Skills for the Planetary Labour Market: Indian Workers in the Platform Economy - Fairwork
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2 Table of Contents 1. List of Abbreviations 3 2. List of Boxes, Figures and Tables 3 3. Introduction and Summary 4 3.1. Key Findings 4 3.2. Policy Recommendations for Development Cooperation 7 4. Research Context 8 4.1. Cloudwork and the Planetary Labour Market 8 4.2. Skills for Cloudwork 9 4.3. Platform Workforces in India 11 4.4. Skills Training Systems in India 12 5. Methods 16 5.1. Research Questions 16 5.2. Research Design 15 5.3. Sample 18 6. Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic 19 6.1. The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impacts on Cloudworkers and Cloudwork 19 6.2. Interpreting Research Findings 22 7. Developing Skills for Cloudwork 23 7.1. Useful Skills for Cloudwork 24 7.2. Skills Developed on-the-job 24 7.3. Skills Developed during Leisure Time 25 7.4. Learning Activities 29 8. Strategies and Obstacles for Skills Development 32 8.1. Self-directed vs Collaborative Learning Activities 32 8.2. Obstacles to Undertaking Skills Development 34 8.3. Strategies to Overcome Obstacles 35 9. The Platform Economy and Skills Training 37 9.1. Cloudwork and the Indian Skills Ecosystem 37 9.2. Continuities and Discontinuities 42 10. Conclusion: Policy Recommendations for Development Cooperation 49 11. Appendix A: Methodology Note 54 12. Credits and Funding 62 13. References 63
3 1. List of Abbreviations 2. List of Boxes, Figures and Tables BMZ Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (Germany) Boxes CEO Chief Executive Officer In Focus: Platform Profile Ratings DGT Directorate General of Training In Focus: Working while Having Caring Responsibilities FAQ Frequently Asked Questions GDP Gross Domestic Product Figures GIZ Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH Figure 1. The Distribution of the Indian Internet Users by Gender and Age in 2019 HIT Human Intelligence Task (a task on Amazon Figure 2. Yearly Central Government Budget Allocation Mechanical Turk) for Skills Development HR Human Relations Figure 3. Geographic Distribution of Survey Respondents ILO International Labour Organisation Figure 4. Sign-ups on Cloudwork Platforms during the IT Information Technologies COVID-19 Pandemic Figure 5. Time Spent on Cloudwork Platforms during the ITeS Information Technology Enabled Services COVID-19 Pandemic ITI Industrial Training Institute Figure 6. Skill Categories Perceived Useful for Work on MSDE Ministry of Skill Development and the Platform Entrepreneurship Figure 7. Skill Categories Developed while Working on the MTurk Amazon Mechanical Turk Platform Figure 8. Skill Categories Developed during Leisure Time NASSCOM National Association of Software and Service Companies Figure 9. Learning Activities Undertaken by Workers Figure 10. Learning Activities that Workers were Unable to NCVET National Council of Vocational Education and Undertake Training Figure 11. Screenshot from the eSkill India Portal Website NGO Non-Governmental Organisation Figure 12. Attitudes about the Indian Government NSDC National Skill Development Corporation Figure 13. Screenshot from Upwork Blog NSQF National Skills Qualification Framework Figure 14. Screenshot from Freelancer Website PLU Platform-led Upskilling Figure 15. Screenshot from the GigIndia Website PM Prime Minister Figure 16. Mixed-Methods Research Design Figure 17. Sample Characteristics PMKVY Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana RASCI Retailers Association’s Skill Council of India SSC Sector Skill Council Tables TVET Technical and Vocational Education and Training Table 1. Summary of Included Platforms UNESCO United Nations Educational, Scientific and Table 2. Platform and Gender Distribution of Survey Cultural Organization Respondents UNEVOC UNESCO International Centre for Technical and Table 3. Typology of Skills Vocational Education and Training Table 4. Typology of Learning Activities UNFPA United Nations Population Fund Table 5. Platforms, Informal Work and Vocational Training: Implications for TVET WEF World Economic Forum Table 6. Overview of Stakeholder Interview Participants
4 3. Introduction Methodologically, we structure our empirical inquiry of the five research questions around a mixed-methods and Summary research approach, combining quantitative and qualitative methods to collect and analyze our data. The qualitative phase included semi-structured interviews With 560 million internet users, India is the second with 12 leading TVET stakeholders, largest digital market in the world. People between including experts from India’s National 20 and 39 years of age represent just over half of the Skill Development Cooperation and country’s internet users. This means that workers sector skill councils, as well as platform located in India may overcome some of the constraints managers, among others. We additionally carried out 31 in-depth interviews with of their local labour markets by using digital labour Indian platform workers. The quantitative platforms to take part in a planetary labour market. So, phase involved the development of a for many of these young internet users, digital labour novel survey instrument, which was platforms provide an essential income and much- administered to over 400 Indian platform needed opportunity to improve their livelihoods. Given workers across four platforms, and representing the two different types of the potentially important job opportunities offered cloudwork: microwork and freelancing. We by this planetary labour market, there is a need to included one microwork platform (Amazon understand how Indian workers view and expand their Mechanical Turk) and three freelancing skills portfolios in relation to their platform work, and platforms—which included two global platforms (Upwork and Freelancer) and unveil the points of leverage where existing training one Indian platform (Truelancer). initiatives by governmental, private and third-sector actors may need to be adapted to meet their needs. Before presenting our empirical evidence, we first set the stage for our This report focuses on five key research study by situating it vis-a-vis relevant literature and insights on the relationship questions: between cloudwork platforms and skills development in India, in section 4. We 1. What are the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indian pay particular attention to defining cloudworkers and the cloudwork landscape? cloudwork and skills for cloudwork, discussing the demographics of India’s 2. What skills are particularly relevant for cloudworkers in India and platform workforce, and introducing the how are they acquired? country’s extant skills training systems. We distinguish between government-led 3. What factors support or limit cloudworkers in acquiring the skills skills training, platform-led skills training, they need for their work, and what strategies do they use to private skills training, and skills training overcome obstacles? beyond organisations. 4. What connections and interactions exist between the platform On that basis, we describe the impacts economy, informal work and skills training? that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Indian cloudworkers (RQ1) in section 5. What conclusions can be drawn for future skills training 6. In section 7, we elucidate which skills approaches, in particular for development cooperation? are particularly relevant for cloudwork in India while investigating the differences across the four platforms and between women and men (RQ2). Section 8 closely
5 examines what factors support or will grow in importance compared to Upwork focusing on learning skills, and constrain cloudworkers in acquiring the traditional employment arrangements MTurk workers spending their leisure skills they have identified as important to as a result of the pandemic. This time developing computer literacy and develop for their work and what strategies corresponds with the finding that analytical skills. they employ in order to overcome more companies are beginning to obstacles (RQ3). In section 9, we outline outsource parts of their business • Similarly, differences in skill the connections between the platform operations to temporarily engaged development between genders were economy, informal work, and skills training cloudworkers. also somewhat more pronounced (RQ4). Section 10 draws conclusions for skills developed during leisure from the findings and offers practical time than during cloudwork. Women recommendations for development 3.1.2. Skills for Cloudwork were slightly more likely to develop cooperation, as well as to inform the both hard and soft skills on each emerging policy landscape that governs • Indian cloudworkers find a variety platform while working, with the gap cloudwork in India (RQ5). of skills to be useful for their somewhat wider when considering work on online labour platforms. communication and organizational 3.1. Key Findings Communication skills, technical skills, skills. During leisure time female survey platform-related skills, and learning respondents focused on language skills, skills are particularly valued. computer literacy, and organizational 3.1.1. Impacts of COVID-19 on skills, while the men tended to focus Cloudwork • Indian cloudworkers tend to develop on improving communication, analytical, different kinds of skills during their and technical skills. work on platforms and during leisure • Since the pandemic started, there has been a marked surge in new time. Respondents indicated a greater • Respondents reported that their overall focus on soft skills developed rationales for on- and off-platform sign-ups on cloudwork platforms. during cloudwork with communication skills development varied, as Across platforms, 18% of the survey skills, personal dispositions, and skills developed while working are respondents reported that they only organizational skills being developed either needed to complete the job started working on the platform at least weekly by over 80% of the successfully or otherwise directly where they were surveyed after respondents. During leisure time benefit platform work, but developing the pandemic started, often due to respondents instead focused on skills during leisure time entails a difficult circumstances that arose as a developing technical skills and learning further investment of resources into result of the pandemic. skills, as well as platform-related skills. training skills that are more challenging • 62% of veteran cloudworkers reported to develop during platform work, that they are spending more time • While the board patterns of skill but which have expected utility for development are related across the platform work. working or looking for work since the four platforms, we saw more variation pandemic started—though workers’ ability to dedicate more time to between platforms in terms of skills • Across platforms, workers had similar developed during leisure time than motivations for developing skills: platform work may be constrained with skills developed on-the-job. for instance whereas technical skills by their working environment, caring During cloudwork, the workers on were developed with an expectation responsibilities, etc. MTurk tend to differ in relation to the of leading to more clients and higher workers on the other three platforms, paying jobs, languages were developed • A recurring experience that survey developing language skills and with the hope of facilitating finding respondents and interviewees from computer literacy relatively more often work and building a better rapport across all platforms reported was that and technical skills and most soft skills with clients. they were facing substantially more less often than the workers on other competition, and were able to secure platforms. During leisure time the fewer jobs, during this past year. focus of skill development varies more with workers on Truelancer tending • 79% of all survey respondents agreed to focus on soft skills, workers on or strongly agreed that cloudwork
6 3.1.3. Strategies and enable them to locate and access others. Platforms do often Obstacles for Skills low-cost learning activities that have mechanisms for workers Development align with their goals. to showcase their skills on their profiles, but portability of platform- • Workers face significant challenges • Survey respondents were also specific skills credentials (as well as accessing and undertaking learning asked to reflect on the reasons work history and ratings) is limited, activities, particularly in the absence why they were unable to undertake and leads to ‘locking in’ workers onto of support from platforms. Since some of the learning activities they particular platforms. cloudwork can be highly independent, indicated they wanted to take. Time the exchange of tacit knowledge, like emerged as the central constraint • Whether workers can make use of strategies for managing cloudwork to undertaking learning activities their “off-platform” experiences through on-platform interaction across all platforms. Time in these and their educational background can be limited. Platforms tend to be instances referred to several issues to increase their success “on- designed to support individualised, including a lack of time due to caring platform” depends on a variety of not collaborative work. Furthermore, responsibilities and the need to aspects: the platform interface and learning outside of platform work make an income. This was followed its work allocation method; the type hours can come at a high cost to closely by financial constraints to of task or gig; the expectations of workers who are aware of the undertaking paid activities or missing clients; and the form of education trade-off between investment work opportunities. Another key or experience. There is no simple and income, one that does not issue was a lack of information and answer to the question of how always even out. The willingness to awareness of potential places to education and experience shape, invest in developing skills in leisure undertake learning activities, which and are shaped by, the interactions time can be tied to the limited was also linked to a lack of time to between platforms, informal work development opportunities offered look for these resources as well as and skills training, requiring tailored by platforms, and is indeed one area a lack of guidance and mentorship. evidence-based solutions for where workers expressed significant Together, these three reasons were building one’s profile when joining interest in having the third sector given, in combination or alone, by and fostering upskilling on the basis provide support. the majority survey respondents of different platform types. when asked why they were unable • Respondents reported generally to undertake the learning activities • Irrespective of workers’ education and favouring self-directed learning despite expressing an interest in background and significant differences activities over collaborative learning doing so. between platforms when it comes to activities. Among the groups of reputation systems a common theme learning activities, workers engaged to emerge from these interviews is 3.1.4. The Platform Economy therefore the need for a standard, most often in individual self- and Skills Training preferably platform-specific, skills directed learning activities and in platform-specific learning activities. training course that provides basic • While skills development is a key information about profile building. Taking paid online courses, webinars priority for the Indian government, Against the backdrop of workers’ or tutorials was a specific challenge, cloudworkers have been a blind spot lived experiences, it’s vital to improve and one that was also particularly in government-led TVET approaches. the portability of their profiles and felt by women survey respondents. There are numerous initiatives reputation or create external portals Even when respondents indicated spread across the Indian skills in which workers can show off their the desire to undertake learning ecosystem aiming to impart digital qualifications and experiences, without activities, they faced challenges skills, but none of them specifically being restricted to one particular digital finding the financial and logistical target cloudworkers, nor impart labour platform. support to develop skills, an platform-specific skills. investment that workers did not always feel able to make. This may indicate that workers require more • Platforms engage in very limited direct skills training, though structural forms of support to some platforms do more than
7 3.2. Policy Recommendations for Development Cooperation 1. Engage with, and encourage the growth of, cloudworker networks and communities. 2. Convince platforms to support and invest in cloudworkers’ skills development. 3. Support the adjustment of existing institutional mechanisms to better cater for cloudworkers. 4. Support the creation of platform-specific training courses. 5. Advocate for a jurisdiction-spanning policy environment that would improve cloudworkers’ access to skills development. 6. Include access to skills development for cloudworkers in legislative action to foster due diligence in global supply chains. 7. Support further research and develop pedagogical tools to share knowledge about cloudwork. An Upwork worker at her desk
8 4. Research Context 4.1.1. Selective Formalisation Cloudwork must be situated in an empirical context in which huge numbers 4.1. Cloudwork and When referring to platforms, it is vital of workers around the world are engaged to be clear about definitions. Different the Planetary Labour ideas of what platforms are and what in non-standard and vulnerable forms of employment characterized by low pay Market they do entail various assumptions and no social protection—accounting about what development actors should for two billion people, or almost There are now over 50 million platform do about them. In other words, how we two thirds of the global workforce workers who live all over the world, define platforms doesn’t just shape (ILO, 2021). Standard employment is doing work that is outsourced via digital our analytical perspectives but also our traditionally defined as work that is labour platforms or apps. It has been policy repertoire. In this report, we focus full-time, indefinite, and that includes predicted that by 2025, one-third of all on the second type of platform work, statutory benefits and entitlements. In labour transactions will be mediated cloudwork, and therefore use the term many places, including India, cloudwork by digital labour platforms (Standing, ‘cloudworkers’ to refer to people who find is typically regarded as less secure 2016). A ‘digital labour platform’ is a work remotely through labour-broking than standard employment, owing to company that uses digital resources cloudwork platforms, regardless of their the overwhelming proportion of self- to mediate value-creating labour employment status (e.g. employees employed workers on these platforms. interactions between consumers and or independent contractors).1 Digital This status quo frequently leaves individual service-providing workers. platforms like Airbnb or eBay—where workers poorly integrated into social goods are exchanged—or social media protection schemes, uncovered by key platforms like Instagram are explicitly labour law legislation governing minimum Digital labour platforms include two not included within this definition. wages, unable to collectively bargain, broad types (Woodcock & Graham, 2019). In the first, geographically- and with limited opportunities for skills Cloudwork has also been called development—all things that may be tethered work, platforms require a ‘crowdwork’, ‘online gig work’, and ‘online acutely dangerous for the economically job to be done in a particular place freelancing’ (Schwellnus et al., 2019). A precarious (Heeks et al., 2020). (e.g. delivering food to an apartment common denominator of all these labels or driving a person from one part of is that digital labour platforms are seen Research shows that cloudwork town to another). As Shyamal Majumdar, to be functioning as cross-jurisdictional platforms exacerbate particular Former Head of the UNESCO-UNEVOC infrastructures that mediate labour features of informal work by carefully International Centre for Technical and transactions, bringing together workers deploying narratives of flexibility, Vocational Education and Training, puts in one country with clients anywhere on freedom, and entrepreneurship while it, these location-based types of work the planet. Some commentators have systematically devolving social and ‘are executed in real world and locally but promoted platform-mediated forms of economic risks onto workers, and channeled through online independent labour transactions and value creation positioning themselves as neutral contracts.’ Cloudwork, in contrast, is as a solution to reducing structural and intermediaries (Donner et al., 2019; work that can, in theory, be performed geographic inequalities by fostering Anwar & Graham, 2020; ILO, 2021). from anywhere via the internet. This inclusive development around the world That is, platforms formalise certain means that cloudworkers located in (Schwab, 2017). However, acting as a aspects of informal work by centralising India can use digital labour platforms counterweight to this optimism, a rich exchange between workers and to take part in a ‘planetary labour body of qualitative and quantitative clients while perpetuating the market’ (Graham & Anwar, 2019) and research has pointed to troubling precarity associated with informal may overcome some of the constraints features of cloudwork, including: labour markets—a phenomenon of their local labour markets. Cloudwork selective formalisation, exploitative that van Doorn (2020) has called tends to be less well-known compared working conditions, and oversupply of ‘selective formalisation.’ At the same to more visible and urban forms of labour (Graham et al., 2017; Anwar & time, cloudwork deviates from other platform work. Graham, 2020). types of work in that it is difficult to 1 We will use the terms cloudworker, platform worker, and worker interchangeably throughout the document.
9 contain within clearly defined, and of working conditions on cloudwork same freelancer platforms are careful conventionally articulated, occupational platforms along five dimensions of to frame payment for platform standards and job roles. work quality—pay, conditions, contracts, workers as optional (Graham & Anwar, management and representation 2019). Guru.com prominently notes on (Fairwork, n.d.). An upcoming report their website: ‘Pay only for a job well 4.1.2. Exploitative Working (Fairwork, 2021) that surveys working done.’ Upwork.com similarly states: Conditions conditions on major cloudwork ‘Upwork…helps ensure that an hour platforms across the world, echoes the paid is an hour worked’. Platforms put While cloudwork platforms are findings from previous research that effort into highlighting the ephemeral frequently celebrated for their the cloudwork model can frequently temporalities of the labour relationship ability to offer workers access to a result in poor working conditions. to clients, and workers are often seen global clientele and expanded work However, it also notes importantly that as an anonymous, replaceable group opportunities, this can give rise to there exists a diversity of platform that can be brought together with their working conditions that are frequently models, with some cloudwork platforms clients rather seamlessly. characterized by long and irregular implementing policies to ensure fair working hours, high levels of stress, and working conditions, and others falling In this study, we focus on a particular other detrimental psychosocial risks short. dimension of cloudwork: the and hazards (Wood et al., 2018; Berg, relationship between skills development 2016; Berg et al., 2018). Due to their and digital labour platforms. This access to a huge number of spatially 4.1.3. Oversupply of Labour intersection is highly relevant because dispersed workers, cloudwork platforms it relates to all three features are sensitive to the fact that their With a planetary labour market linking mentioned above. It is hard now to clients need some mechanism to be able together billions of people, most of imagine a world without some form to trust that workers—who are often whom live in low- and middle-income of digital intermediaries that bring on the other side of the planet—are countries, we have a system of truly together workers and clients. For this indeed doing the work that they are planetary competition (Graham reason, the task of understanding paying for. Platforms’ solution to this and Anwar 2019). In an already cloudwork is pivotal for anticipating trust issue is sometimes an automated largely unregulated labour landscape, future challenges in the world of surveillance system, for example cloudwork may further erode workers’ work—particularly skills development which captures screenshots from structural power and fuel intense in an informal, and perhaps precarious, workers’ computers at random intervals, competition between workers, in a context. Before presenting the results contributing to stressful working digitally mediated marketplace that in sections 6-9, we will situate and conditions. Most platforms additionally makes workers more easily replaceable contextualise our research questions employ ratings-based performance (Huws, 2014). For almost all types of by discussing skills for cloudwork, the management systems whereby clients digital work, there are fewer jobs than demographics of platform workforces can ‘rate’ workers. Such ratings there are workers able and willing to do in India, and skills training systems. systems can be opaque and arbitrary, them, creating an oversupply of labor especially when they are based on that drives a global race to the bottom 4.2. Skills for Cloudwork algorithmic decisions, thus contributing (Graham & Anwar, 2019). This means to the psychosocial risks and hazards of that when competing for jobs and tasks, platform work. workers are well aware that others may underbid them. The skills and abilities required for There are several ways to conceptualise cloudwork are impacted by larger the fairness of working conditions Cloudwork platforms are also careful transformations that have taken place on cloudwork platforms (Harmon & to frame what does and does not over recent decades. The changing Silberman, 2019; Whiting et al., 2019; count as working time. Indeed, one nature and organization of work Graham et al., 2020). The Oxford study found that online freelancers combined with the accelerating speed Internet Institute’s Fairwork Project spend an average of 16 hours a week of technological change have had (of which the authors are members) (unpaid) looking for new jobs (Wood diverse impacts on societies around periodically assesses the fairness et al., 2019). At the same time, those the world. As jobs have shifted from manufacturing and agriculture to the
10 service, communication, transportation, facilities for importing professional or basis. Immigrants and women reported and creative sectors, and alternative educational histories from outside, or developing their skills while doing work arrangements have become more to export profile information from the cloudwork more often than men. common, labour markets have come to platform, securing job opportunities demand and reward different skill sets largely operates through algorithms Due to the scarcity of research in this than they did in the past (Ojanperä matching workers to available jobs, area, little is known about the skill et al., 2018). Many jobs call for human relying on platform-generated metrics acquisition of Indian cloudworkers. capital and involve cognitive and socio- to rank search results and sort Based on interviews carried out with emotional skills as well as adaptability submitted bids and applications. In 32 MTurk workers in 2013 in India, and resilience. The introduction of new order to succeed on these platforms— Gupta (2017) identifies particular technologies has permeated both i.e. to win bidding contests for projects skills developed by these cloudworkers, innovative sectors that are driven by and acquire favourable reviews from including communication skills, technological development as well as employer—workers must familiarize language skills, and technical skills. more traditional sectors where new themselves with and learn to utilize Investigating various platform-led technologies have been integrated into a wide array of practical skills and upskilling initiatives across 13 cloud- existing practices, thus demanding strategies ranging from communication based and geographically tethered the ability to navigate software and etiquette with often foreign clients platforms in Africa and Asia, Donner hardware (Sudakov et al., 2016). to financial considerations about et al., (2019) find training content budgeting and bidding for jobs with types to generally include technical The emergence of the platform remuneration levels that are neither skills, general digital literacy, financial economy offers unique opportunities too low to be suspicious nor too high literacy, platform proficiency, and and challenges in terms of professional to be discouraging, to navigating the soft skills. Interviewing 24 Indian skills and education. The multitude of many platform functionalities that are freelancers working on Elance-oDesk different kinds of platforms host a subject to frequent revision as the (since renamed to Upwork), D’Cruz & great diversity of job opportunities with platform updates its interface. Noronha (2016) respondents generally varying levels of required skills—ranging reported being able to utilize and from the microtasks offered by Amazon There is little research so far on the develop their skills while working on Mechanical Turk, to the freelancing work kinds of skills that workers use or the platform. Surveying the attitudes offered in a range of sectors by Upwork, develop for their work on the platform. of cloudworkers in India and Sri Lanka, Freelancer, or Fiverr, to legal work Surveying European freelancers, Bandaranayake et al. (2020) noted offered by sector-specific platforms like Cedefop (2020)—an agency supporting that women generally have positive UpCounsel. While cloudwork platforms development of European vocational attitudes towards cloudwork, but are differ in the kinds of work that are education and training policies— forced to take on smaller projects due available through them, they defy the developed a typology of 10 skills that to the time constraints of their caring mechanisms of more traditional labour cloudworkers tend to develop while duties. markets by challenging the importance working on platforms. They note that of formal education qualifications and successful cloudworkers are already rather compensating for metrics of in possession of strong digital skills, expertise and success on the platform technical skills related to the kind in the form of a profile history of of work they do, communication and completed jobs and favourable ratings organizational skills, and positive (Herrmann et al., 2019). Relatedly, personal dispositions such as formal educational qualifications are confidence and resilience, before often designed to deliver a fixed set of they start working on a platform. The skills and knowledge, agility for learning majority of the survey respondents and a mentality for life-long learning reported that they did not further while emphasizing labour-market develop their digital skills while working related content to a lesser extent. on platforms, but two-thirds continued Given their nature as self-contained developing their professional and marketplaces for work with limited technical skills at least on a weekly
11 4.3. Platform Whereas agriculture formed the base by the Online Labour Observatory, the of India’s economic activity three report notes a growth in India’s share Workforces in India decades ago, employment has been of the labour supply on these platforms steadily shifting towards industry from 26% in 2018 to 34% in 2020. Given the potentially important job and services, which together account The country also provides the fifth- opportunities offered by platforms, for over half of employment in 2016 largest share of labour demand, having there is a need to understand how and contribute approximately 95% to increased from 5% in 2018 to 8% in Indian platform workers view their skill gross value-added (Fairwork, 2020). 2020. The jobs posted by clients based portfolios in relation to their platform The country has a large population of in India tend to mainly concern roles in work, and where existing training highly educated English speakers, and software development and technology, initiatives may need to be amended with earning a livelihood from cloud-based creative and multimedia, writing and novel resources. The emergence of the gigs is an opportunity that appeals translation, and sales and marketing platform economy and an associated to many Indians. In a country with support. The jobs carried out by Indian rise in the platform workforce has a working-age population of nearly workers also mainly include tasks in certainly been met with both policy and 900 million (Office of the Registrar software development and technology, research interest in India. Estimates by General and Census Commissioner, creative and multimedia, and sales and the Indian Readership Survey (MRUC, 2018) job creation is a key issue, in marketing support, with the proportion 2020) suggest that with 560 million particular for the younger cohorts of jobs carried out within the two first internet users, India is the second joining the workforce, which grows by categories increasing over the two-year largest digital market in the world. With approximately one million new workers period. people between 20 and 39 years of every month. age representing just over half of the The ILO report also analyzed the gender country’s internet users (Figure 1). Men While it is difficult to estimate the size of of a random sample of workers from make up two-thirds of the country’s the Indian cloud-based workforce, the the Online Labour Observatory across internet users, with the gender gap ILO (2021) assessed the distribution of occupational categories and found that being more marked in rural areas (Figure the global cloudwork supply and demand Indian women accounted for about a 1). For many of these young internet on four major cloudwork platforms, fifth of the country’s labour supply users, platforms provide an essential finding India to be the largest supplier across the four platforms, which is income and much-needed opportunity of labour on Fiverr, Freelancer, Guru, and lower than the other countries included to improve their livelihoods. PeoplePerHour. Using data collected in the study—Ukrainian women formed Figure 1. The Distribution of the Indian Internet Users by Gender and Age in 2019. Source: MRUC, 2020 The Distribution of the Indian Internet Users by Gender and Age in 2019 Share of respondents, in % of subgroup All India Rural Urban 70% All India Percentage of Internet users Percentage of Internet users 60% Location 50% Rural 40% 30% 20% Urban 10% 100% 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 0% 50+ Female Male Female Male Female Male 12-15 16-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50+
12 39% and women from the United provides a brief and general overview development system was judged to be States 41% of the collected sample. of the various organisations involved in non-responsive to labour market needs, While Ukrainian and American women imparting skills training in the country, in that there was a demand-supply tend to dominate men in jobs related distinguishing between government- mismatch in numbers of people trained, to writing and translation, and reach led initiatives, platform-led initiatives, quality of training and skill types; skills parity with men in jobs related to private initiatives, and self-driven skills curricula were ‘inflexible and outmoded’, creative and multimedia, the proportion training that happens outside these and unsuited to market needs in the of Indian women participating in these organisational pathways. Section 9, absence of systematic industry-faculty categories remains comparatively low drawing on our fieldwork, delves more interaction; training programmes at 47% and 21%, respectively. deeply into recent developments and resulted in low labour market outcomes priorities in the Indian TVET ecosystem, for graduates; and there were poor Much of the research on the Indian particularly as pertaining to cloudwork. testing, certification and accreditation platform economy focuses on the systems for formal training, and a Indian workers and clients on the complete lack of certification for largest global platforms, based in the 4.4.1. Government-led Skills informally acquired skills (which was the United States (Upwork), Australia Training case for the majority of the workforce). (Freelancer), the United Kingdom There has since been substantial (PeoplePerHour), and Israel (Fiverr). Skills development has been a core government investments and Guru.com is a leading platform partially priority for the Indian government institutional reorganisation to reform based in India and there additionally since the mid-2000s, and the this fragmented and ineffective system. exist smaller Indian cloudwork institutional structures servicing this platforms, such as Truelancer, which priority have evolved substantially The skills ecosystem in India is contract work globally. Despite their over this period. India’s Eleventh now centrally coordinated, with a global outlook and importance for Five-Year Plan (Government of India, clearer division of responsibilities Indian freelancers and clients, even less 2008), spanning the 2007-2011 across different bodies. 2014 saw is known about these local platforms, period, foregrounded this priority, with the establishment of a separate which is why we have included an entire chapter devoted to ‘Skill Ministry for Skill Development and Truelancer in our study. Development and Training’.2 Prior to Entrepreneurship (MSDE, n.d.), tasked 2009, some skills training was imparted with coordinating all skills development 4.4. Skills Training via formal TVET channels, though efforts across the country. The MSDE Systems in India most was done informally; across both, coordinates and works with the only about 10% of the Indian labour following key organisations: force was estimated to have received The Technical and Vocational Education vocational training (Singh, 2012). The • Directorate General of Training and Training (TVET) sector in India is formal channels were multiple, involving (DGT): The DGT develops and complex, and comprises a wide array of vocational education in secondary coordinates long-term vocational programmes and organisations. In this schools, higher technical education training programmes across project, following UNESCO-UNEVOC through professional colleges (teaching the country, through a network (2015) definition, TVET is understood engineering, medicine, agriculture, of around 15,000 private and as ‘comprising education, training and etc.), technical training at specialised governmental Industrial Training skills development relating to a wide institutions, and apprenticeship Institutes (ITIs), and 33 National range of occupational fields, production, programmes. These were managed Skills Training Institutes (NSTIs), services and livelihoods’. As such, by numerous governmental bodies National Skills Training Institutes TVET includes the full gamut of skills spanning central ministries and for Women (NSTI-W) and other development activities undertaken departments, and state governments. national-level institutes (MSDE, at secondary, post-secondary, and n.d.). DGT also oversees the ‘Bharat tertiary levels, and includes work-based The Eleventh Five-Year Plan deemed Skills’ portal, an online self-learning learning, and continuous training and this system not fit-for-purpose in platform for ITI students and professional development. This section many respects (pp. 87-89): the skills teachers. 2 Between 1947 and 2017, the Indian Economy was organised through a series of Five-Year plans that outlaid the government’s priorities and the allocation of state resources for the respective five-year period
13 • National Skill Development and among vocational education, 2015, and the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Corporation (NSDC): The NSDC vocational training, general education Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) scheme (Press is a public-private partnership and technical education, thus linking Trust of India, 2015). As recently as that seeks to bridge industry and one level of learning to another in July 2020, PM Modi underscored government in the skills ecosystem. higher level” (NSDA, n.d.). the skills development priority for his A key role of the NSDC is to administration, announcing in an address, coordinate and liaise with the 38 • Other government agencies Sector Skill Councils (SSCs) that it and third sector organisations: “People ask me that in these established in 2015. SSCs are non- The MSDE also collaborates times when businesses and governmental trade associations in with other central ministries markets are changing so fast different economic sectors, ranging and state governments, private how to stay relevant. This question is even more important from construction and agriculture to sector companies, international during this COVID-19 pandemic. Information Technology (IT) and IT organisations and NGOs on skills The mantra to be relevant is to enabled Services (ITeS). The NSDC development initiatives. skill, reskill and upskill” (ANI, works with SSCs to link the skills 2020).” ecosystem to industry needs, for In accordance with the high priority example through the development that the central government places on of industry-specific occupational skills development, union budgets have 4.4.2. Platform-led Skills standards, skills gap analyses, and also seen increasing yearly allocations Training training curricula. Particularly for jobs, skill development, and relevant for this report is the IT- livelihoods schemes (see Figure 2). Previous research on skills development ITeS SSC NASSCOM, which is the in the gig economy indicates that national standard-setting body for The government, under Prime Minister digital platforms may provide certain IT skills across the country. The Narendra Modi’s stewardship, has in minimal forms of direct skills training NSDC additionally aims to play the recent years also launched numerous to workers or other users. This has role of a ‘market-maker’ by providing skills initiatives, including the ‘Skill India’ been referred to as ‘platform-led subsidised financing for private mission, the National Policy for Skill upskilling’ (PLU) (Donner et al., 2019) training providers, and ensuring Development and Entrepreneurship and ‘last-mile training’ (Craig, 2019). that they make use of industry- developed standards, curricula and resources (The Pathways for Yearly Central Government Budget Allocation Prosperity Commission, 2019). for Skills Development • National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET): Actual expenditure in Crores of Rupees 7,000 6,608 NCVET acts as an overarching 6,042 regulator to provide quality 6,000 assurance across the skills 5,000 ecosystem, by recognising and regulating assessment agencies 4,000 and awarding bodies, and overseeing 2,723 3,000 and updating the National Skill 1,817 Qualification Framework (NSQF). 2,000 1,177 The NSQF oversees a “nationally 1,000 integrated education and - competency based skill framework 2015-16 2106-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 that will provide for multiple pathways, horizontal as well as Figure 2. Yearly Central Government Budget Allocation for Skills Development vertical, both within vocational Source: Compiled from Union Budgets (The Government of India, 2017; 2018; 2019; education and vocational training 2020; 2021).
14 Such an approach to skilling workers benefits, and other specific aspects maintain an arms-length relationship finds historical parallels in employer- of the organisation and operations with workers, so as not to become led upskilling where companies train (Felstead & Jewson, 2014). Beyond this embroiled in questions of worker their employees in occupational and minimum level, it has been argued that misclassification. One way that this workplace skills. Access to in-work ultimately, “employees’ access to and arms-length relationship manifests is in training varies vastly across workplaces, involvement in meaningful training and platforms’ limited involvement in direct based on factors like the nature of the skill formation will be contingent on the skills training. The recent Cedefop study employment contract (where longer- power relations which characterise the on digital work and learning found that term ‘employees’ doing higher-skill work employment relationship and the quality online platforms usually skill workers only receive more training), the flexibility of the job” (Unwin, 2017: 222). in indirect ways, such as by publishing workers have over their work processes, information on which skills are in demand and the degree to which workers are As explained in Section 4.1, (so workers can better develop their involved in decision making (Unwin, cloudworkers—who are typically profiles), getting clients to provide 2017). Most employers, at a minimum, classified as self-employed workers or feedback on submitted work, referring meet a ‘training floor’ (if only to comply independent contractors—often face workers to off-platform training with regulatory requirements) where poor job quality, and rarely have a say resources, and facilitating worker they may impart information to workers in how work is organised and managed communities where peer learning may on orientation, safety, employee on platforms. Platforms are careful to take place (Cedefop, 2020). Concurrently, An Upwork worker at his desk
15 however, platforms limit engagement in from platform proficiencies, financial private companies like Microsoft, IBM, direct skills training activities: and digital literacies, technical skills, SimpliLearn, and others. and soft skills, and examples of such “Online labour platforms generally do PLU included webinars, Facebook live not see a business case for more sessions, video tutorials, and Frequently 4.4.4. Skills Training beyond direct involvement in training their Asked Questions (FAQ) webpages. Organisations workers [...] training such workers is However, such training appears to expensive and risky, because they may be less frequent in the case of the While not typically thought of as take their skills elsewhere. Rather cloudwork platforms that are the focus forming a part of the TVET ecosystem, than investing in directly supporting of this project and the Cedefop study previous research indicates that there freelancers’ skill development, discussed above. are myriad informal ways that platform platforms therefore invest in their workers acquire the skills, knowledge, crowdworkers’ satisfaction, community and resources they need for their work, promotion and marketing initiatives to 4.4.3. Private Skills Training without reliance on government, private attract and retain skilled workers from training providers, or platforms. They outside. Platform companies are also Alongside government-led efforts, can learn the skills they need for their concerned that too much involvement numerous private education technology work from free resources like YouTube in skill development and training could companies have emerged in the past tutorials, or by relying on advice from risk them being potentially reclassified decade, offering Indians an array of friends, family, and mentors (Partnership as employers, which they wish to avoid. ‘e-learning’ opportunities. Examples for Finance in a Digital Africa, 2019). This is because, in many jurisdictions, include companies like UpGrad, Coursera, Workers also rely on communities of the provision of training is considered Udemy, Skillshare and SimpliLearn, other workers found on messaging one of the hallmarks of an employment where learners can pay for certified apps like Whatsapp, and social media relationship; it could potentially be used courses on a variety of subjects. websites like Reddit or Facebook; for to argue that platform workers should There are also an increasing number example, the ‘Turker Nation’ subreddit be classified as employees in a lawsuit of global technology companies that caters specifically to MTurk workers, as challenging their employment status. have developed platforms to impart does the ‘Turkers 101’ Facebook group Overall, the platforms see themselves technical skills to learners, such as (Sherry, 2020). These avenues of self- as having only a limited and indirect role Cisco’s ‘Networking Academy’ which organised, self-driven learning can be to play in supporting crowdworkers’ skill was developed as a corporate social crucial for workers who lack access to development” (Cedefop, 2020: 36-37). responsibility undertaking, or Google’s formal and institutionalised channels for Developer Students Club. There also skills development. Despite there being little incentive exist collaborative ventures between for platforms to engage in extensive private training companies and the direct skills training, other researchers Indian government; for example, the have found some examples of such Director General of Training (DGT) training. Donner et al., (2019) studied and MSDE signed an agreement with a range of geographically tethered and Cisco and Accenture in late-2019 e-commerce platforms in Sub-Saharan to make available a digital skills Africa and Asia, and found instances module to ITI students through the of ‘platform-led upskilling’ (PLU) that Bharat Skills portal. Another notable happened face-to-face, through online collaborative venture is the ‘e-Skill training, and through in-workflow India Portal’, a multilingual e-learning moments, that is, through ‘a subset of aggregator platform that the NSDC nudges or other cues in which interface coordinates and maintains. The e-Skill and experience design has been India portal is a web-based platform deployed specifically to transfer skills that consolidates free and paid to the user’. Training subjects ranged 3 digital learning content created by 3 It should be noted that ‘in-workflow moments’ where workers are ‘nudged’ to change their behaviours also has the potential to be manipulative and detrimental to workers’ welfare; Noam Scheiber (2017) discusses how Uber nudges drivers to pursue work and earning targets that may be inimical to their interests.
16 5. Methods 5.2. Research Design needed to perform them? How has the global upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted these structures? What lessons does the We structured our inquiry of the five research questions around a mixed- 5.1. Research intersection between TVET, digital labour platforms, and (in)formal methods research approach, combining Questions employment hold for development quantitative and qualitative methods cooperation in a post-pandemic to collect and analyze our data and an While the burgeoning platform economy context? initial theoretical phase consisting of offers the promise of jobs for India’s desk research to ground our inquiry. growing workforce, it also entails In order to begin addressing these We included four cloudwork platforms sweeping challenges for how Technical broad questions and examine the in our research, representing the two and Vocational Education and Training socio-economic factors grounding the different types of cloudwork: microwork (TVET) programmes can be developed perceptions, choices, and actions of and freelancing. We included one and implemented for these workers. Indian cloudworkers’ education, training, microwork platform (Amazon Mechanical Given that cloudworkers are typically and skills development, our project Turk) and three freelancing platforms, classified as independent contractors adopted five research questions: with two global platforms (Upwork and rather than employees, there is a lack Freelancer) and one Indian platform of formalised upskilling pathways RQ1: What are the impacts of (Truelancer). Table 1 describes the officially accredited by India’s National the COVID-19 pandemic on main types of tasks carried out on the Skills Development Cooperation (NSDC). Indian cloudworkers and included platforms. Additionally, the diversity of cloudwork the cloudwork landscape? is difficult to contain within clearly The quantitative phase involved defined occupational standards and job RQ2: What skills are particularly development of a novel survey roles, which tend to underpin many TVET relevant for cloudworkers instrument, which was administered initiatives and projects in the country. in India and how are they to over 400 Indian platform workers acquired? across the four platforms. We required The increase in job opportunities the survey respondents to have on cloudwork platforms, and the RQ3: What factors support worked for at least one month on one multiplicity of platforms through which or limit cloudworkers of these platforms, be based in India, freelancers can find opportunities, in acquiring the skills and be at least 18 years of age. Beyond pose important questions for the they need for their work, comparing the populations working on actors involved in the TVET landscape. and what strategies do the four included platforms, we were For instance, how can skills training they use to overcome interested in interrogating whether programmes be reformed and expanded obstacles? inequalities arise along other metrics in ways that account for this shift that are relevant to the Indian context online when it comes to requesting, RQ4: What connections and and may explain why some gig workers accessing, and performing jobs and interactions exist between are able to acquire skills and progress tasks? Which parties should be involved the platform economy, along cloudwork career pathways in shaping policies, projects, and informal work and skills while others are not. Given the gender initiatives? Is a new social contract training? disparities among Indian cloudworkers between labour, business, and society that previous research has highlighted, required, as global institutions like the RQ5: What conclusions can be we recruited roughly equal numbers of International Labour Organisation drawn for future skills respondents who identified as ‘male’ and the World Economic Forum have training approaches, in and as ‘not male’ (including female, non- implied? How does the overall structure particular for development binary, and other genders) in order to be of the Indian cloud-based workforce cooperation? able to compare these groups as well. look, including the types of jobs that cloudworkers perform, and the skills
17 The qualitative phase included 10 of their working environments (home the quantitative data. We additionally semi-structured interviews with leading office, desk space, etc.), for use in this address our research questions with TVET stakeholders, including experts report. None of the survey or interview more subjective reflections arising from from India’s National Skill Development participants were among these ten the interviews with workers from the Corporation (NSDC) and Sector Skill workers, in order to protect the former four platforms, which allow us to further Councils, and platform managers, group’s confidentiality. explore the central themes that emerge among others. We additionally carried from the survey data. Finally, we spread out 31 in-depth interviews with Indian Throughout the report we draw our the stakeholder interviews through cloudworkers from across the four findings from these varied levels of data the research project and used them to platforms that we researched. The and we discuss insights from the survey gain insight into the central themes, interviewees were drawn from the data in terms of the entire sample, and processes, and stakeholders related to sample of survey respondents. A more comment on averages across platforms skills development of Indian platform detailed description of the interview and or between men and women where workers. survey methodologies, and the list of particular patterns emerge along those stakeholder interviewees is presented in divisions. Where our survey questions Appendix A, while Table 2 describes our have recorded open-ended responses, we sample. In addition to the surveys and have identified common themes among interviews, we also commissioned ten the respondents, which we employ to Indian cloudworkers to take photographs add insight into the patterns we see in Table 1. Summary of Included Platforms. Source: Project data set Platform Headquarters Platform Type Main Task Types Amazon Seattle, Washington, USA Microwork Surveys, image identification, transcription Mechanical Turk and annotation; content moderation; data collection and processing; audio and video transcription and translation, etc. Freelancer Sydney, Australia Freelancing Web and software development; web and graphic design; content and research writing; Truelancer New Delhi, India Freelancing business services (e.g. accounting, HR, legal, etc.); sales and marketing, etc. Upwork Santa Clara, California, USA Freelancing Table 2. Platform and Gender Distribution of Survey Respondents. Source: Project data set MTurk Freelancer Truelancer Upwork Total Female 53 (51.9%) 47 (46.5%) 50 (49.5%) 50 (49.5%) 200 (49.4%) Male 49 (48.1%) 54 (53.5%) 51 (51.5%) 51 (51.5%) 205 (50.6%) Total 102 (25.2%) 101 (24.93%) 101 (24.93%) 101 (24.93%) 405 (100%)
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