In ‘Pratidwandi’, a Bengali movie directed by Satyajit Ray in 1972, there comes a scene almost at the end of the film, where the protagonist Siddhartha Choudhari waits outside the interview room hoping to get a job. The corridor is crowded. There are 75 applicants for four available positions and the applicants end up waiting for more than three hours, most of them standing on the corridors in the absence of chairs.
The scene reflected the unemployment problem that plagued India in 70s and how well qualified people had to slog to get a job. Like ‘Pratidwandi,’ several other movies made in different Indian languages in 70s, 80s and even in 90s portrayed the unemployment scenario in Indian cities.
Back then Employment Exchanges were the most sought after centres for unemployed youth to get jobs. Long stretch of queues were the norm. Registration with the Employment Exchange offices which located in every district of the state, meant one would be informed whenever there was a job opportunity in the government sector. And government jobs were of course dream jobs for young people.
The Employment Exchange has an interesting history. Exchange offices were opened in 1945 after the Second World War, to absorb newly released service personnel and others who had served in the war.
In 1947 after the partition and Indian Independence, the Directorate General of Resettlement and Employment which handled Employment Exchanges was entrusted the job of resettlement of a large number of displaced persons. Gradually with the changing times, the role of Employment Exchanges too changed.
In around 1948, Employment Exchanges were thrown open to all categories of people looking for employment and in 1956, the employment services were handed over from the Central government to the State government. In 1959, the Central government introduced a legislation making it compulsory to notify vacancies in government departments to Employment Exchanges.
Since then, Employment Exchanges have played a significant role in helping the unemployed youth to get jobs in government and private sectors though the district level offices.
How are Employment Exchanges with a history of seven decades functioning now? Are they relevant at a time when the job market has seen a drastic change? What are these offices doing after all?
I visited the Bengaluru’s Employment Exchange office located at Janatha Bazaar building in KG Road. On climbing up the wooden stairs of this vintage building, a board indicating “Employment Exchange” office greeted me on the second floor.
It was around noon. The corridor and all the rooms of the Employment Exchange office were nearly empty. It did not really reflect the imagination of an “employment office” that we tend to have in our mind.
There were five officers in their rooms, and were attending one or two candidates who would appear in long gaps. Their job was to approve and do the registration process formalities for candidates.
Each section is meant for candidates having certain education qualification.
- School drop outs
- Trained in technical courses like ITI, diploma
- Any education qualification between 10th Std to graduation
- Professional course graduates and post graduates
- Special employment for physically disabled
Candidate looking for a government or a private job would register in the respective section. On submission of registration forms, the officers in-charge would verify the forms, documents and hand over registration card to the job seekers. These cards carry employee registration numbers valid for three years.
The officer in-charge said that most of the applicants visit the office in the morning. The registration and renewal would happen only from 10 am to 1 pm.
During morning hours
So the next morning I visited the office again, at 10 am sharp. This time the corridor and the rooms were livelier. Over two dozen youth were present in the different sections, were busy filling the registration forms.
Who are these job seekers who continue to pin their hopes on Employment Exchanges when the job market has opened up for all? Why do they register with Exchanges?
I asked the candidates there — some were college pass outs, a few had been working for 3-4 years, and rest were unemployed — stuffed in a room busy filling the registration forms. In the absence of an online registration system, the candidates end up visiting the Employment Exchanges and manually fill the forms. (Online system was functional till one and a half years ago and it was managed by National Informatics Centre. The service was stopped for reasons unknown. According to the department officials, plans are on the anvil to reintroduce the online system with the help of National Career Service).
The room in which they all had assembled appeared more like an examination hall, with benches and desks neatly arranged. It was the registration room for candidates who have education qualification between 10th to graduation (B.A, B.Com, B.Sc, BCA etc).
A staff at the Exchange office distributed registration forms and asked them to fill it up. Apart from personal details, they had to mention their education qualification, affiliated board/university.
Hoping for better jobs
Arjun is a B.Com graduate and resident of Shivaji Nagar, and has been working in a private sector bank. He is looking for a government job. “I want to know if there are vacancies in the public sector undertakings. Employment registration will help me in that case,” he told me.
Those like Lavanya and Nayana, both having completed their graduation a few months ago were here following their parents advice. “I don’t have a job yet. I would like to get a government job in a bank or something,” Lavanya said.
Why not apply to write bank exams directly instead of approaching Employment Exchanges? Lavanya said it was because the Employment Exchange office updates her about the exams. “I get guidance too on the job opportunities available and how to go ahead,” she explained.
The officer in-charge Srinivasa K, also the Assistant Director of Sub Regional Employment Exchange, who was verifying the applications said most of the job seekers who register with him prefer jobs that do not have strict work targets.
“Youngsters don’t prefer marketing jobs. Even if they initially join such jobs out of desperation, they tend to quit soon. Many who come to me prefer banking and insurance jobs. Per month, on an average 100-150 members who have registered in our section succeed in getting jobs,” he said.
Also, he added that those who apply for jobs mainly look for a decent salary coupled with accommodation facility as the cost of living in Bengaluru is way too high. “A lot of them don’t pursue the offer if it doesn’t include accommodation. But they don’t mind taking up the jobs even if the salary is Rs 10,000 a month if includes accommodation.”
A branch for professional courses
In yet another corner, an officer handles graduates from professional courses and post graduates. He sees fewer applicants coming in compared to the section that handles 10th grade to graduation. This officer scrutinises each application carefully and spends a few minutes interacting and guiding the candidates.
Basava Kumar, a MCA graduate is one of the many post graduates who has approached the Employment Exchange office. He works for a private company which he said does not really pay well. “Yet, I like the job because it has got to do with programming.” He was visiting the exchange because of his father’s insistence, “He wants me to get a government job, hence I am registering in this office.”
The officer advised him, “You know, there are very few jobs in the government sector for a programmer. Each department needs one programmer, not more. I would really suggest you to go for any government job in that case, instead of waiting to get a job that suits your education qualification.” Kumar was reluctant. He was not really interested to join just any government job. He wanted to consider opportunities in the Central government too. After the brief conversation, the youth, Basava Kumar left the Employment Exchange office, unsure of what next.
In the meantime, the officer who has been interacting with tens of candidates everyday told at least 25 of the 30 candidates who approach him are B.E graduates. “For those who have studied in top colleges, getting jobs is not a problem, but those who have studied in newly established and least popular engineering colleges tend to bear the brunt. When they come to me, I tell them to pursue any good job offer that is in the offing, even if it has nothing to do with their degree,” the officer said.
Soon, Nirmala, a BE graduate from a well-known engineering college in Bengaluru entered the chamber along with an application for registration. She said she was ready to go for any job be it private or government as long as she can earn and repay the loans her father had availed for her education.
“I was selected in the campus interview. But later the company said they have dropped off the project, hence wouldn’t hire a few candidates including me. Now I am trying my luck at various companies and decided to register with the Employment Exchange too. I can’t afford to remain jobless. I have to help in my younger brother’s education,” Nirmala said as a matter of fact.
Perhaps Nirmala’s story gives an answer as to why the job seeking youth, though in a comparatively smaller number continue to register with Bengaluru’s Employment Exchange office. The next part of the story tells you how the relevancy and functioning of the Employment Exchange offices has changed over the years. Is it time to revamp the system of Employment Exchange?