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what makes digital hiring startup Apna bullish on the India story?

For India, the gig economy is not a new concept. Our everyday carpenters, plumbers, electricians, domestic helps fall under the category and have been operative since centuries. However, as more and more young people enrol into the system aided by the digital boom and the ‘new normal’ working dynamics, India is in a significant position to become the largest gig economy in the world. 

Though at an infancy stage as compared to the global scenario where the gig economy is much more evolved with new-age AI-driven discovery, learning, upskilling platforms operating to help solve problems for gig workers, the country is up for a strong start. 

Thanks to the pandemic, perhaps, for the first time the ‘gig economy’ model is actually being seen as a solid proposition by Indian businesses, legacy included. 

“One of the major factors that would propel the gig economy’s growth would be the rise of the younger generation, who are open to adopting new technologies and tools, joining the forces, and the buzzing Indian startup ecosystem,” said Ronak Shah, Head of Data Strategy at Apna, the digital hiring startup that has been at the forefront of connecting blue and grey-collared workers to employers, spanning over 28 cities in India.

Ronak was speaking at YourStory’s Future of Work 2022, as he shared some key perspectives into the Indian burgeoning gig economy space.  

According to a report by BCG (Boston Consulting Group), India has about 15 million gig workers and the number is likely to touch 90 million and contribute to almost 1.25 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) in the next few years. 

“That is insane. There is no question that we would probably be the world’s biggest gig economy,” said Ronak, who himself operates from Silicon Valley for India-based Apna.  

Why are businesses preferring gig workers and vice versa?

There are three key factors as to why businesses are getting increasingly attracted towards gig workers or visa versa. 

The primary factor is access. Back in the day it was extremely hard to get good opportunities and talent across the world. With the pandemic, the world has opened up and access to opportunity is just a click away!

The flexibility factor is as critical as access. In a traditional job setup, one remains stuck with the nature of a full-time job — its rigid timing and salary structures for a long period of time with almost no flexibility. With the gig economy, people, especially women and students, get the much-needed flexibility that allows them to work at their own pace.

The third factor is that of fairness or return on investment (ROI). In the traditional world, an employee is paid a flat salary as compared to payment on the basis of transactions under the gig model. The worker is rewarded on the amount of work they do that ensures fairness and an ROI for the amount and nature of effort they put in. 

“Even from a business standpoint, the gig economy allows employers to easily ramp up and ramp down their resources based on the business needs and they don’t have to worry about the fixed costs, which they typically incur with full-time workers. You can maintain the unit economics of the business. This creates a win-win situation for both sides,” said Ronak.

Leveraging technology 

There is an entire ecosystem at play in a gig economy. This includes upskilling, community building and job marketplaces. 

The role of technology in all three becomes paramount, especially in evaluating the present skills of people and what they need for a particular job and learning. 

At the end of the day, it also needs to be ensured that people are able to find the right content, remain motivated, and are able to showcase those skills in the market. 

“We have got to build the right product that helps people find the right job at the right place, time and with a salary they deserve matching the skills they have. This can be done only through technology,” explained Ronak. 

The marketplaces have a huge role to play here. With recommendation chains and personalisation, people are able to find a job much more easily and faster, at the same time employers are able to catch the right talent, not based on ‘guts’ but ‘data-driven’ decision making. 

Ronak cited the example of how things work at Apna. The users at Apna are asked to take a quick 30-second quiz that allows them to showcase their skills in a particular domain and the employers get an insight into where the talent stands while hiring. 

“We recently launched an employer-candidate communication. This helps us make sure that we reward the right sets of behaviour and close the loop between job seekers and employers. These are some of the ways AI (artificial intelligence) and data can help the world of gig economy,” he added. 

The network effect

Elaborating on community building and its importance to push the gig economy, Ronak touched upon the “network effect” at play at job marketplaces, including Apna.  

“At Apna, we are leveraging the network effect, which has been created through community and helping people have peer learning through vertical communities, which we have created on the platform. We have a lot of hyperlocal focus on these communities and that is playing a role in helping people learn and grow,” he said. 

This is exactly where the role of technology comes in as it helps connect like-minded people with a global mindset but a hyperlocal focus.

“People around us are extremely important to help us up [our] level professionally. Hence, community plays a impotent role in gig economy,” he added. 

Soft skills at the core 

Having worked in the education sector for about five years before joining Apna, Ronak evaluated the evolving dynamics of the education system laying greater focus on upskilling and reskilling. 

“The prerequisite of having a degree to get employed is fading. Employers today truly care about skills required to do a job. This is where the world of education is also evolving, in terms of skilling and upskilling,” he said. 

Amongst various skills required to be a successful gig worker, “soft skills” tops the chart. “There are a lot of soft skills required to be a gig worker. Also required is a worker’s comfort and adaptability in using the new-age tools,” he added.  

At present, the professional networking platform is heavily investing in product development, geographic expansions, scaling tech teams and is looking at hiring close to 400 people in the next six months. 

“Gig economy is here to stay. We have been hearing that talent is distributed but opportunities are not. What the pandemic has taught is that opportunities can be distributed as well. This is what is going to define the future of work. Companies are going to hire on a need basis; small workers are going to become micro-entrepreneurs and roles are going to depend on the level of involvement which each of these roles require,” signed off Ronak. 

Edited by Sanhati Banerjee

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