma. He blends his expertise of analytics and data science with his vision of creating a better place for the next billion Indians by helping them migrate into the formal economy.

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