Betterplace uses AI to streamline operations

Tapping into an unexploited area of tech, Betterplace harnesses AI to align blue collar workforce employment

When former SAP executive Pravin Agarwala and former Nu Sigma Executive Saurabh Tandon came together to incept a startup firm they knew the company’s offering had to be niche and unique. They had identified an area where there was a critical need and one which gave them scope to grow and address an unsolved problem through technology.

Betterplace is the company they created and it is designed to unify processes and services for and by the blue-collar workforce of India. Betterplace works with more than 1,000 companies in India to manage a complete employee lifecycle management of the blue-collar employees like drivers, maids, housekeeping, security guards, delivery boys. Considering the fact that the blue-collar workforce is so unorganized, getting them organized into a digital portal itself calls for a humungous task, and that’s what Agarwala and his co-Founder set out to do through Betterplace.

What has Betterplace done to redefine the blue-collar workforce?

Introducing the concept behind Betterplace, co-Founder Pravin Agarwala initiates the conversation by saying, “Since its inception in 2015, Betterplace has processed more than 60 lakh, blue-collar workers, through its platform. As you know the blue-collar workforce in India is highly unorganized and migratory in nature, it is a challenge for companies to hire in large numbers to meet their growing needs and at the same time conduct background checks on every such worker hired. For the workers, they mostly try to find employment on their own through informal channels and the result is poor salary and a standard of life which has no scope for improvement. Our endeavor is to address both sides – employer and employee of blue-collar jobs.”

With a 250-odd employee base, BetterPlace achieves a complete end-to-end solution. The company works with large organizations/employers to source talent from NSDC certified training institutes (SkillConnect), onboarding, orientation, training, skilling and background verification of the blue-collar employees. According to Agarwala, this has never been done in India because of the costs involved in the process. On the workers’ side, BetterPlace also gives them a trust score which helps them get loans from formal financial institutions and avail of govt schemes like Mudra Loans, which wasn’t the case till now.

“The blue-collar economy, though form the backbone of our economy, continues to be highly unorganized and with little technology adoption. This is mainly because businesses employing blue-collar workers are mostly the old economy. When we started Betterplace in 2015, we started as a background verification company as we identified it as a big gap in hiring people who have a clean background. However, we soon realized that it is just the tip of the iceberg. There were everyday challenges that don’t even exist in the white-collar space like automated attendance, on-time payroll processing, access to formal financial services. As we delved deeper into the world of blue-collar, we realized that some of the basic services, pertaining to good employment experience, are missing and technology can truly enable companies employing such a workforce, meet these expectations,” says Agarwala.

As we delved deeper into the world of blue-collar, we realized that some of the basic services, pertaining to good employment experience, are missing and technology can truly enable companies employing such a workforce.

Revealing a little more about the company, Agarwala says, “The other aspect we also realized basis our interactions with customers is that they don’t want to work with multiple partners who have the capability of solving various pieces of this problem. They want one tech platform, which can do it all. Thus, started our journey of transformation from background verification to a complete lifecycle management tech platform for blue-collar workers in India. Today, Betterplace is the largest such platform working with 750+companies.”

Agarwala agrees that there is always a demand and supply gap mainly not because of lack of manpower but the gap between skills needed for new age blue-collar jobs and the training they receive.

Working with more than 700 companies, today Betterplace is valued for its ability to address the skill gap that exists in the blue-collar workforce today. Agarwala agrees that there is always a demand and supply gap mainly not because of lack of manpower but the gap between skills needed for new age blue-collar jobs and the training they receive. Hence, the company works closely with the stakeholders in designing a training module, location of training, and the final job placement to fit appropriate needs. Commenting at this juncture, Agarwala says “The bigger point here is that since the entire ecosystem is so unorganized, the first step is to reduce friction from overall processes before making them more standardized or scaling it up. Blue-collar is a real bridge between the new-age companies and the customers. So, they have to empower these guys if they want to make an impact on the customers.”

Apart from helping employers hire blue-collar workforce with the right skills and credentials, Betterplace has to its credit of empowering 7.5M+ people, while already helping 1.2 million blue-collar workers become credit-ready using the platform’s proprietary trust scoring algorithm, and we are currently adding around 10,000 new individuals monthly. Additionally, the company has conducted more than 10 million hours of skill development, about 10 million KYCs, and is now aiming to bring 150 million workers into the formal economy by 2021.

Harnessing technology to streamline operations

“Be it matching jobs with their skill set or even empowering them with digital payment solutions, technology has done good in several ways,” says Agarwala.

“We are using technology and the power of AI to solve multiple challenges that blue-collar workers face today. Right from access to jobs to choosing the right jobs for them whether it is basis location, salary, nature of work or documentation help needed to secure a job. At Betterplace, we have rolled out multiple apps that address many needs of this workforce. BetterJobs, Training, Better Medicine, Better Money, and an attendance app all work in tandem to make the life of a blue-collar worker better by the day,” mentions Agarwala.

Many blue-collar employing new-age tech companies like Ola, Uber, Zomato, and Swiggy, whose business model depends on the blue-collar workforce is quite dependent on Betterplace like companies. Agarwala says that his offerings are parallel to logistics management around e-commerce, food or grocery delivery or e-pharmacies. People are the key pillar of that value chain. Since those businesses are growing multifold a huge need for the workforce is also in constant demand. Most of the workforce resources are in a distributed environment as the work demands that. This is where tech plays a huge role in on-boarding people at scale and speed. Be it the people management side of the solutions like hiring; background verification; training; attendance; or payroll/finance management or people engagement side like doctor on call, credit, etc., require AI-based technology to make appropriate choices and decisions. All this needs to be delivered keeping scale and efficiency in mind. That can only be achieved using smart tech, assures Agarwala.

One may argue that there are multiple portals today highlighting blue-collar job opening. But if you go beyond the headline, there is no clear description of the job and details that one needs to know before applying. This results in people applying for jobs only to realize they don’t want to continue working in it, which leads to job dissatisfaction and high attrition. Overcoming these challenges became a testimony to Betterplace’s selling strategies.

“Fulfilment is our core strength. We work closely with the businesses in sourcing the right talent. Betterplace engages with businesses providing them solutions like training, attendance, finance for their blue-collar workforce. This is done in partnership with the enterprises. It’s a B2B2C model in principle. Our on-boarding centers speed up the hiring process as every candidate is processed through our platform in a near real-time manner. If a job seeker applies through the BetterJobs app, he gets a call from us explaining the nature of the job, documents required to carry so that the on-boarding and hiring process is frictionless and swift for both the stakeholders. As a strategy, we would be launching all the modules in a single app in the coming weeks,” discloses Agarwala.

Agarwala also believes that Betterplace’s job does not end with identifying the relevant position and the company for the candidate. There is more to supporting the candidate.

Agarwala also believes that Betterplace’s job does not end with identifying the relevant position and the company for the candidate. There is more to supporting the candidate. These are two important and closely linked functions of any job. It was quite surprising to know that in most Indian companies attendance of blue-collar workers is maintained in a physical register which is sent to the HO for payroll processing. General Industry Standards has observed that there is 1 accountant for every 1000 blue-collar employees thus making attendance tallying and subsequent salary processing a time-consuming task invariably delaying the payment.

“At most of our customers’ end, we have automated this process by installing biometric and geofencing enabled attendance system so that it is captured in the system on a daily basis thus ensuring on-time salary payment. BetterMoney helps blue-collar workers access digital banking services with zero balance account and also transfers money to their family without paying any remittance charges. This also helps them to build a financial history over time which may help them take formal loans from NBFC and banks as compared to loan sharks,” shares Agarwala.

Funds in place; future on track

Lalitesh Katragadda, an ex-Google senior executive and pioneer of online maps in India, was one of BetterPlace’s early investors. As of December 2018, the organization has raised a total of over $6 million as equity money from several investors, including 3one4 Capital, Unitus Ventures, and Neeraj Arora-backed Venture Highway.

“This year our focus is to build the business omnichannel way. We will lay more emphasis on putting more people to work and solving access to finance and inclusion for them. The company plans to raise Series B later this year,” reveals Agarwala.

Considering Betterplace’s niche offering the founders are certainly going to be wise in shaping the future of the company. While sharing the company’s areas of improvement, Agarwala sketched out saying that the company is working on a methodology that will bring some consistency in working on their terms and time convenience. Providing healthcare and insurance for contractual workers, an employee like benefits – a new trend still taking shape – are on Agarwala’s checklist.

Apart from those, a bigger target was unveiled by Agarwala. He is aiming at creating a merger of the benefits of traditional jobs and micro-entrepreneurship, which is partly entrepreneurship and partly employee. This new thought is what is attracting a lot of people to this gig economy and observing this Agarwala, with funds in place, is steering the company to new heights, empowering and redefining the lives of the blue-collar workforce at large.

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