Kunal Patil and Moiz Arsiwala are on a Google Meet call from Mumbai. On our shared screen, a number of coloured dots move like magnets, as though attracted to or repelled by each other. There’s a tug-of-war between a big red dot and a cluster of smaller yellow dots. “That big red dot is a placement agent. He’s trying to enter our database. But we’ve identified him,” says Patil triumphantly.

WorkIndia uses the Neo4j graph database platform to find errant placement agents trying to break through its walls



For WorkIndia, Arsiwala and Patil’s blue-collar job-matching portal, identifying and eliminating third-party placement agents has been crucial to growth. Agents, claims Patil, often fleece workers with the promise of a job, without actually delivering one. 

Fishing out placement agents is one side of six-year-old WorkIndia’s solution for blue-collar employment. The other is a low-tech, multilingual app to match blue-collar workers with positions that match their skill set, pay grade, and location. The app interface, a cross between a chat and e-commerce app, shows 5-10 jobs on average, on the basis of information provided by the candidate. The platform has a roster of 900,000 employers.

Matching isn’t a straightforward task, says Patil. It has taken WorkIndia the vast majority of its existence to create categories and subcategories to map the gamut of blue- and grey-collar skill sets. For instance, 23 main job profiles will be divided into 95 sub-profiles. “Employers don’t just want a cook. They want someone who can cook Chinese food, specifically,” explains Patil.

The size and opportunity on offer—approximately 250 million job seekers—is undercut by the complexity of the blue-collar job market. There’s little data on applicants, their skill sets, and over 90% of them are employed in the unorganised sector. The link between supply (of workers) and demand (of employers) is completely broken at several places as well. 

The trickiest issue to grapple with, says Patil, was how dynamic this job market is. “In white-collar jobs, both applicant and employer are willing to wait a few days for the match. In the blue-collar segment, the need is immediate,” says Patil. Demand is also scattered, with over 90% of the blue-collar segment being small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), which don’t hire in bulk, and don’t want to spend a high amount on hires. These businesses are also new to the online, structured process of recruitment.

The disaggregated and unpredictable nature of the sector has swallowed previous attempts to organise it. Celebrated startup Babajob Babajob The Ken The blue collar market puts Babajob out of work Read more was one of these casualties, selling out for an undisclosed amount to online classifieds platform Quikr.

AUTHOR

Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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