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A gig worker named Akash uses Workex while sitting in his home in India

The Way Forward in India: Boosting the Gig Economy

Guest Author: Rahil Rangwala

Before the pandemic, Rakesh ran a successful mobile accessories business in Delhi. As the lockdown began to shut down the economy, he suddenly found himself out of work. Unable to provide for his wife and infant son, Rakesh decided to try out Workex, a jobs-on-demand portal that connects skilled workers to relevant opportunities. He is now employed with Amazon and is on the road to recovery, economically.

Rakesh is one of 122 million people in India who lost their jobs and livelihoods in April 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The unemployment rate of close to 30% led to a mass exodus of workers from metro cities back to their hometowns. This proved to be an additional challenge for India’s informal sector, which makes up 85% of its workforce. Jobs were vanishing by the day and companies were reluctant to invest in full-time workers. Instead, they looked at gig workers for short-term assignments.

To adapt to this new normal, people from low-income or vulnerable communities needed resources for building new skills or sharpening ones they hadn’t used lately. Our focus over the last year, along with partners such as Workex, Blowhorn, LabourNet, and Awign, was creating opportunities for young adults from low-income households to get back to work. With more than 90% of informal sector workers unemployed, these companies leveraged the power of technology to help people in the unorganized workforce adopt new skills as a means to a better quality of life.

Lessons Learned

The year 2020 was full of learnings. It gave us the opportunity to rethink business strategies and implement new methodologies to help the informal sector emerge from this crisis even stronger than before. Below are three key learnings that will stick with us, even after the pandemic is over.

  • The gig economy is an important part of the infrastructure of the Indian economy — and it is here to stay and grow. The number of gig workers in India has seen a steady increase since the lockdown and we should expect this trend to continue. It is critical that all stakeholders work toward making this workforce more mainstream and inclusive. Creating a safety net to empower them should be a long-term goal.
  • Technology and data can drastically improve outcomes for low-income families — and we need to make sure they do. Harnessing the power of technology and data in a time of a crisis like the pandemic has proven fruitful for the informal sector. Using both tools to match the supply and demand of talent has helped create myriad opportunities for those in need of sustainable livelihoods.
  • Platforms and teams must be agile as we plan for a constantly evolving future. The importance of adaptability in a time of adversity is critical. Our partners were able to bring recovery at scale for informal sector workers by developing new models and methodologies, and by leveraging opportunities that the pandemic inadvertently created.

Rallying for Change in India’s Gig Economy

WorkEx is an online recruiting platform built for the informal sector workforce. The company doubled its efforts during the pandemic and witnessed more than 500,000 candidates register on the platform. More than 100,000 people across 200 cities in India found employment. The number of recruiters on the platform grew to 20,000. With the surge in demand after the lockdown, Workex saw salaries increase from an average of $135-205 (₹10,000-15,000) per month before the lockdown to $205-270 (₹15,000-20,000) during the lockdown.

Blowhorn, an intra-city logistics provider, increased incomes of mini-truck drivers by 20-25% during the lockdown. More than 5,000 drivers across 65 cities joined the platform since the beginning of the pandemic. The company received recognition from the Government of Karnataka and the Award of Excellence as the best delivery service partner by Amazon India. Blowhorn is replicating this successful model to expand its services to women job seekers.

LabourNet, a social enterprise focused on education, employment, and entrepreneurial support for the informal sector, recognized new opportunities for the gig workforce during COVID-19. It kicked off projects to reskill and upskill 100,000 workers for new roles across 12,000 PIN codes. LabourNet launched its Neo Skills digital learning platform and, through its Entrepreneurship Program, upskilled 650 informal workers as sanitisation and hygiene entrepreneurs.

Awign, a work fulfilment platform, sources jobs from its clients and connects them with trained gig workers. During the pandemic, the organization saw demand for gig workers go up by 30%. Awign expanded its operations across 400 cities, which helped businesses fill the gap in their supply chain operations created by the exodus of gig and migrant workers. This also secured livelihoods for many people in the gig workforce.

2021: A year of restoration

As we move forward into 2021, we are focused on doing all that we can to help people get back to work and regain their livelihoods. The gig economy could boost more than a million jobs in the next five years in India, and our work is to ensure low-income families have the opportunity to be a part of this growth. With the lessons of 2020 instilled in all of us, we are even better equipped to take on the challenges that lie before us.

This Insight is the second in our series on the collaborative Road to Recovery effort supporting people in India during the pandemic. You can read the first blog here.