COVID-19: Kerala youth shunning white collar jobs, turning to manual labour

Thiruvananthapuram: Like the rest of India, the COVID-19 lockdown has led to mass job losses in Kerala too, but as the economy attempts to get back to normal, there is a striking change in work attitudes in the state – a reduction in the craze for white collar jobs.

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Traditionally, Keralites have preferred white collar jobs alone, exhibiting such an aversion to any manual job that an estimated two million workers from other states have been attracted to the state from across the country. Many of those workers have returned to their native states during the lockdown.

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The extended lockdown has dealt telling blows to two pillars of Kerala’s economy – remittances and tourism. The loss of jobs worldwide has caused tens of thousands of Keralites based abroad to return home, leading to loss of international remittances, and the tourism sector’s virtual closure in the state has led to massive losses of jobs and tax revenue.

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Kerala’s annual remittances from around the world has averaged over Rs 1 trillion for several years, but that will take a severe dent this fiscal owing to job losses and corporate austerity around the world.

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The tourism sector, which is a key revenue earner for the state, has been devastated by the lockdown, affecting hundreds of thousands of jobs, financial crisis for tourism property owners and a loss of tax revenue to the exchequer.

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A change in outlook

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That bleak economic landscape appears to have led to a change in the work ethic among Keralites, with many people now willing to take up manual work.

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In different parts of the state, the youth have organized themselves to take up jobs ranging from farming to painting buildings, striking deals with whoever is willing to give them work.

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Some others who have lost jobs have turned to whatever manual jobs they can get. In Varikoly near Vadkara in Kozhikode district, N.K. Ramesh, a gold medalist from the Aligarh Muslim University in 2015 in the M Sc Diploma in Museology, has taken up dehusking coconuts to make a living.

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Ramesh, who was holding a temporary government job as a museum guide at the Kunjalli Marakkar Museum at Kottakkal in north Kerala, lost his job when all museums were shut owing to the lockdown. Ramesh, who also is a post graduate in Anthropology, dehusks about 1,000 coconuts a day, earning Rs 800.

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“We should be able to turn crises in life into fortunes. For that we should be willing to take up any job. As we go along, rewards will come to us based on our abilities”, Ramesh told Gulf News.

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Popular Malayalam actor Vinod Kovoor, better known as M80 Moosa, had recently turned to fish retailing with the ‘Moosakayi C Fresh’ brand, following the downturn in the showbiz sector.

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Attitude is key

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According to Nithin George Eapen, founder of the Connecticut, US-based ChanceRiver, a firm that hires in India and the US, attitude is one of the key ingredients to success. “Your IQ and marks may get you a foot in the door, but from thereon everything depends on your performance and attitude”, he says.

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Eapen said many Keralites were still entrenched in their desire to work at some prestigious IT park and would turn down better jobs that paid higher just because the job was not in a tech park.

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In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis the state government is also attempting to cut costs, which will reflect on hiring in the coming days. Recently, there were street protests after a 28-year-old youth, S. Anu committed suicide after he failed to get a government job despite coming 77th in the state employment selection list.

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