We have undoubtedly been distracted. And with good reason. The HR teams of large companies had been preoccupied with a shift in focus from retaining millennials to incorporating strategies to attract Gen Z. That’s when the pandemic hit us and adapting to the WFH model grabbed the limelight.
Amid this flurry, there’s one section of the workforce that has been largely overlooked. The blue-collar workers. These are our retail salespeople, delivery guys, construction workers, electricians, and truck drivers, who are either low-skilled or semi-skilled, without formal education.
They are an integral part of the economy. India is home to more than 450 million blue-collar workers, most of whom are a part of the gig economy, where they frequently shift jobs. As India transitions from an agrarian to industrialised economy, there will be a continued surge in demand for these workers in various sectors.
Even against this backdrop, there is a huge technology gap in hiring, managing and retaining this distributed, less connected, and comparatively older blue-collar workforce. However, companies can no longer just adapt their white-collar HRMS for the blue-collar workforce. A whole new strategy is required to engage and retain them.
Hiring Remains a Challenge in the Sector
The pandemic has revealed that, despite all talks of automation, blue-collar jobs will continue to be relevant. As green shoots appear on the horizon for the Indian economy, many sectors are recruiting at an accelerated pace. For instance, according to a survey, 90% of companies in Bengaluru and 86% of companies in Mumbai expressed their intent to increase the hiring of blue-collar employees from Q3 2020 onwards.
Over 73% of blue-collar employees in India migrate to a different state in search of work. But how do the migrant workers in remote areas know about relevant job opportunities?
The current manual processes for hiring, which include classified ads, word-of-mouth, and agencies consume a lot of time and resources. These methods are not only incredibly time-consuming but also very costly. Take agencies, for instance. Despite their high charges, there is little transparency in their dealings with blue-collar workers. The benefits from the companies are not always passed on to the workers, impacting their retention rates and motivation levels to perform. In fact, the interference of such intermediaries has triggered blue-collar worker unrest in many parts of the country.
To grow and scale with speed, companies need tools to deploy large-scale campaigns and access a supply of skilled and semi-skilled employees in local areas. Organised hiring processes will also protect these workers from being exploited by middlemen and local agencies, which charge exorbitant fees and yet never find suitable employment for them.
The Right Onboarding Can Increase Retention
CXOs of large organisations recognise that effective onboarding lays a foundation for the future success of their employees and increases their retention. In fact, companies with a strong onboarding process are able to improve new hire retention by as much as 82% and productivity by more than 70%, according to a Brandon Hall Group report. This is the reason onboarding is considered a key feature in the HRMS for the retention and growth of executives.
The case is very different for blue-collar workers, which is why companies are unable to fully integrate them into the work processes. The challenges stem from the fact that most companies hire a large number of such workers, many of whom are distributed. They may have varying degrees of knowledge and special needs. At the same time, blue-collar workers are now better informed, thanks to the rapid dissemination of information due to low data costs and falling prices of mobile phones. They are adopting technology into their everyday life.
What is needed is a simple, mobile-based workflow, which blue-collar employees can use to onboard themselves and become familiar with the process at a faster pace. The tech solution needs to allow rapid and easy onboarding, since companies may hire a large number of blue-collar workers within a short span of time. Technology can increase operational efficiency by 30%. Considering the magnitude of blue-collar hires, this spells huge productivity gains for an organisation.
Upskilling is Essential to Close the Skill Gap and More
Blue-collar workers have been marginalised for years. They don’t have the required skills to perform their jobs. In 2015, a report found that 66% of Indian plumbers cannot handle real-world situations with knowledge and analytical reasoning. Sophisticated HRMS continue to be skewed towards white-collar workers and don’t take into account the training needs of blue-collar workers. Also, there is huge scope in developing the interpersonal and communication skills of these workers. Over 47% of employers hiring for blue-collar jobs in 2021 are prioritising communication skills, while 35% are looking for functional skills.
Upskilling is an area where engagement can be built, and organisations are investing in the education of semi-skilled workers to promote them to the supervisory cadre. Digital learning investments in the blue-collar segment are expected to increase from 20% in 2020 to 30-60% in the next three to five years.
The need of the hour is simple AI-based training modules, where employees can learn at their own pace every day. Workers can find the most suitable programs to acquire career-specific skills to become competent in their required fields. Such upskilling and engagement initiatives not only boost productivity, but also can reduce the annualised attrition rate by 40%-50%.
Attendance and Rostering
Managing the attendance of blue-collar employees, who often work at remote locations, can become a major challenge. Attendance management is critical, as it allows companies to calculate payments, minimise employee downtime, and identify the more committed workers for future contracts.
The HRMS solutions for white-collar workers are mostly unsuitable for attendance management of blue-collar employees. A solution that is simple and integrates with facial recognition can offer a quick and easy way of recording attendance, eliminating human errors and manipulations. Moreover, this is a far more effective way of tracking each worker’s performance and mapping this to salary calculations and disbursals.
Rather than trying to adapt their white-collar HRMS to include blue-collar workers, organisations need to find simple, mobile-based solutions that can be quickly customised to their unique needs and circumstances.