How Google Helps Indonesia’s Growing Employment Issue
We spoke to Bickey Russell, one of the co-founders of Kormo, to talk about Google’s latest project which aims to shape the future of hiring in an ever-changing employment landscape.
Words by Ghina Sabrina
Entering the workforce has always been an arduous journey to navigate, especially for young people trying to do it for the first time. Aside from the usual questions regarding its process such as “Where do I seek for jobs?” to “What jobs are available for me?”, job seeking most often than not relies on how well-connected a person is or how proactive they are in sending out applications offline and online. It is further entangled in the current COVID-19 pandemic which makes it even more of a rigmarole, resulting in increased unemployment, businesses freezing hiring, and changing work conditions. These set of circumstances are what Google’s newest product, Kormo, is trying to solve. As a project from Google’s Next Billion Users (NBU) initiative, it is an app that matches companies that are hiring job seekers in emerging markets such as Indonesia. We had the opportunity to chat with Bickey Russell, one of Kormo’s co-founders, to talk about Kormo’s strategies in tapping into Indonesia’s growing percentage of job seekers, how they adapt to the pandemic, and their insights on today’s employment landscape.
Could you tell us about the beginning of Kormo?
I’m originally from Bangladesh, that’s an important part of the story I guess. I’ve been in Google for a long time, previously my first 8 years at Google were in the business organisation undertaking various roles from sales, marketing, and strategy. An opportunity then came about with the introduction of an in-house incubator called Area 120 for Googlers like myself, particularly those who’d been in the company for a while, who had a lot of great ideas around products that Google should build, pitch and potentially get them funded.
So I got together with a few of my colleagues and we pitched this idea of how we could help people, originally in our native Bangladesh, get jobs better and how we could help businesses hire. We knew that this wasn’t just a problem for Bangladesh. We knew that if you look at the data, especially with a lot of young people entering the workforce, unemployment and underemployment was an issue in India, Indonesia, and other emerging markets in particular.
We felt that there was an opportunity for a bottom-up innovation to happen, leveraging a lot of Google’s strengths particularly around data matching. So we pitched this idea of a very intuitive app for job seekers to just see a feed of jobs and for businesses to be able to post jobs and reach that segment which we felt was under served. If you want to hire a blue collar, grey collar, informal sector worker, or gate worker, there wasn’t a lot out there. Even today, we feel like there’s not as much out there. So, that’s where we started. We pitched the idea, then we were in Area 120 for three years but was always very aligned with the vision of the Next Billion User initiative and program.
A year ago we graduated into the NBU program and during that process we launched in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and India as well.
After launching in Bangladesh, what drove Kormo to launch subsequently in Indonesia?
When you’re building a marketplace or a new product, it’s good to have some constraints and boundaries, if not you can’t really solve every problem for everyone. So we’re like, “Let’s make sure we can create value and develop product-market fit in our launch market,” which just so happen to be Bangladesh because I’m originally from there. That’s one of the reasons why we launched it there, we had good local insight. But once we start to see that businesses are using us to hire, we’re helping more and more people get jobs every day, what are the things that we’ve learned? What are the best practices? What’s the playbook?
We felt that there was an opportunity for a bottom-up innovation to happen.
So when we felt that we’ve had a good enough handle of it – it’s by no means perfect even today, we’re like “Let’s see if these learnings and insights carry over to Indonesia.” In Indonesia we felt it was always going to be our next market. I think the demographic trends, the labour marketplace, the size, and even what Google’s doing there, investing in – support for SMEs, upskilling or skill development. We felt that there is an opportunity for us to help more Indonesian, especially job seekers. That’s why Indonesia was essentially a natural fit for us, and then India after.
Kormo is NBU-first, what was the reason behind tapping on the Next Billion User?
That’s partly down to the Next Billion User (NBU) program at Google which launched 5 years ago really driving this commitment of how does Google not just think about our existing products – YouTube, Maps, Earth – and how do we make those more friendly to those next wave of internet users. People who are coming online in the last 5-6 years but also going forward. So within the company there’s been a shift over the last 5-6 years if you think more about Next Billion Users.
But then there’s this personal attachment. I’m from Bangladesh, I see the problem, I think about when I graduated many years ago and I think about some of the experiences that my friends went through looking for jobs back in Bangladesh when I was in the UK at that time. And then think about that same situation today, it hasn’t really gotten that much better. And it’s a lot of people. I think in India it’s 17 million young people entering the workforce every year, in Bangladesh it’s 2 million, and if you look at under employment and unemployment numbers, they’re actually very challenging. So we felt the need in emerging markets was the biggest and we know that the opportunity to go in and build this new experience from the bottom-up was most clear in the Next Billion User territory. Then of course as I said that personal connection element is also a huge aspect. I was passionate about this, I had a group of people that were passionate about this, and we felt strongly about our ability to be able to go and solve that problem. Which I think is also really important.
Career marketplace is not new, especially in Indonesia, so what kind of strategies does Kormo have to compete with established platforms?
Our objective is to think about who the user is, who’s our target audience – in this case is a very wide target audience – and we feel to this day is still under served not just by technologies but by services that are available to them. It’s like “Hey, I just came out of high school and I need a job, where do I look for a job? What kind of job could I be a fit for? If I got a certain skill, what opportunities would open up for me?” If I think about all of these problems that are basically day-to-day challenges for people entering the workforce and that’s just one segment, I guess a primary segment, then I think about how there’s not a lot out there that kind of stitches all of that together and I feel that’s what we’re trying to solve. We’re by no means have solved it yet but we find then locate the idea of “I’m recommending jobs to you as a job seeker”. The onboarding on Kormo is very straightforward, you just answer a couple of questions there and you see a job, a lot of them geared around your location. We think these are things that are relatively unique and are adding value if you want to build on those.
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As an app that taps into the entry-level job market, how does Kormo adapt to the shifting job landscape due to the pandemic?
This was obviously something that you can never predict or plan, but what we saw very early on in COVID-19 is as we got into March and the pandemic was starting to gather steam and people started to develop knowledge, we saw businesses across the board start to freeze hiring. And that to us was like, whoa, what is happening here? But then as lockdown started to come into play, certain types of businesses – the essential businesses – that just so happen to be a large part of our portfolio actually needed to hire more. And in Indonesia, just a really simple example that I think you could all relate to is think about your local supermarket. As the pandemic hit they might have seen a lot of their staff leave but the demand for that service grew. So what we did was we will make sure that we have tools that enable that kind of business to still hire or still get connected to people who need employment. People still needed to earn money. So we launched a couple of features, remote interviewing, and the ability to do jobs remotely or the ability for businesses hiring work-from-home type jobs to post those jobs. So that was the first thing we did, to kind of shift towards essential business categories that still needed people. And the second thing we did was make sure we had the tools available.
What we’re seeing is, if you are always hiring offline you would only hire through walk-in centers and CV drop offs, and now that you’ve done things remotely you’re probably not going to go back to that as much. It wasn’t as efficient and it wasn’t a good experience ever for the job seekers. So the third thing we’re trying to do is help employers more with digital solutions and we just announced this speaking practice feature which is essentially a set of modules to help job seekers better prepare for those interviews or jobs in particular categories. The cool thing about that is things like “How do you take an order for coffee?” It’s really targeted towards jobs/professions and things that are very practical and I can see us building on that a lot more over time in this kind of COVID/Post-COVID world.
It’s interesting how Kormo is not only a marketplace for job-seekers but also a tool for them to develop themselves.
Yeah. We want businesses to be able to hire more effectively, but at the same time we want to give job seekers all the tools they can to get those jobs. We feel some of them can be built inside of our app, like speaking practice using AI which is building on Google’s core strengths as a technology company. But we also are partnering with third-parties and partners who are connecting their content to Kormo users as well to help them develop too.
We want businesses to be able to hire more effectively, but at the same time we want to give job seekers all the tools they can to get those jobs.
Kormo essentially cuts out the time and effort invested by HR professionals in the screening process, but this often eliminates the human touch needed to find the well-suited candidate. What is your response to this?
That’s an interesting question. I think the way we look at it is we want to essentially enable the HR function to hire better. And if we think about how they hire better, there’s a productivity angle, such as how they become more efficient in that process. What we’re trying to do is give them the tools to actually do a better job at hiring. So I don’t see that as “You’re using Kormo, that means you lack the human touch.” I actually think we’re trying to drive that further. But it’s an interesting thread that we need to keep thinking about. I would say that we’re giving the tool to be able to go through all the applicants, whereas before maybe they wouldn’t be able to see all the applicants. That’s the angle that we have and I think by and large we’re getting there and we’re kind of getting to solving that problem.
The other thing, because I think more theoretically, over time what we would hope to happen is that the time that HR has freed up – hopefully in all the tedious, menial tasks like sifting through CVs which we’ve optimised for them, made more efficient just by the UX of our product – they could use for things like writing better job descriptions. Also things like doing better onboarding and training. All things that we know are not working as great as they could in every single organisation everywhere. So ultimately I think that would be where we would like to see this go eventually.
That’s an interesting outlook. So with Kormo helping the HR to be more efficient, they could then develop other sectors that would help both the employee and employer.
Yeah, I think onboarding is a really big part of recruiting that often employers just ignore. It’s like, okay, I’ve got them through the door but what we’ve seen is that a lot of employers churn out the new hires within the first week. So more time given to assessing the candidate but using tools that enable that better and then onboarding will, I think, result in an overall better jobs marketplace for everyone.
One of the main aspects of employment is its benefits, such as health insurance, how does Kormo ensure that employers do provide basic needs for its users?
Onboarding is a really big part of recruiting that often employers just ignore.
That’s another interesting one and I think there are a couple of things that we are doing, one is that every employer that’s posting on Kormo is someone that we verify. We want to make sure that they’re legitimate jobs from legitimate employers and I think that solves a lot of the problems because a legit employer will have good care for their employees. The other thing is, we encourage employers to post as much information and be as transparent about the details of the jobs, such as the terms of those jobs in their job posts. And that’s something that some employers do really well and have that for a long time and some maybe not as much and we’re trying to drive that.
One thing that we definitely do that is essentially mandatory is that you have to post the salary and how that’s paid out in the job post. Which again, not every employer used to do. But if you’re on Kormo you have to do it. So it’s an interesting area, it’s something that’s going to evolve over time but we think we have the right mindset or at least start to kind of get to it then hopefully it will improve over time. I think it’s very beneficial personally for employers to be as upfront as possible because ultimately it sets better expectations with the job seeker and your conversion as well as retention rate for workers will be better.
What advice would you give to job seekers using Kormo for the first time?
The advice I’d definitely give today is to check out the speaking practice modules because I think they’re really cool. I think there are ten of them right now and we want to expand. But if you are going on to Kormo and we have servicing jobs that you are interested in, please see whether one of these speaking practice modules aligns and then use them. Hopefully it helps you prepare and it’s pretty cool, it’s voice-based. It’s like an AI coach helping you with certain questions and scenarios that you would do in that job. As I said, very specific to the kind of jobs that we’re covering right now. If it’s great, give us feedback, if it’s not working pretty well, give us feedback so we could learn and improve.
Could you share some insights on the change in today’s employment listings?
Maybe just a couple of insights. The first one is definitely essential businesses. Businesses classified as essential based on whatever local government stipulation, we’ve actually seen continued growth in hiring from them. So whether it’s a grocery retailer or even a contact center for a telecommunications company, we’ve seen continued growth in their hiring. That’s one that we’re focused on serving better and kind of improving.
The second is, I think since lockdown started to ease, we start to see more field-based jobs which are very necessary in Indonesia. If you’re trying to sell your services or support your customers in the market, field-based support is needed. So we’ve seen that start to grow as lockdown starts to ease. So those are two insights and we’re very watchful of that because again for whatever reason lockdowns have to come up again you might see them drop, so we want to make sure we are on top of things like that.
The third one is remote jobs. I think that’s very early still, but there’s definitely more of the trend and I think it’s not going to go away. Certain jobs that can be done from home will be done and we’ve seen that. I wouldn’t say it’s the majority of our jobs posted on Kormo at all, but it is a growing trend.
How do you see the changes in behaviour during this pandemic?
What we’ve seen is definitely growth in people coming to Kormo. It’s something that you can do from your home. You don’t need to go out to get a job, you don’t need to walk door-to-door, so the idea that you can use a digital solution to help connect you to jobs even if those jobs are offline is clearly something that we’ve seen. What I would also say is the adoption of features like remote hiring or remote interviewing or remote assessment, has been very high. And we hope that that’s the case with the kind of speaking practice features as well.
We feel that we’ve gathered enough insights around people looking to get a job and get support in being connected to that job, we feel we’ve got enough insights to now go and say, “Okay here are some more tools for you that we’ve built inside of Google that are here to help you prepare. But also here are some partners that are building stuff online as well that we like to connect you to”. It’s to be seen whether we get a lot of adoption there, we just launched these features, but they’re very promising and I think they played to that trend of people wanting to not just find a job but also get better prepared for those jobs all from the comfort of their own home.
What are Kormo’s future plans?
We are really focused on the three markets that we’re in right now. It’s all about serving this kind of growing demand to hire in these categories that we’re in, such as retail, e-commerce, and logistics. We hope F&B and hospitality are to pick up again. We want to really serve our customers, the businesses that are hiring there, and we’ve got a long way to go. We have a whole suite of features there that we want to enable the HR team more.
On the job seeker side, we want to just keep optimising the match. You should be able to come to Kormo and see jobs that are perfect for you and that’s something that we may never achieve but we have a long way to go to make that user experience and the matching as relevant as possible. And then I think the third thing is again, I keep talking about this feature because I’m super excited about it but it’s about – we’ve seen that people want more help in kind of being prepared for that interview/job, just becoming more employable, and there’s a few things that we think you can do digitally. So we have ten modules in speaking practice but I’d love to grow that and serve many more professions, many more scenarios that people might go through.
The other thing that we’re looking to do now which we announced as well is working with SMBs (Small and Medium-Sized Businesses). So when we built Kormo, when you asked the question around where this all started, this all started actually from me thinking about local hiring. I didn’t necessarily think of large businesses, my mother runs a business herself a retail store, and that’s the mindset that we had. You know you have these small businesses that they’re looking to hire and if you can’t hire in time, that’s a big problem. And for you to find the right person, if you know the well-known brand, it’s even harder. So we started with the large businesses because that’s where most of the demand was, but now we feel we’ve got a good enough handle where we can start to think about how we scale this to SMBs.
So in Indonesia we’re launching a pilot with another Google program, Gapura Digital, which is all about skills development for SMBs where we’re getting 100 of SMBs who need to hire over the next few weeks and months to post jobs with us. We’re trying to really understand how we can improve our experience for them and hopefully if that works well and we get good insights, we can scale it up to 100-200 and hopefully make Kormo be widely available.