Nashik, April 20 (IANS/ 101Reporters) Santosh Kangane from Gulwanch village in Nashik was in his final year of engineering when the lockdown was imposed. Like scores of others, he feared he would drown in the pool of the growing unemployment figure in the country, amid the pandemic.
“After high school, my friends advised me not to choose engineering, as many remained unemployed even after graduating. But my parents had a lot of expectations from me, and I decided to pursue engineering,” said the 23-year-old.
However, his anxiety dissipated after he landed a job in Wipro in 2021 – when the pandemic was still raging and most companies were struggling to stay afloat.
“I didn’t think I’d find a job so quickly, especially when the lockdown had slowed down the economy,” Kangane added.
After Covid-19 broke out across the world in 2020, students and job aspirants were seemingly staring at a bleak future. Companies had imposed a freeze on recruitments, and many had started laying off employees.
But it was relatively smooth sailing for students from the rural areas of Nashik who completed their engineering course in 2020 and 2021. Most managed to secure jobs in the information technology (IT) sector.
Harshal Awhad from Nimgaon in rural Nashik was part of this lucky bunch. He studied mechanical engineering and got placed in Cognizant after completing another six-month course.
“I had never imagined I’d get a job during Covid times. I realised there was a huge manpower demand in the IT sector and cashed in,” the 21-year-old told 101Reporters.
A digital shift
In recent years, hiring in the IT sector saw an unexpected surge. In fact, the country’s four major IT service providers Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys, Wipro and HCL Technologies, which employ more than one-fourth of India’s total workforce recruited around 1,20,000 freshers in FY22, according to News18.
Furthermore, TCS, Wipro, HCL Technologies and Infosys ramped up their hiring in the second quarter of FY22 and recruited over 50,000 people. This took their total recruitments to more than one lakh (1,02,517) in the first six months of the financial year.
While one may wonder how such employment opportunities cropped up at IT firms, at a time when most companies were laying off large chunks of their workforce, the human resources department of Wipro attributes it to the spurt of digitalisation.
“The IT sector was expected to offer vacancies in five to 10 years, but the lockdown expedited the process,” said a Wipro human resources executive, requesting anonymity. “Everything moved online – from banking and shopping to education and offices. This opened up more job opportunities for fresh engineering graduates from rural areas.”
Moreover, the introduction of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic – an added effect of digitalisation – also increased pressure on the IT sector, calling for more hands on deck and ushering in a spike in recruitment.
“Direct campus recruitment rose due to the increased workload,” explained Suraj Roy from the HR department of Mindtree. “Companies are trying to get work done by hiring and training freshers. The recruitment process is the same, but hirings are now being done on a larger scale.”
Spotlight on the talent
Lending another perspective to this spike in IT recruitments from rural Nashik, NASSCOM Vice President (Industry Initiatives) KS Vishwanathan attributes it to more than just the newly adopted work-from-home model of operation.
Speaking to 101Reporters, he said there’s a larger strategic plan to take work to where the talent is – a plan that was accelerated into action by the advent of Covid. The IT industry’s discovery of digital talent in what he called “emerging towns” – Nashik among them – was sharp and quick. Vishwanathan said it allowed the workforce, scattered by the lockdown and often residents of Tier-2 cities and small towns, to rejoin work.
“This trend will continue,” he added, on work being redirected from the existing IT hubs of India. “NASSCOM is working with state and central governments to develop the next 10-15 cities in the country as micro IT hubs, taking their number from eight to 20. In fact, IT companies part of NASSCOM reported that during Covid, IT services were being delivered from 170 different locations across India. The push now is on developing these centres into hubs.”
This hiring spree made one Hrishikesh Bodke’s dream a reality. He graduated in civil engineering in 2021. As the pandemic had severely affected the construction sector, he had applied for a job in the IT sector and was hired by Capgemini.
“My job will make my parents’ and my life better,” said the 22-year-old from Nashik’s Nimgaon.
Furthermore, Vishakha Shankar, a talent acquisition specialist at Pen Mark, an IT firm in Pune, said the company had been receiving a much higher bulk of job applications since the Covid outbreak – more than 150 job applications a day, a significant spike from 20 to 25 a day earlier. She also alluded to another reason why aspirants from rural Nashik landed jobs amid such economic turbulence in India.
“Companies hire on the basis of skill and quality, but rural youth have comparatively lower salary expectations,” she said. “I’ve also observed that rural youth work harder than those from urban areas.”
Advantage for women
In addition to added opportunities for the rural youth, the introduction of the work-from-home model has benefitted women tremendously. Often the victim of familial pressures, being disallowed from working because it involved travelling or moving to another city, this new normal in the IT sector altered the course of their lives.
Take Sarika Gangurde, for instance. Her life changed after she was offered a job at TCS, Pune.
“Child marriages are common in rural areas, and my hometown is no different. My friends got married when they were 15 or 16. But today, I earn around Rs 27,000 a month,” said the 22-year-old from Malegaon, Nashik. “This job not only made me financially independent, but also freed me from the shackles of patriarchy.”
In fact, IT firms also retained many of their female employees by giving them the option to work remotely.
“Looking at the problems that women from rural areas face, we gave some of them the freedom to work from home permanently,” said Roy.
(The author is a Nashik-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)