COVID-19 impact: Coronavirus led to a volatile employment trend throughout 2020

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Updated: Apr 01, 2021 11:07 AM

What’s worse is the fact that by the time November rolled about, while most men recovered their jobs, women did not have the same fate.

While women accounted for only about 10.7% of the total workforce in 2019-20, they formed about 13.9% of the job losses India witnessed in April 2020.

COVID-19 impact on employment: Coronavirus pandemic brought the economy of India to a halt over the past one year, and numerous people have lost their jobs, especially women. A recent study in Delhi found that in eight months, the unemployment rate in the national capital increased by 17%, with about 83% of women respondents choosing to permanently opt out of participating in the workforce. A similar trend has been observed throughout the country, and this at a time when the participation of women was already declining in the workforce with each passing year.

As per Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) estimates, between mid-2016 and early 2020, the female labour participation rate, which is the percentage of women working out of all women falling in the working age, fell from 16.4% to about 11%. And now, it has been estimated that this number might have further been pushed this figure down to 9% due to the pandemic.

CMIE data also stated that while women accounted for only about 10.7% of the total workforce in 2019-20, they formed about 13.9% of the job losses India witnessed in April 2020. What’s worse is the fact that by the time November rolled about, while most men recovered their jobs, women did not have the same fate.

Talking to Financial Express Online’s Bulbul Dhawan about the employment trends in the country, Dr KR Shyam Sundar, Professor of Human Resource Management at Jamshedpur-based XLRI, said, “What is striking about the trends in the high-frequency unemployment rates based on the current daily status of CMIE is the volatility of the rates throughout the covid-19 period save those during the absolute lockdown periods. For example, the overall unemployment rate for August 2020 was 8.35% and in the next month it dropped to less than 7%, then it rose to a rather higher level of 9.06% in December 2020. The volatility has some implications for the labour market and earnings. This confuses people as to whether to enter the labour market or not. This could rather lead to ‘discouragement effect’ in the sense that people might be dropping out of the labour force far more speedily than they did before. Then, the unemployment rates would be an underestimate as the denominator is not stable. Also, they disrupt the earnings of workers which would have led to two effects, dis-savings (exhaustion of the cash reserves and may be pawning of small assets) and resort to fresh borrowing which could be weaker and thereby they may end up paying usurious interest rates.”

“The CMIE data also shows considerable drops in the LFPRs and employment rates which have a gender prejudice, especially in the unorganised sector. The gender prejudice is that given the limited supply of employment and work, males are more likely to appropriate the opportunities in the labour market,” he added.

SJ Raj, Senior Vice President, HR Operations, Newgen Software, which works with numerous companies across varied sectors, told FE Online about his observations regarding employment trends across industries in the country. “Around this time last year, the world was transitioning into the new normal. The way we work has probably changed forever, and so has the talent acquisition landscape. Hiring has picked up pace and looks promising in the coming financial year. Remote working has received mainstream acceptance and many organisations will now be leveraging a hybrid model to balance working from the office and operating from home. We will continue to see a surge in the gig economy across all sectors. Furthermore, organisations will be tempted to move away from legacy models of hiring by choosing performance over pedigree. Our virtual workplaces will be more diverse and inclusive, pushing towards a 50:50 female to male ratio. Real estate investments will require serious deliberation in board rooms. Our growing reliance on collaborative tools and technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cloud computing, will yield new skill sets and roles in the coming years. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in the future of work. This new digitally connected world brings with it plenty of opportunities and career growth for those who are willing to adapt,” he said, hoping for positive future trends.

“Hiring has now improved across sectors versus during the peak of the pandemic. The percentage of job applicants even for sectors that were most hit like retail, hospitality and travel has come down by close to 40% versus quarter 2 of last calendar year. The pandemic once again manifested the gender inequality problem with more women losing jobs as compared to men. Furthermore, women were slower to regain jobs, and this has led to further widening the gender disparity. A large part of India’s workforce belongs to informal sectors which was impacted in terms of job losses. The lower strata of society and daily wage workers faced the greatest impact due to social distancing as well as reduced household income that fell over 46%. Digital tech skills are in most demand since the onset of recovery. There is significant acceleration in adoption of digital technologies not only for margin improvements but also for customer outreach via online channels” said Srividya Kannan, Founder-Director of Avaali Solutions.

“India’s unemployment rate is 24.1% despite the 77% literacy rate – blame it on the ride year 2020 sent us on with the pandemic’s emergence. Though the figures are discouraging, the creativity and the various fields the year brought to the forefront cannot be ignored. The past few years also pushed the mechanism of remote working, allowing people from all geographies to jump into the race and compete with the old players. Jobs in the Tech world like Artificial Intelligence and Robotics and others including Healthcare, Digital Marketing and Alternate Energy Sources will soon occupy the top heap of the available opportunities, thanks to the transformation these fields are bringing to the work landscape. A major change witnessed during these times is the upliftment of women and their participation in the workforce as key contributors. They have entered the scenario and are here to mark their permanent presence,” said Abhinaya, the head of HR at Keka, a human resource management solutions company.

Talking about the hopes for the future, Abhinaya said, “We are seeing a healthy trend in the hiring operations of organizations in many core sectors, especially Pharma, Manufacturing and service sectors like IT Services, Healthcare. Highly affected sectors like travel, hospitality are also hiring again (in certain niches) but overall aren’t likely to reach their pre-covid levels.”

FE Online also reached out to Great Learning, an edtech platform which is involved in training of professionals to prepare them for the workforce. Great Learning Co-Founder Hari Krishnan Nair said, “Despite the initial slump in the job market, there has been a huge jump in the country’s hiring trends in the recent past. The pandemic-led digital shift created a massive demand for skilled professionals in domains like Business Analytics, Data Science, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, & Design Thinking. Sectors like technology, BFSI, e-commerce, ed-tech, and logistics are hiring fresh and top-rated tech talent for roles in emerging technologies. The demand has been created with both Indian and MNC businesses that are increasingly gravitating towards digital technologies to remain competitive amidst the pandemic. As we are seeing an uptick in demand for these programs in emerging technologies, we believe that the top skills that will continue to be in demand in 2021 are Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Science, Cloud computing, Digital Marketing, Data engineering, and Information security.”

He added, “While remote working has offered a lot of professionals more flexibility to strike a work-life balance, the lockdown has specifically been beneficial for the female workforce and pushed them to continue their jobs and upskill instead of opting out due to various domestic constraints. Over the past year, we have seen an increase in the number of enrolments by female learners across all technical programs. In fact in the past year, a number of companies including AGS Health, Diageo, Nielsen, OCWEN, Maersk among others have collaborated with Great learning as their preferred diversity hiring partner. The focus is to make more opportunities available for women learners in leading organizations. I believe that this graph will continue to witness an upward trend and open a plethora of job opportunities resulting in a rise of women in the workforce.”

Gurgaon-based Great Lakes Institute of Management’s Associate Professor for Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management, Dr. Poornima Gupta said, “World-over it is seen that pandemic has impacted the working women more than men. It is predicted that it would take at least two years before the women careers will be back on track to pre-pandemic levels. In India too, the job market has been impacted more for women. As schools and childcare services are not being allowed to open anytime soon, the onus of childcare primarily has fallen on women. Work from home has been seen as less productive for women because of added household chores and irregular hours. Children’s education is also the purview of mothers. With reduced revenues and uncertain future, most organizations are going for job rationalization, which is likely to affect women more as even employers are questioning the women’s ability to work with children at home and prefer to employ those without such responsibilities. A research by Boston University states that women are 1.3 times more likely to consider quitting or slow down their careers during the pandemic compared to men. Special efforts would be required from the industry to get women back on track or the consequences will be long lasting, leading to reduced GDP. Understanding of mental anxiety and flexibility is needed to help curtail this ever widening gender gap.”

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