New Delhi: Sending a “Hi” on WhatsApp will now enable labourers to find jobs that suit their skills in their home states, thanks to an artificial-intelligence-driven chatbot launched by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Wednesday.
The Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) of the DST has created a portal called the Shramik Shakti Manch (SAKSHAM) that will connect labourers to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in their native places via WhatsApp.
According to Pradeep Srivastava, Executive Director at TIFAC, the genesis of SAKSHAM took place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lockdown imposed in the wake of the pandemic left lakhs of migrant labourers without work across India, forcing them to return home.
The images of migrant labourers walking hundreds of kilometres home along with their families, including children — and the accounts of the struggles they faced — remain one of the defining aspects of the Indian pandemic experience.
“The lockdown compelled migrant labourers all over India to return to their native places. Many of them lost their sources of bread and butter,” Srivastava said during the launch of the portal at the India International Centre in New Delhi.
The portal includes a geospatial map of MSMEs across India. Using data on the availability of jobs, and the skillsets they require, the portal matches labourers with potential job opportunities in their regions. It is available on the number 7208635370.
Once a labourer sends a message to the WhatsApp chatbot, it will ask follow-up questions seeking information about the person and their work experience.
Based on the information received, the AI system will connect the user with the nearest available job provider.
Currently, the chatbot is only available in English and Hindi, but TIFAC is working on expanding the project to other languages. An offline variant devised for those without smartphones can be accessed through a missed call on 022-67380800.
“We have reached out to various MSMEs and associated organisations across India, requesting them to sign up on this portal,” Srivastava told ThePrint.
The idea is to reduce the need for the labour force to travel large distances to look for jobs, Srivastava said.
“The portal can be used by electricians, plumbers, agricultural workers and others. Those who do not have a smartphone can give a missed call from a landline to make use of the portal and get placed in a suitable job,” he added.
Challenges that remain
A number of MSMEs are already on board, but Srivastava said reaching labourers and workers who may benefit from the portal has been a more challenging task.
“Some data on migrant labourers is available with the NITI Aayog, which had asked shramiks to register on a portal called Unnati,” he added.
Unnati was set up last year as part of the Modi government’s efforts to arrange livelihood for labourers in their home states.
“We are also reaching out to state governments and local district administrations that have data on migrant labourers,” he said, adding that this will help get more labourers to connect with the portal.
Data for the portal was also collected through NGOs and surveys, Srivastava added.
The portal was launched during an event to mark the 34th foundation day of TIFAC, an autonomous body under the DST that was mandated to set directions for future technological development in India in important socio-economic sectors.