Food delivery executives wait for their orders to get ready
Food delivery executives wait for their orders to get ready|Photo credit: Annie Catherena
Tamil Nadu

Why Tamil Nadu’s Graduates Are Flocking To Swiggy & Uber Eats

Over 80% engineers are ‘unemployable for any job’ and jobs themselves are scarce

Annie Catherena

Annie Catherena

For 28-year-old N Tyagu, who has completed his Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Sri Ramanujar Engineering College, life after passing out has been a bumpy ride.

After being unemployed for a year, he worked for Vodafone and Airtel as a network executive for four years. It was not a permanent job and there were no salary hikes for his position.

He decided to quit but now realises that his chances of getting employed anywhere else is bleak.

More than 15 lakh certified engineers are graduating in India every year, according to the union human resource development ministry. Of this, 1.75 lakh pass out from Tamil Nadu’s 552 engineering colleges. Most end up doing jobs that they did not study for or which they are over qualified to do.

“I do not know if my college was good or not. My family could afford that course and I joined it. Now it has been six years since I passed out. I have a family to support, daily needs to fulfill. I have to survive,” Tyagu says.

“No one is even willing to get married to a delivery boy, although I earn Rs 25,000 a month at Uber Eats. If it had been a cubicle job with even Rs 15,000 a month, it would not have been a prestige issue,” he added.

Thousands of graduates and professionally qualified youth are forced to take up the job of delivery boys in companies like Zomato, Uber Eats and Swiggy. Their earnings after 12 to 14 hours of work amount to a paltry sum of Rs 200 to Rs 400 per day.

Perks Of A Delivery Boy

30-year-old M Senthurapandian from Ramanathapuram is completely satisfied with the job. After passing Standard 12, he could not pursue further education. “It has been only a month since I joined, so I cannot say much about the job. But I am satisfied with the pay. They have incentives at Swiggy if you cross a particular number of deliveries a day. And the amount gets credited in your account weekly.”

In the past couple of years, the number of job opportunities at food delivery companies has increased quite dramatically. Since 2018, Swiggy alone has more 2.1 lakh delivery executives. In the next 17 months, the company aims to hire 3 lakh employees, which will make the total number of employees to 5 lakhs.

Swiggy’s arch-rival, Zomato had 2.3 lakh employees till September 2019. Uber and application-based cab service Ola have not declared the number of active employees.

Delivery executives are not entitled to standard benefits in a company, but some companies do assure insurance for accidents during work hours.

40-year-old Arun Kumar who graduated as an electrical engineer from Panimalar College, has been working with Zomato for over a year. He earns approximately Rs 30,000 a month.

He had previously worked in Saudi Arabia as an electrical engineer for a construction company.

“The salary which I got there was even less than this and the wages used to get delayed and people were sacked if the company had no new projects. Here, even though I work as a delivery person, my salary is credited weekly, you can take 5-6 days leave in month. The working hours are flexible,” says Arun Kumar.

“Though it is a little hard to accept the fact that I work like this, I have a wife and a 15-year-old son. We have to survive and I am not sure if I can explore other jobs at 40.”

50-year-old S Sivakumar agrees.

“I finished my graduation in BSc Botany from Vivekananda College in Chennai. It seems like ages ago, but I started from the bottom and now I am here. In 1991, I used to wait tables to start with, then in 2018 I quit my job as restaurant manager,” Sivakumar recalls.

“It has been 19 months with Swiggy and I have no complaints. For every 30 deliveries I make, I get Rs 1500 a day. I work from 10.30 am till 3.30 pm and after a break I work from 6 pm to 11 pm. We get weekly, weekend and monthly incentives,” he says.

“I have two daughters. One works as a HR executive for a private company and another daughter is married. I have fulfilled my duties, now I just have to survive,” he smilingly adds.

Another 20-year-old, who works part time as a delivery person while pursuing BTech IT in Hindustan University says, “For someone like me, I only need to work for pocket money. The flexible work hours and weekly payment comes in useful for expenses.

But I wouldn’t stick to this after graduating. This job has its own kind of mental toll, there are targets to achieve and you perform is based how fast you make the deliveries. There are late night shifts and you only get paid after the company takes its profit,” he says.

This person did not wish to be named.

Qualified Yet Unfit?

According to the Labour Bureau of Union Labour and Employment Ministry, Tamil Nadu, at 6.2%, had the highest unemployment rate percentage of people aged between 18 and 29 years in 2015-16 in India. These are the latest available figures.

Two major reasons are attributed to high unemployment by experts. One is the slowdown of economic growth in the state and in the country. The other reason is the number of qualified graduates are higher than the number of jobs available. And this is because manufacturing units have not expanded thanks to new investments drying up.

According to Dr E Balagurusamy, Former Vice Chancellor of Anna University, Chennai, “The quality of the engineers in our country and especially Tamil Nadu is very bad. They are not competent to do the jobs that they are given degrees for. They have no skill development, competence, life skills. Most of the students are unfit for the field they are meant to be working in. We produce more engineers that we need in this country.”

He further explains, “There is huge gap between the number of employment opportunities and the number of students who pass out of engineering institutions. In the last 20 years, the central government and state government have not made any specific increase in job opportunities for engineers in manufacturing industries,” says Dr Balagurusamy.

Engineering colleges can be categorised into Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3.

Tier 1: Top central Institutes like Indian Institute of Technology and National Institute of Technology.

Tier 2: Ranked private institutes and state sponsored government colleges like Birla Institute of Technology and Science and SRM Institute of Science and Technology

Tier 3: Private colleges but not specifically categorised

Tier 2 and Tier 3 colleges, by their sheer numbers, naturally produce a much larger number of graduates than the Tier 1 colleges.

Dr M Anandakrishnan, former chairman of Indian Institute of Technology and former Vice Chancellor of Anna University, believes there are three reasons for this unemployability crisis.

“The first reason is the mindless expansion of engineering institutions in the country particularly in Tamil Nadu. So, the supply is larger than the demand.

Second reason is, the quality of education in most colleges are far below the accepted standard. Be it the quality of teachers they have or the infrastructure. There is no education or real teaching of engineering going in such colleges,” he says.

“The third reason is that the current syllabus is skewed from the point of view of employability. Even if the teachers do teach, and the students do study properly, they are still unemployable. They have no skills.

I have come across engineering students who work for Rs 6000 a month as technicians and courier delivery boys,” Dr Anandakrishnan adds.

Dr Balagurusamy blames the mushrooming of engineering colleges.

“Without calculating the manpower required in this sector (engineering), they have started so many engineering colleges. Subsequently, because of the large number of engineering institutions, it has become very easy to join one and get an engineering certificate without the proper standard of education.

Thus, the graduates passing out have no skill-based development, or academic standard and they are very large in number. This situation has to be reversed immediately,” says Dr Balagurusamy.

According to the data released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation compiled from the report on Periodic Labour Force Survey 2017-18, Tamil Nadu has a rate of 7.2% in urban unemployment and 7.9% in rural unemployment. With the national average at 6.1%, Tamil Nadu stands with the total average of 7.6% unemployment rate.

D Nedunchezian, an educationist and social entrepreneur by profession, offers career counselling to students hailing from all kinds of background. He blames the unemployment crisis completely on the degrading quality of our education system.

“The employment crisis is not because of the slowdown of the global economy. The quality of education has completely deteriorated. This generation is full of new ideas, innovations and very capable of pushing the boundaries. Unfortunately, we do not provide a proper platform for good education for our young population,” he says.

“Our country has the largest population ratio of teenagers and young adults. The age group of 14 to 28 years, which is more than 50% of our total population, is very crucial for career and employment. Our country is not making use of this human wealth that we have,” says Nedunchezian.

“For example, countries like Israel have invested 4.5% of their GDP in education sector and therefore it reflects in the technological inventions they come out with. The importance given to education is directly proportionate to the improvement of a nation. And Israel is the best example for it,” he added.

‘Stubborn Unemployability’

The fifth edition of the National Employability Report (2019) by private firm Aspiring Minds, says that the employability of Indian engineers continues to be low with more than 80% engineers ‘unemployable for any job in the knowledge economy.’

Dr Anandakrishnan, former chairman of IIT Kanpur and former Vice Chancellor of Anna University, says, “I would not say there is a lack of jobs. There many job opportunities, there are just not enough employable students with the required skills.

There are a few sectors where there is visible unemployment, but the larger picture only proves that there is a mismatch between the job criteria and skill set of an individual.”

According to the Aspiring Minds report, this joblessness has not changed since 2010, and is therefore called ‘stubborn unemployability.’

This is a worrying trend in higher education in India.

“Institutions must be shut down if they do not follow guidelines, attend to the improvement of the faculty, must ensure the faculty is first qualified enough to teach, college management and administration should be verified. Education has become a business and therefore they disregard the quality of education,” says Dr E Balagurusamy, former Vice Chancellor of Anna University.

“Moreover, there are a lot of loopholes in such institutions. Examinations and grading are compromised, which in turn affects the quality of the student passing out. Walking out with an engineer's certificate has become very easy.

Educational institutions and universities are responsible for this. There is so much corruption and lack of concern towards improving the quality of education in engineering institutions which has led to this situation,” he says.

On the roads of Ashok Nagar, 25-year-old K Srinivasan is a delivery executive with Swiggy. After graduating with a degree in BSc Computer Science from Annamalai University, he worked as an auditor for a private firm for 10 years. “They paid Rs 25,000 a month but the work pressure was unbearable. As a delivery person I get paid the same amount and I get weekly incentives,” he says.

“I am looking for jobs and attending interviews elsewhere but till then, for survival I have to earn something. It has been only a week since I started working as a delivery executive. I hope I get a better job soon. I have applied for all kinds of jobs, I just need job security and a good working environment,” says Srinivasan.

With more than 550 institutions churning out technical graduates every year in large numbers, earlier this year in February 4600 engineering and MBA (Masters in Business administration) graduates had applied for 28 sweeper positions at Tamil Nadu Assembly Secretariat.

Last week, 3500 engineers and graduates had applied for 549 posts of sweepers in Coimbatore Corporation. For a job that required only qualification - fluency in Tamil, thousands flocked to the corporation office with their degree certificates.

“In this era of digitilisation, job opportunities are enormous. One can sit at home and work for any organisation in any corner of the world. A large number of jobs are outsourced and we have so many capable youngsters. But unfortunately, our education system functions in such a way that if fails to recognise talent and encourage them to explore opportunities,” educationist Nedunchezian says.

“The sole purpose of education is to infuse confidence in young minds, to enhance the methods of learning and provide a balanced skill-based curriculum, which the system has clearly failed to do.

And every time I see a youth wasting his life, without even knowing what he is capable of, it validates the point that our country has shunted their minds and ruined them in the name of education,” Nedunchezian added.

For people like Tyagu, coming from a humble background, education was the only escape to a decent life. “I never had an extravagant dream as a kid, I was the first to go to a college in my family. I still hope to make my parents proud one day,” said Tyagu as he left to pick up his next food order.

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