IBM uses mobile web to aid illiterate job-hunters

The voice-based web will help workers in Karnataka state in south India to match their skills with available jobs

IBM is deploying its voice-based web technology in India to enable illiterate people in the state of Karnataka to find jobs by talking on their mobile phones.

The "Smarter Employability Platform" that the company is developing with the Karnataka Vocational Training and Skill Development Corporation (KVTSDC), a government agency, aims to take advantage of the large-scale proliferation of mobile phones among poor and rural users, many of whom are illiterate and speak only local languages.

India has a large number of people who are available for work, but either do not have the appropriate skills or do not know of the jobs that are available, Gopal Pingali, program director at IBM Research-India, said on Friday.

IBM and KVTSDC are trying to build an ecosystem consisting of job providers, job seekers, trainers, and testing and certification firms, he added.

The platform will use IBM's "Spoken Web" technology, a research project that aims to enable local communities to create and disseminate locally relevant content, and transact with e-commerce sites using the spoken word over the telephone instead of the written word.

Developed at IBM Research-India, Spoken Web mirrors the web in a telecom network where people can create and browse "VoiceSites" that have their own URL (uniform resource locator), traverse "VoiceLinks", and make transactions.

VoiceSites can be thought of as websites accessible over voice, though they are situated on a telephony network rather than the Internet, IBM said. The Spoken Web uses technologies such as VoiceXML (Voice eXtensible Markup Language) and HSTP (hyper speech transfer protocol).

The Spoken Web is a critical component of the project in Karnataka as it allows voice-based interaction, and enables employers to create VoiceSites and disclose the job opportunities available, while also allowing job seekers to make their profiles available through their own VoiceSites, Pingali said.

Access to rural workers has been a key challenge for a number of industries in India, including manufacturing industries.

The focus of the project with Karnataka state is on workers in the unorganized sector, consisting of people like construction workers, plumbers, and carpenters, who are either illiterate or do not have access to the web on PCs, Pingali said. A key design objective was to ensure that users of entry-level mobile phones, without Internet connectivity, could use the technology, he added.

Educated users from the organized sector too are finding the technology useful because it offers anywhere, anytime access, Pingali said.

IBM researchers are adding new capabilities to the platform such as a mobile crowd sourcing platform that will enable people to offer opportunities to each other, provide referrals, and drive rapid dissemination of available opportunities, the company said. IBM is also adding analytics technology that will enable matching of skills with job opportunities available, and analysis to study employment trends, Pingali said.

The researchers are also planning a cloud-based deployment in Karnataka as this will enable the technology to be scaled to include users in many locations, Pingali said.

The platform is being rolled out in the first phase in two districts in Karnataka, with plans to expand to eight more districts in the state in the second phase. The Spoken Web is still a research project for IBM, Pingali said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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