Unscrupulous recruitment agencies often lure blue-collar staff to the Gulf with false promises about wages and working conditions, charging migrant workers exorbitant fees that can take several years to repay. Aspiring to find a solution to this long-standing problem, which also troubles employers, Spandana Palaypu forsook a graduate trainee opportunity with an accountancy firm to launch ZoEasy.
Palaypu, grew up in Dubai, where her company is based. An extrovert by nature, she has always enjoyed chatting with everyone she meets, from shop staff to waiters.
“Out of curiosity, I’d ask how they decided to take a job abroad, and almost every time I’d hear they’d paid large sums of money to a broker back home, sometimes up to $3,000,” says Palaypu, noting that blue-collar job seekers often go through many intermediaries to get work.
“Although employers have clear descriptions of the job and salary, this information becomes exaggerated as it travels through these layers, so job seekers get sold a dream, which is far from reality, and they end up in jobs that they may be unprepared or overqualified for,” Palaypu says. “I've met a teacher who was working as a toilet cleaner and a waiter who’s actually a software engineer, for example.”
The Modus Operandi
In order to get a better deal for blue-collar workers, ZoEasy works with ethical employers that have demonstrably strong human resources and corporate social responsibility practices and which provide blue-collar employees with visas, airfare, appropriate accommodation, transportation and access to other resources.
First, though, ZoEasy analyses job seekers’ experience and skills so it can place them in suitable roles.
“This skillset doesn't just mean the type of work they've done before or qualifications they have - we also try to understand their personality because soft skills play a key role. If you’re a good communicator, for example, you don't necessarily have to work in a specific field,” Palaypu explains.
“We look at it from the job seeker's perspective to see how best they’d fit into the job market, and if they don't have those qualifications, we guide them on how they could improve their skills. After this, we place them with an appropriate employer.”
The First Steps
ZoEasy, which has a seven-member team, began by approaching job seekers active on social media as well as regional governments in Asian countries, such as India. Through this, it created a database of 65,000 people looking for work in the UAE. The company then selected 100 to participate in a proof-of-concept pilot.
This process was painstakingly conducted offline in order to identify the difficulties that both job seekers and employers experience. Using this data, ZoEasy is now taking these processes online to create a platform that is more scalable and efficient to use.
During the pilot, ZoEasy was able to find employment for all 100 job seekers, who now enjoy better working conditions and higher salaries than they had previously.
Recognition and the Road Ahead
These successes helped the company win the Lead2030 UN SDG Challenge, which focuses on 10 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ZoEasy applied in the SDG 4 category, where the focus is on quality education.
As a programme sponsor, Credit Suisse gave ZoEasy a $50,000 grant and also mentored the startup to help it hone its marketing, technology and overall business strategy. ZoEasy has also received $100,000 as a winner of Expo Live’s Innovation Impact Grant, an Expo 2020 Dubai Initiative.
The for-profit company charges employers a recruitment fee for every successful placement. This is typically equivalent to a month’s salary of the recruited employee. It aims to place 100,000 blue-collar workers in jobs within the next three to five years.
For now, ZoEasy will focus on ethically employing job seekers in the UAE but has longer-term plans to expand to the wider Middle East and beyond. Palaypu comments:
“Job seekers are often so ingrained in the system they're sometimes unaware of the alternatives, so when you tell them you’re not going to charge them anything for providing a SERVICE, it seems too good to be true, and many still end up wanting to use a broker or [intermediary] who's going to charge them a lot of money. As our word-of-mouth reputation grows, and by combining technology with the right partnerships, this becomes less of an issue.”