The Future of blue-collar jobs in India: 2022 and beyond

Blue-collar workers comprise a significant part of the Indian workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened new opportunities and challenges for this worker segment.
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Even before the devastating pandemic rocked the world, growing developments in technology had begun to change the shape of the job market for blue, grey and white-collar professionals. The lockdown-induced uncertainty, created by the spread of the COVID-19 virus, impacted blue-collar workers extensively.

Yet, as the world reopens and businesses again find their footing, a silver lining in India’s employment market can be witnessed in a steady rise in blue-collar jobs, making the outlook for this demographic highly optimistic.

There is a decided growth in demand for this workforce in telecom, logistics and e-commerce segments as well as traditional industries like infra, manufacturing, and construction.

Blue-collar workers comprise a large percentage of India’s total workforce, which is estimated to be around 500 million presently, of which around 210 million belong to agriculture and allied sectors, while the remaining 290 million work in non-farm sectors including construction and real estate, manufacturing and utilities, retail, e-commerce, and transportation and logistics.

Technology will reshape the blue-collar workspace

As we enter, what the World Economic Forum terms as, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, developments in areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and 3D printing and such, are all redefining the contours of the job market, especially for the manual blue-collar workers’ space.

Alongside role changes, technology is also bringing a change to the way this vast, unorganised workforce is managed. Complete end-to-end recruitment firms are digitising records and databases for the entire blue-collar value chain.

Thus, large consumer-facing, as well as construction and infrastructure businesses, that have voluminous and continuous labour requirements, have started insourcing the employees from talent management firms focused on blue-collar segments. The digital databases maintained by these firms allow for job requirements to be matched against job seekers.

The digital solutions, often single-platform, also include options for remote screening, verification, self-onboarding, e-payrolls, attendance management, compliance evaluations and employee upskilling and training along with ensuring some basic benefits thus far denied to them.

Benefits of the growing gig economy

In this scenario, the growth of the gig segment in the blue-collar space further propels a steady rise in job numbers in the coming months and years.

According to BCG’s report ‘Unlocking the Potential of the Gig Economy in India’, roughly 2.4 crore new jobs could get created in the gig blue-colour space, and by 2028 this could reach around 9 crore jobs.

Gig workers or freelancers, work on short-term independent contracts for multiple employers. With tech-enabled job matches, flexible working, more power to negotiate wages, and greater transparency in payments, the gig economy works very well for the employees.

This will augur well for the women who find it challenging to work full-time along with their care-taking responsibilities who otherwise would have been left out of the workforce.

Gig model also makes it easier for employers to source this staff at short notice, or on-demand, have recurring contracts with identified, verified and credible talent, and removes the hassle of hiring, onboarding and training staff constantly.

For the aspirational blue-collar workers, keen to pick up new skills and a better life-- gig working empowers them to build potential employer networks, build relationships and maximise their incomes.

Employment generation in Tier 2 and Tier 3 Cities

The massive growth of virtual retail, pan-India also translates into local employment generation in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, which is leading to a trend of reverse migration and also stemming job-search induced migration.

States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Delhi NCR will see a surge in the demand for blue-collar workforce. The delivery and driver segment of the blue collar workforce is expected to witness the highest demand growth manifold in the coming months.

One other major factor that is shaping the future of blue-collar jobs is how employers are looking at engaging with this thus-far-ignored category of workers. More and more firms are gearing towards engaging employees to build sustainable businesses that pivot on the philosophy of profiteering with purpose.

They realise that respecting the needs of their employees such as guaranteed income and healthcare cover ensures greater commitment and improved productivity, which in turn fosters brand loyalty.

Along with women participation in the workforce, blue-collar employment creates a level playing field from all walks of life to earn livelihood. Hence from purely transactional relationships, the firms are moving towards sustainable and enduring ones, even with the gig employees.

Alongside mandated benefits, firms are investing in training and upskilling the workers.

Reskilling the blue-collar workforce for new roles

This trend of upskilling and reskilling is key for businesses and employees to survive and thrive. Tech advancements in AI and robotics are bound to make many manual and repetitive tasks redundant, but at the same time, technology creates the need for new skills to operate, improve and enhance itself.

Hence, more and more previously trained blue-collar workers will now be considered and upskilled for digital and tech tasks that aid in every aspect of the telecom, logistics and e-commerce industries that are employing them.

Undoubtedly, many jobs in traditional manual-labour-heavy sectors will be done more and more by AI-powered tools.

The three -fold industry-defining blue-collar trends of technological improvements across the blue-collar value chain, simplified labour codes due implementation, and the growing gig economy are accelerating the space to a new level.

Yet, the opportunities being created for the blue-collar segment in technology-enabled businesses, not only open a whole new plethora of jobs, for the hitherto semi-skilled labourers but are also a means to unravel a better future for them and their generations to come.

Challenges notwithstanding, with business and policy support, it would be prudent to suggest that the emerging trends in the blue-collar segment are likely to evolve and endure, making it a very buoyant future outlook for the workforce.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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