New Report – Skills for the Planetary Labour Market: Indian Workers in the Platform Economy

Posted on 26.04.2021
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By Srujana Katta, Fabian Ferrari, Sanna Ojanperä, Nancy Salem, Mounika Neerukonda, Pradyumna Taduri, and Mark Graham.

Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, this new Fairwork report sheds light on how Indian cloudworkers perceive and expand their skills portfolios in relation to their platform work, and unveils how governmental, private and third-sector skills training approaches need to be adapted to meet their needs. The report additionally traces how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Indian cloudworkers and the cloudwork landscape. With  the COVID-19 crisis in India worsening in recent weeks, and the concomitant escalation of lockdown measures, this report sheds light on the conditions of a growing sector of the Indian workforce. While these workers may face less health risks than their counterparts in contact-intensive occupations, the report highlights their challenges during this crisis.

This report focuses on five key research questions:

  1. What are the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Indian cloudworkers and the cloudwork landscape?
  2. What skills are particularly relevant for cloudworkers in India and how are they acquired?
  3. What factors support or limit cloudworkers in acquiring the skills they need for their work, and what strategies do they use to overcome obstacles?
  4. What connections and interactions exist between the platform economy, informal work and skills training?
  5. What conclusions can be drawn for future skills training approaches, in particular for development cooperation?

The study followed a mixed-methods research approach, involving interviews with technical and vocational education and training (TVET) stakeholders, interviews with Indian platform workers and the administration of a novel survey instrument to over 400 Indian workers across four digital labour platforms (Amazon Mechanical Turk, Upwork, Freelancer, and Truelancer).


Key findings

Impacts of COVID-19 on Cloudworkers

  • Since the pandemic started, there has been a marked surge in new sign-ups on cloudwork platforms. Across platforms, 18% of the survey respondents reported that they only started working on the platform where they were surveyed after the pandemic started, often due to difficult circumstances that arose as a result of the pandemic.
  • 62% of veteran cloudworkers reported that they are spending more time working or looking for work since the pandemic started—though workers’ ability to dedicate more time to platform work may be constrained by their working environment, for instance owing to caring responsibilities.
  • A recurring experience reported across platforms was that workers were facing substantially more competition, and were able to secure fewer jobs, during this past year.
  • 79% of all survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed that cloudwork will grow in importance compared to traditional employment arrangements as a result of the pandemic. This corresponds with the finding that more companies are beginning to outsource parts of their business operations to temporarily engaged cloudworkers.

Skills for Cloudwork

  • Indian cloudworkers tend to develop different kinds of skills during their work on platforms and during leisure time. Respondents indicated a greater overall focus on soft skills developed during cloudwork with communication skills, personal dispositions, and organizational skills being developed at least weekly by over 80% of the respondents. During leisure time respondents instead focused on developing technical skills and learning skills, as well as platform-related skills.
  • Across platforms, workers had similar motivations for developing skills: for instance whereas technical skills were developed with an expectation of leading to more clients and higher paying jobs, language skills were developed with the hope of facilitating finding work and building a better rapport with clients.

Strategies and Obstacles for Skills Development

  • Workers face significant challenges accessing and undertaking learning activities, particularly in the absence of support from platforms.
  • Respondents reported generally favouring self-directed learning activities over collaborative learning activities. Workers engaged most often in individual self-directed learning activities and in platform-specific learning activities. Taking paid online courses, webinars or tutorials was a specific challenge, and one that was also particularly felt by women survey respondents.
  • Survey respondents were also asked to reflect on the reasons why they were unable to undertake some of the learning activities they indicated they wanted to take. Lack of time, financial constraints,  lack of information and awareness of how to undertake learning activities, emerged as the three central constraints to undertaking learning activities across all platforms.This indicates that workers require more structural forms of support to enable them to locate and access low-cost learning activities that align with their goals.

The Platform Economy and Skills Training

  • While skills development is a key priority for the Indian government, cloudworkers have been a blind spot in government-led TVET approaches. There are numerous initiatives spread across the Indian skills ecosystem aiming to impart digital skills, but none of them specifically target cloudworkers, nor impart platform-specific skills.
  • Platforms engage in very limited direct skills training, though some platforms do more than others. Platforms do often have mechanisms for workers to showcase their skills on their profiles, but portability of platform-specific skills credentials (as well as work history and ratings) is limited, and leads to ‘locking in’ workers onto particular platforms.
  • A common theme that emerged from interviews is the need for a standard, preferably platform-specific, skills training course that provides basic information about profile building. It’s also vital to improve the portability of their profiles and reputation or create external portals whereby workers can show off their qualifications and experiences, without being restricted to one particular digital labour platform.

Policy Recommendations for Development Cooperation

The report makes the following practical recommendations for development cooperation, as well as to inform the emerging policy landscape that governs cloudwork in India:

  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.

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