When the pandemic struck, we witnessed the unfortunate exodus of blue-collar migrants from the cities as they struggled to reach their hometowns.
While several of them may have pledged to never return to the cities, the sad reality is that this might not be feasible. The economic compulsions that forced them to leave their hometowns in the first place will compel them to venture out once again, in search of employment opportunities that are sorely lacking in their villages. However, this article isn't about those migrants.
Instead, let's look at the impact of the pandemic on white-collar professionals, especially those in the digital/technology space. As digital technologies became critical for organisations to function smoothly during the pandemic, the demand for professionals in these fields went up considerably.
Earlier, such jobs were concentrated in cities like Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi, with Bangalore leading the pack. As of 2019, migrants accounted for 50% of Bangalore's population.
However, repeated lockdowns and COVID restrictions led to the realisation that a large number of white-collar jobs can be performed perfectly well even in a remote setting.
Several professionals moved back to their hometowns/villages and continued to work smoothly. Most such professionals do not seem to be looking forward to coming back to work. They are enjoying being close to their family and friends that they grew up with.
Organisations too are realising that not all roles require people to be physically present in the office. Work seems to be going fine if we look at the performance of these companies.
Therefore, we are likely to see the emergence of new working models such as completely work from home or hybrid roles. 'Hub and spoke' models, where there are micro-offices across the country rather than just a few large set-ups, could become more commonplace.
According to a survey by ManageEngine, the IT management division of Zoho Corporation, about 95 per cent of Indian companies plan to stick with remote working for the next two years, at least.
Golden opportunity to stem migration
Most major cities in India are overcrowded and bursting at the seams, overrun by traffic snarls, and facing scarcity of precious resources such as water. Despite this, unskilled migrants, as well as professionals, have kept flocking to these cities in the quest for a better life.
Now, with the pandemic demonstrating the feasibility of remote work, states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Bengal that have typically witnessed a large volume of migration have an opportunity.
They have a chance to woo professionals to stay back while continuing to perform the same high-end and high-value work as before. State governments should also reach out to companies and provide them with the necessary incentives to set up shop in their states.
This will have a long-term impact on building an environment that would attract more such professionals and companies alike. All evidence points to the fact that digital and tech will dominate the future.
Jobs will follow talent. As remote working becomes the norm across the globe, there is also an opportunity to attract more work from overseas to India as we have a demographic advantage.
Building infrastructure in smaller towns
To make remote working a viable solution in our increasingly digital world, local governments must step up and create the necessary infrastructure to attract professionals to build their lives in these small towns.
This could include ensuring superior connectivity, encouraging the opening of good schools, entertainment options, and other facilities to build a better quality of life.
With the right skill-building efforts and infrastructure investments, India has the potential to emerge as the global hub for talent, not just restricted to large cities, but also the hinterland. One hopes to see some initiatives from these states, taking steps in this direction.
As growth becomes more uniformly distributed, even the poor unskilled migrants are likely to get more opportunities closer home, rather than having to travel far and wide for employment opportunities.
(The author is Founder and CEO, Simplilearn.)
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