Aspirations of young urban poor: Bridging the employability gap

Blue and grey collared workers are integral to the city  - garment workers, domestic help, masons, plumbers, sweepers... But what will the future of their children be?  In this article, we look at the challenges these youth face in getting the jobs they want and what could help overcome those.

This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship

As any new comer into the job market will tell you, it is a cut throat world of competition where there are more number of aspirants than there are jobs. One needs to stand out with skills that impress. And it is no different for blue and grey collared jobs than it is a for a highly paid CEO of a company.

The informal sector, which houses most of these jobs, is the largest in our country and is actually the dominant sector of employment, clamouring for more applicants every day.  The Economic Survey Report, January 2018 pegs that “…87 percent of firms with a turnover of 21% of the total turnover ( in the country)  are purely informal, outside both the tax and social security nets.” The sector will continue to grow as the more people people will transition from agricultural to non-agricultural jobs.

According to the ILO labour market update (2017) and NSSO data based on the census, close to 70% of the non-agricultural sector falls under the informal sector. But they need to have skills. Most of these workers are moving from the rough and tumble of the agricultural work ethic to more polished sectors of retail, service providers with direct consumer interactions and most of them fall short. Even the National Commission on Enterprises in Unorganised sector (NCEUS) had taken the position that a vast majority of informal workforce is unskilled.

These are people with skill sets that don’t match the jobs they want, which are perceived to be indicative of upward social mobility. Therefore the choice between a job and career is never more pronounced than here. 

Mentorship therefore becomes very important to help translate the dreams  into reality whether for a job or a career. Neeraj Khanna, co founder and director of Spark Career Mentors, know a lot about the hurdles faced by these youngsters. The company which mixes youngsters (especially high school students) of different economic backgrounds – the affluent with the underprivileged, and mentors them on jobs and careers. One of the programs they run is Spark Plug – a six-day session which includes industry visits and meeting of stalwarts from diverse backgrounds. 

Neeraj categorises youth from low income families into three types: Those who have no ambition or aspiration, since many of them come from dysfunctional families; The second set is of kids who look at a job and absolutely happy having no career growth as long as they have a steady income. “But it is the third type who are very interesting. This is the lot that has the potential to challenge peers from privileged backgrounds” he says.

However the biggest stumbling block these youngsters face, is the lack of English language knowledge, communication abilities and computer skills for these youngsters, especially those not looking only for a job but a career.

Neeraj’s team works with Parikrama schools, which offer high quality education, three meals a day, comprehensive healthcare and family support to children from low income communities. “The reason we are able to work with the students of Parikrma is they have basic language skills that we can build on,” says Neeraj. 

The quality of Indian public education system means that children from working class families get less of everything in education and that includes respect. Ramesh Balasundram of Bal Utsav who works with government school children speaks about it. Bal Utsav, which runs two programs – Sampoorna Shala (for kids in metro cities) and I Shala ( for kids studying in government schools in the rural sector) intervenes with these children at the basic level of schooling. “Our programs work towards improving the infrastructure of the school which are sorely lacking. It can be something as simple at benches and desks that most of us take for granted but is a luxury for these kids. It brings us into contact with the children and their parents so we do watch closely how facilities inform their opinion and their demands” 

Ramesh also categorises the kids into three categories.  “I would categorise these kids into three categories of job seekers broadly.There are the potential urban migrants. If we move away from Bangalore, even if it is about 100 kms, people’s priority is about finding a job that can get them to Bengaluru. Give them the same job with the same salary in the place they are living, and we often find they don’t want to take them up. So it is not about what the job is but where it is that becomes more important. The second category are those whose parents are daily wage workers in Bangalore who have a greater income than the third group who are the monthly wage workers, but it is sporadic. The third who make a monthly wage and they have the strongest ambitions for their children of making it better in life. They look at long term gains and job security among other things,” says Ramesh.

Education which is meant to be an equaliser is in a way making inequality a lot worse, because our welfare system of distribution is clearly providing education for different classes of society. But combine this with the youngsters’ limited understanding of employment opportunities vis-a-vis education in the context of their parents’ struggle, it becomes a recipe for disappointment. As Ramesh Swamy of Unnati says “They are are burnt out force if they do not realise this reality pretty quickly, because we have the next lot ready to take their place.” So while we hear inspiring stories of a fisherman’s daughter cracking civil services examinations, it is more an anomaly than the norm.

For those who aspire for jobs and not really careers, the demands are many as well. With the digitisation of the recruitment for these blue collared jobs, there has been an ease of recruitment in these jobs for the employers and more importantly stream lining wages and work times for them. But the founders of some these websites and apps also recognising the gap between the skill set and demand tied up with training institutes to help with vocational training.

“We never had training programs of our own. But we did tie up with vocational training institutes like NUDGE that trained kids in various vocational courses. The idea was simple. We’d tell them these were the jobs in demand and training would get them a job. We trained thousands of them in various vocations. So in a way, it is a career and a job” says Vir Kashyap, Co-Founder, NUDGE, the brain child of a Atul Satija, an ex employee with google, has four Gurukuls around Bangalore that offers residential programs and works on training people in soft skills. Most of them are women. Soft skills has come be an essential skill set especially for those working directly with customers. 

Sanjay Yadav, 22, a plumber from Gorakhpur migrated to Bangalore more than five years ago and struggled to make ends meet as he flitted from one job to another on construction sites. Finally he registered on mobile app Urban Clap that provides homes services. “What we need to take care of is our rating. We need to be polite and speak well to the customer, or we will lose our rating. So we won’t show up on the top. This is the difficult bit for us, because the way we speak normally is not acceptable as polite! it was a learning curve for me,” he says.

Basavaraj Magavi, who drives a cab with OLA, hails from a small town near Ranebennur in North Karnataka. “Our language comes off as harsh even with people who speak Kannada. The non Kannada speaking people assumed I was just yelling. It didn’t matter how hard I worked, but my ratings were never great. I had a friend who had enrolled himself at the employment exchange and I went along with him once for a session that looked at how we interacted with customers. That’s when I realised where I was going wrong.”

As Basvaraj and Sanjay’s case show, migrant workers from rural areas have it especially hard. “We need them to be trained in many aspects. Even jobs like drivers in OLA and Uber need them to have a more polished jobs. With women, we also have to talk to them about safety. That’s what we address while counselling job seekers who come to us” says K Sreenivas of the Employment Exchange, Gandhinagar.

The Economic Survey Report mentions works force as well which it terms as the non farm workers of the India’s formal sector. It states that the formal sector is much larger that what it was originally imagined to be. These are jobs that fall under the tax brackets and also are defined in the terms of social security provisions and are estimated to be about 31% of all non agricultural workforce.  Simply put, these are the plumbers, carpenters, cooks etc that we find with ease on an app or a website that require hard skill. If there are eight hundred vacancies listed for cooks in Bangalore, there are nearly 4000 jobs available if you are interested in data entry and all of this is just off one website.

But to say that it is the companies alone that call the shots isn’t entirely true.

“To say that only the companies call the shots is not quite right. Most of the people who come from rural backgrounds are more likely to accept jobs in spaces like housekeeping, domestic helps, security etc in larger companies and malls. These are jobs that people who are from Bangalore don’t want to take up. This is especially true of the second generation kids. They refuse anything that they remotely consider menial,” says Sreenivas.

In a constant battle between the reality and dream, these youngsters battle an uphill task everyday. “we don’t have the luxury of limitless opportunities. Sometimes, once is all we get. I don’t want to be a cab driver all my life. I would like to have my taxi service someday. So this job is my only chance of understanding the business and well. So when I start out on my own, I don’t fail. Because I can’t afford to,” says Basavaraj.

This article is supported by SVP Cities of India Fellowship. This is the first part of the Insights into Bengaluru series on ‘Aspirations of the Urban Poor’.


  1. Vasanthkumar Mysoremath says:

    Interesting. Such training is the need of the hour. When 65% of graduates coming out of colleges are ‘unemployable’ because they lack industry standards. Keeping this in mind and also after undergoing a simple training of trainers program in 2003, I have so far conducted more than 600 workshops/seminars/schoolastic guest lecture programs etc., mostly concentrating on slum areas where rate of school/college drop out is significant and enabled the young minds with various life skills particularly on personality development, oratorial skills, body language, leadership and willingness for multi-tasking etc. Authorities have been extending their cooperation since I am doing all this on honorary basis. I am immensely satisfied about the outcome as the students who undergo invariably say that nobody had taught such things in either schools or even in higher education institutions. Since last week I am engaged in conducting the HRD skill program to about 1200 trainees in batches of Government Industrial Training Institute, Mysore-Bengaluru road in Mysuru. I depend more upon interaction with students and conduct mock-shows with trainees themselves as state and non-state actors. One thing that has disappointed me is the answer to my question – how many of you are interested in becoming Corporator/MLA/MP etc., only to find hardly one or two responses. This is really alarming. After my lectures on how they can play their roles as models for nation building, to a repeated question, a few hands have gone up. This is the scenario of the present day youth for us all. HRD skill development has to be a massive program and school/college curriculum and also lessons on ill effects of consumption of tobacco and drugs etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar Story

Cost concerns limit impact of PM Ujjwala Yojana among poor in cities

Women in low income urban communities share why they haven't been able to switch to clean cooking fuel, despite the hype around Ujjwala.

Chanda Pravin Katkari, who lives in Panvel on the outskirts of Mumbai, applied for a free LPG connection under the PM Ujjwala Yojana one-and-half years ago, but has yet to get a response. She still uses the traditional chulha, most of the time. Chanda and her sister-in-law share the cost and occasionally use their mother-in-law’s Ujjwala LPG cylinder though. “The cylinder lasts only one-and-half months if the three of us, living in separate households, use it regularly. Since we can’t afford this, we use it sparingly so that it lasts us about three months,” she says. Chanda’s experience outlines the…

Similar Story

Bengalureans’ tax outlay: Discover the amount you contribute

Busting the myth of the oft repeated notion that "only 3% of Indians are paying tax". The actual tax outlay is 60% - 70%.

As per a recent report, it was estimated that in 2021-22, only 3% of the population of India pays up to 10 lakh in taxes, alluding that the rest are dependent on this. This begs the following questions: Are you employed? Do you have a regular source of income? Do you pay income tax? Do you purchase provisions, clothing, household goods, eyewear, footwear, fashion accessories, vehicles, furniture, or services such as haircuts, or pay rent and EMIs? If you do any of the above, do you notice the GST charges on your purchases, along with other taxes like tolls, fuel…