May 30, 2020
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The Great Indian Workout

Jobs are for the asking in the sunrise industry. As for striking out on your own, the time is as good as any.

The Great Indian Workout
Jitender Gupta
The Great Indian Workout
Not too far ahead in the future, historians like Eric Hobsbawm will term the beginning of this century as the age of contradictions. On the one hand, the global village has been wrecked by uncertainties. People aren’t sure about their lives, jobs or even whether their nuclear families will stick together. And on the other, technological volcanoes wait to erupt and throw up lava, spurting with the seeds of lucrative opportunities. This is especially true of the fast-changing global job market.

As one Delhi-based headhunter described it, "The current job scene is filled with rampant optimism." And then he adds that almost every company seems to be "buying people" these days. Our optimist headhunter hasn’t really revealed sensitive information on shady defence deals, so what explains his hesitation to come on record? While he is still sure about the future, there is the apprehension that he might be forced to eat crow due to short-term titanic events.

"It will just take an Iraq war for the party to end," says Rajeev Thakur, ceo, Grassik Consultants, who quickly adds that the Indian job market has expanded by 30-40 per cent since last year. (Sadly, there has been no simultaneous jump in salaries; in these chaotic times, when consultants predict a mere 10 per cent average increase this year, a 15 cent hike is considered major!) So, what’s really happening out there and what kind of jobs are up for grabs?

Look out to the Rising Sun
Well, old economy giants may be waking up to recruit a few people but the action is clearly in the so-called sunrise sectors. Admits Jayadev Parthasarthy of Footprints Search, "In the last couple of months, hiring picked up across sectors, but the growth was (still) led by the sunrise industries." And the predictions for future potential are mind-boggling. The IT-enabled services (ITES) segment, which includes call centres, has already provided jobs to over a lakh people. By 2008, it could add another million jobs, if a joint Nasscom-McKinsey study is to be believed.

The figure could be even higher, if one takes into account a recent study which states that 70 per cent of all global ITES work will ultimately be outsourced to India. Apart from the booming business—expected to grow to $20-25 billion by 2008—a 50 per cent attrition rate in ITES forces firms to hire on a continuous basis. For example, GE, which annually hires nearly 7,000 people in Delhi alone, is forced to hire at least 300 a month merely to tackle the attrition.

So, the queue for call centre and bpo jobs is lengthening by the day. Meet Reshma Taranum, 25-year-old team leader at iSeva Systems, a Bangalore-based call centre. With a Rs 2.4-lakh annual packet (excluding perks), she chooses to work the graveyard shifts. Her logic: it allows her to crash out at 4.30 am, get up by 12.30 noon, and still have a part of the day to herself before reporting to work at 6.30 pm. "I can still contribute more to household chores, and do some personal work. Although my family feels I spend less time with them, it’s OK since I’m unmarried," she explains.

ITES is not the only happening area. Retail, insurance and telecom are also throwing up immense job opportunities. Today, the Rs 18,000-crore retail segment employs 35-40 million people directly or indirectly. And the organised retailers, who account for only 2 per cent of the market, could hire another two lakh people over the next three years. After all, large corporate houses like the Tatas, Piramals and itc are already in the business (over 250 new malls are expected to come up in the next two years). And, if the government allows fdi in retail, global brands like WalMart will also be eyeing the lucrative Indian market.

Given the fact that insurance is tipped to become a $25-billion industry by 2010, it continues to throw up opportunities on a mass scale, especially for agents. Several private insurers have been known to hire up to 2,000 agents a month. The current pool of 8.5 lakh agents in the country is estimated to grow by 2 lakh per annum over the next few years. Moreover, as Ritu Nanda, LIC’s most successful agent, puts it: "The job allows a person to be his/her own boss since one can work according to one’s own wishes."

Yet another area, where you can get similar flexibility, is telecom. Apart from working regular office hours for ‘telcos’, there’s the option of becoming a dealer. Reliance Infocomm is believed to be recruiting agents and in-house executives "like mad". In fact, its manpower requirement could be 36,000 people over the next three years. Apart from agents, says Dony Kuriakose of Edge Consultants, "the demand for salespeople will rise since there’ll be new products and services to sell".

A case in point: Pramit Jaiswal, a 27-year-old lad from Meerut who was selling home loans till recently, is already thinking big after getting a Reliance Infocomm dealership. "I want to earn in lakhs," he says, "and if this is successful, I’ll try to become a franchisee for other Reliance products. Maybe, even own a Reliance petrol pump at some stage." At the moment, however, he expects to earn Rs 20,000-30,000 from the Infocomm deal. His aggression’s evident from the fact that he wanted us to publish his phone number to get some free publicity.

Don’t Worry about Skills
The best thing about the sunrise jobs today is that most of them are ‘low-skilled’. The call centres mostly recruit "agents", the people who answer customers’ calls (or call up potential customers), whose starting salary even in a top-notch company like GE would range between Rs 6,000-10,000 a month. Retailers require shopfloor supervisors, whose income would be less than Rs 20,000, or just part-time helpers. However, a manager in a mall could earn up to Rs 50,000 a month. Insurance agents may be better placed as private firms are sounding them out with figures like Rs 25,000-50,000 a month in the metros. "A decade ago, there were hardly any opportunities for a fresh graduate; the IT-enabled industry has changed that," says Sanjeev Bikchandani, ceo of

In fact, for these jobs, it may be better if you don’t have any skills. For, the company can then train you according to their needs. To cite one example, a call centre agent may be either dealing with a US client or a British one. In both cases, the accent needs to be different and requires different training. Or you may be dealing with telemarketing of white goods or auto products, for which you need a different knowledge base. That explains why ITES firms have to constantly train their employees on new skills.

Kartikeyan, 24, too went through such training before joining a call centre in Bangalore. A commerce graduate, he feels that ITES provides better opportunities to make money and growth through the hierarchy. Just 18 months into his second job, he’s already talking about becoming an assistant manager. And to remain a step ahead, he is trying to get an mba degree through a correspondence course. (Just see how he is not even worried where he’s getting the degree from.)

So, it looks like anyone who can speak English and is a graduate can hope to work for ITES companies. In fact, that’s exactly what happened during the software boom, when people from all walks of life got the opportunity to become coders and programmers. In Hyderabad, commerce graduates, bus conductors, sons of rich farmers, everyone got the chance to fly down to the US and work as on-site engineers for Fortune 500 firms. Now the domestic job arena is open.

It should be added here that this does not mean that the job market is bad for those who possess professional degrees or have tried to acquire technical or scientific skills. Take the case of biotechnology, where recruitment is hectic as India becomes the R&D hub of the world and global giants shift their research activities to Indian labs. In fact, the problem here is that there’s a huge unfulfilled demand for top-end scientific personnel. Unfortunately, the country still doesn’t churn out enough doctorates in, say, mammology or microbiology.

Think Individual, go SoHo
One overriding trend is that more and more people wish to become their own bosses and work from home. Insurance agents, telecom franchisees and others all want to be on their own. Take the case of Rachel Sonny Abraham, 42, who’s now an agent for ICICI Prudential Insurance. In her long career, she’s been forced to quit jobs several times for personal reasons. First, it was her marriage. Then, when she came to India from Kuwait, and twice again when she had children.

Later, she took up a regular job at a bank in Dubai when her husband was transferred there, but four years later she had to quit again once the family decided to go back to India. Sick of all this, Abraham decided to work as an agent for ICICI Prudential since it gave her the freedom to work from home. Says she: "It’s difficult to get back to a regular job because I have got used to the comfort of working at my own pace, no boss to answer to every day and no daily deadlines to meet."

But the more important trend that’s emerging is that people now want to run their own businesses, especially as the services sector is booming. Today, it constitutes nearly half of India’s gdp. With banks willing to dole out loans to the self-employed, even money is not a problem anymore. A few examples to illustrate how people are either chucking their regular jobs to start their "own thing", or are not even considering the former and choosing the latter option.

Ramesh Siral is 35, father of three daughters, and his family’s sole bread-earner. A decade ago, he came to Delhi from Almora and joined a computer peripherals company. But his so-called "regular" job was anything but regular as he had to keep extremely odd hours and hardly got a chance to see his family when he came back home. Five years ago, he decided to do his own thing, and became a grey-market assembler of computer systems and supplier of computer peripherals.

Over time, he’s developed a network of clients who depend on him for all their computer-related needs. Today, he makes a neat Rs 20,000 a month and, till recently, owned a Tata Sumo although he drives around in a two-wheeler for work. He expects his income to increase in the near future as the demand for home computers is increasing every day. He’s now thinking of employing a few workers, expand his business into telecom products and become a convergence vendor.

Now meet the daughter-in-law, mom-in-law pair of Rina and Anita Karer, who run a South Indian food joint, Dosas & More, in Delhi’s Punjabi Bagh. They chose dosas because it’s a great hit with all age-groups and this west Delhi colony is known for robust eaters with huge disposable incomes. Says Rina, "Plus, real estate in south Delhi is far too expensive, but in Punjabi Bagh we managed to get prime space for much less."

An MA (economics) who once ran a PR firm besides spending a year with an NGO, Rina is a foodie herself; her mom-in-law Anita also runs a successful Airtel agency. "We toyed with the idea of opening a lifestyle store but found there was no business like the food business." Both also decided against a canteen-like outfit. So, Dosas & More has modern interiors and designer cutlery, but despite its upmarket ambience, the prices are down-to-earth. With an initial investment of Rs 15 lakh, it made an operating profit within the first month itself. "The going has been good and we already have offers to franchise the restaurant," says Rina, all smiles. She has reasons to be happy since the food business is witnessing an unprecedented boom, across cities and towns. In Delhi alone, about 30 restaurants have opened in the past few months, not counting the numerous pubs, bowling alleys, malls and multiplexes that invariably have eating outlets.

The examples of Rina, Anita and Siral are now being emulated by lakhs of people across the country. In the bargain, they are changing the economic landscape of the country. By the end of the second decade of this century, don’t be surprised if the self-employed, the part-timers, and the SoHos drive the job market as services become the key driver of the economy.

By Gauri Bhatia with Arindam Mukherjee and Archana Rai in Bangalore

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