SMS a Carpenter

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SummaryToday’s key challenge in a world where jobs and job-seekers are increasingly in flux is to empower the technologically challenged.

Today’s key challenge in a world where jobs and job-seekers are increasingly in flux is to empower the technologically challenged. Portals like LinkedIn, Facebook, etc have become the new forums for job seekers, and increasingly recruiters, as well. The conventional wisdom is that a majority of such sites cater to the rarefied world of white collar jobs. That, however, is changing to include blue collar workers as well, ranging from electricians to plumbers and carpenters. Even if this category may not have access to websites and the internet, technology is reaching them.

That is courtesy innovative sites like naukrisms.in. The brainchild of Sharad Vajpayee, it is a platform that connects skilled tradesmen with recruiters through a simple SMS on the job-seeker’s mobile phone.

Vajpayee is an engineer who spent 15 years living in the US as an IT professional. He had his own Swades moment, decided to return to the country and is currently based in Hyderabad, where his idea took root. With the mobile phone revolution having gained momentum, he hit upon the idea of building a solution to empower the digitally challenged.

Naukrisms.in was launched in 2009. It is a simple platform. The job-seeker registers, the details are then matched by the website’s personnel and made available to recruiters who then contact and negotiate. But there was a catch. “The job-seeker in this case is usually illiterate and not technologically savvy. The platform could work only when the job-seeker’s details could be first registered,” says Vajpayee. Through state government schemes that impart skills training, this problem became easy to surmount. “We partnered with governments and various NGOs to reach out to such people and enrol them,” says Vajpayee.

Naukrisms.in employs around 50 developers and volunteers who register the job-seeker. It then brings on board the potential employers who can match professionals with their requirements and a phone call is all it takes to seal the deal. “General illiteracy also meant that job listings sent as SMS would not be understood. We have addressed this by sending voice alerts for jobs,” says Sangeetha Kumaraswamy, co-founder of the organisation.

Vajpayee conducts road shows regularly to popularise the portal. He recalls an incident when a young man who initially did not believe in the concept actually got a job. “Our volunteers were campaigning door-to-door in a slum area in Hyderabad explaining the concept. Initially, nobody believed us. Only one family showed interest and registered their son. Within half an hour he got a call for a job as an office boy and he was placed at PVR Cinemas on a salary of Rs 5,500 per month. He joined the same day.”

In the three years since its inception, Naukrisms.in has registered around 10 lakh job seekers in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Some 3,000-4,000 calls are made every day using the database and up to 5,000 seekers find jobs a day. Though most jobs are in the service sector, Vajpayee says that the construction sector is one area where his platform is yet to make inroads.

The southern states are not usually comfortable with Hindi terms, so Naukrisms is called Velaisms in Tamil, Panisms in Telugu, and Kelsasms in Kannada and offers services in respective local language.

Vajpayee aims to reach the entire country in two years’ time and offer Naukrisms in all Indian languages.

The difference he has brought for so people within such a short span has been recognised, with Naukrisms.in being awarded the Manthan Award, 2012, given by the Digital Empowerment (an organisation that empowers people through information) for its contribution towards digital inclusion and livelihood generation.

Women in business: WEOW

The Digital Empowerment Foundation also threw up another interesting e-initiative pioneered by Google in India. The search giant was recognised for its efforts towards digital empowerment through Women Entrepreneurs on the Web. WE0W, as it is known, enables women entrepreneurs to use Web-based technologies to improve and grow their businesses. WEOW is divided into five units or “circles” that cater to women with varying degrees of online expertise. The programme was launched on January 31 this year.

Essentially, it deploys familiar tools towards helping women build businesses. Once you’ve signed up, WEOW will help create a website and integrate it with social media, connect with customers using its platforms, promote and advertise through YouTube and AdWords, and even monitor performance through its analytics tools.

WEOW has another distinction. In contrast to many of its ideas that take shape in its Silicon Valley campus, WEOW, an outcome of Google’s targeted business diversity programme for women entrepreneurs, has been incubated entirely in India. “India has one of the largest number of women entrepreneurs across the world, around 1.3 million, which makes it a perfect place for us to pilot this initiative. In addition, we see that many women have taken a break from their careers to balance home and work and have set up small businesses too,” says Keerthana Mohan, diversity and inclusion manager at Google.

The key difference, when compared with other social networks, is that WEOW organises regular workshops where entrepreneurs interact face-to-face and exchange notes. “We have participants from across the country and we’ve conducted on-site events in Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and Pune. Participants can also connect with us via hangouts,” says Mohan.

Neela Kaushik, runs gurgaonmoms.com, a community for mothers in Gurgaon who are managing their home-based businesses and her own digital media agency. “The biggest advantage of joining WEOW is the kind of visibility our businesses get. My business is in the bootstrapping stage and I cannot afford to advertise through conventional media. Registering on WEOW costs nothing, but the reach and branding is much higher. My business has acquired great visibility and the effect is viral,” says Kaushik.

Bangalore-based Archana Doshi an IT professional-turned-entrepreneur has been running archanaskitchen.com since 2007. She says, “There are many entrepreneurs who may know that a website ensures online presence, but do not know how to connect with customers, or how to use social media to tap business opportunities. At these forums, we teach them to deploy these tools effectively and use the enormous reach of the Web.”

WEOW has its sights on smaller cities too. “We wish to expand our reach to Tier-II cities and rural areas. Our long-term goals are to create a self-sustaining community of women entrepreneurs who collaborate to support each other’s growth,” says Mohan.

Google is tapping into an entrepreneurial wave in the country. “Many of the women entrepreneurs who we spoke to talked about how running a business from their homes gives them the flexibility of doing two things — being a full-time mother/homemaker and working on interesting business ideas. From running organisations that make specialised interior products to organisations that bring women back to the workforce, these women entrepreneurs are truly world-class,” says Mohan.

From women entrepreneurs to electricians and carpenters, technology’s new wave is increasingly to do with empowerment, much needed in a time of economic uncertainty.

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