Digital verified resumes could change the work life of domestic workers. What’s stopping us?
Estimates from the Ministry of Labour and Employment suggest India is home to 400 million individuals working in unorganised sectors; this is more than 90 percent of our total active workforce. ILO estimates that about 1 percent of them are classified as domestic service workers living and working in Indian cities. These are the people urban dwellers like us interact with daily. They — the maid/maidservant/cook/bai/mai/kaamwaali — help us with activities such as cooking, cleaning, washing up, and others through the course of the day. Life without them seems unimaginable.
But for the order their services bring to our life, the life of domestic service workers is chaotic. The problems begin from the moment they decide to leave their towns/villages and move into a city, or when they migrate from suburbs to city areas. For a better understanding, let us approach the problem from the point of view of a domestic service worker.
Mona Das is a 25-year-old single woman from the suburbs of Kolkata. When an acquaintance told her how she moved to Delhi a couple of years ago and found work as a domestic service worker in housing societies, Mona decided to begin her quest for a better life. But when she reached Delhi, she realised that her uphill struggle had just begun. Mona lacked a way to build trust with her potential employer. She had worked for a few households elsewhere in the past, but there was no way for her to transfer and share the credibility she had earned. Most urban dwellers worried about the identity of domestic service workers, their criminal record, and sought testimonials from previous employers. Mona always had to have a copy of her ID and address-proof documents handy. She had no criminal history, but was expected to prove her innocence. She was expected to prove that her past employers found her work satisfactory. Plus, she had to battle quite a few stereotypes about domestic service workers along the way — “they (domestic service workers) usually have fake documents”, “they have a tendency to steal things”, “they don’t care about losing face or their reputation”, and so on. Some background verification companies and brokers continue to use these assumptions as a punchline for selling their services.
Mona tried different routes to secure a job. “I tried going through a broker who took Rs 2,000 from me and assured me a job. That never happened and I lost my money. I was losing hope. So, I finally decided to approach housing societies and speak to residents directly to see if they had a work opportunity.”
Most societies denied her entry, but her persistence paid off and Mona eventually met a few residents. “They had a bad experience with a maidservant they had previously hired, so I could understand their suspicions. I wished for a way to show that I didn’t have a criminal history and that my work in the past was always satisfactory.” But she still had to undergo repeated background verifications. “In Delhi, all domestic helpers have to submit their details and undergo police verification before they start working with a household,” Mona says.
A typical police verification of an individual is a cumbersome process spanning 3–4 weeks, especially if the person moves from their hometown to a new city. A typical process involves the following:
ID proof, current city address proof, and hometown address-proof documents of the individual are shared with the local police station of the area where the individual currently resides.
Police personnel then call up the designated police station of the individual’s hometown; a person is appointed to physically verify the address as well.
The appointed person visits the permanent address of the individual and verifies if a house exists at that address and that the said individual had stayed there. This verification could also involve talking to neighbors and taking pictures of the surroundings.
Manual checks — checking local police and court records — are made to ascertain whether the individual has any criminal record.
The hometown police station then confirms the successful status of the verification to the local police station, and the individual is classified as “verified”.
Mona successfully cleared her police verification and eventually found a job.
Five years later, Mona now earns Rs 16,000 a month, lives in a Delhi suburb, and works at five households in two apartment complexes. She has a good reputation and has also helped quite a few trusted friends from her hometown make the transition to Delhi. In the future, she wants to open a small food business. “Food stall, tiffin service, or anything related to cooking!” she says. “But I want to be on my own; I am saving up money for that day.”
Mona’s story may have had a happy ending, but every day thousands like her across the country go back home with shattered dreams or end up in exploitative/unsafe professions.
The case for digital verified resumes
Now, imagine if Mona had access to a Digital Verified Resume on her phone that she could share with potential employers; a resume that lists her past records, places she has worked, contact numbers, and testimonials. She could establish a reputation even before her first meeting with a potential employer. She would actually have something that people like her rarely do — dignity and freedom of choice.
A typical domestic service worker earns anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 per month per house in most cases. Let us do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. Assuming an average income of Rs. 2,000 (~$30) per house and assuming a domestic service worker works in four households simultaneously, the annual money spent hiring domestic service workers comes up to over $5 billion (=$30 per house/month x 12 months x 4 houses x 4 million workers). Add drivers and car cleaners to the mix and the number doubles (at least)!
Now, you as an entrepreneur are contemplating, how to build a valuable service that solves the pain point in this market. Can you build a Digital Verified Resume that is accessible via phone?
Here is how a potential workflow would look like:
Mona creates a Digital Verified Resume stored on DigiLocker either via an app on a smartphone or as a web-based link on an internet-enabled feature phone.
She enters her Aadhaar number and the system does an instant eKYC
Mona enters her mobile number and current permanent address into the system, and scans ID and address-proof documents using her phone camera.
She can also update her profile with her most recent photograph for visual identification.
She enters details about her past employment along with mobile numbers of her employers. She can also store testimonials and ratings from past employers on DigiLocker.
Mona can choose to either give or withdraw her consent to potential employers for accessing her Digital Verified Resume, such that she is in control of her data.
Once the above basic details are filled in, the app can trigger quite a few value-added services for a user:
Digital Verified Resume App can validate images from Mona’s profile picture she had uploaded in the app as images of her ID-proof documents.
The system can use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology to extract text fields from uploaded documents to perform cross-validation of information.
The system can create information required for police verification and pass the information digitally to police departments and securely store police verification artefacts.
It can integrate with the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) as the system matures over time to perform digital criminal record checks.
Mona can then list her UPI account to receive payment for services rendered.
With Digital Verified Resume, genuinely hard working people like Mona can separate themselves from impersonators and build trust even before the very first interaction with a potential employer! So far, this has only been a privilege for white-collar workers with a resume. The timing is ripe to extend this advantage to domestic workers and build a market around it.
From a market development standpoint, you could provide this as a service to domestic service workers and employers alike. If someone like Mona benefits from the service, she will foster other migrants from her hometown to enroll for the service as well. There are various revenue models possible — transaction-based, subscription-based, or a mix of both. With a $5 billion market annually and 4 million workers (and growing), even small service fees amount to healthy revenues for a startup providing this service! Just think a 2 percent service fee for about 1 percent the market leads to an Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) of $1million. Unorganised workers exist in other sectors as well, comprising the 400 million unorganised sectors in India. With time, opportunities would only increase! Imagine the market that this kind of service opens up. As an entrepreneur, how would you go about building this service?