It was a Saturday in February, when Ramesh, a factory technician, excitedly made his way through the crowds at Rajalakshmi Engineering College on the outskirts of Chennai in southern India. He had arrived for a walk-in interview after seeing an online ad — it promised an opportunity to work at a “leading EMS company” in Sunguvarchatram, Chennai.

Over 1,000 aspirants had shown up, Ramesh told Rest of World, speaking under a pseudonym as he isn’t authorized to speak to the media. About two weeks later, he received a call back. On March 1, Ramesh started his new job as a factory operator at Apple contract manufacturer Foxconn’s plant in Sunguvarchatram. The ad he had spotted was one of many being circulated online over the past few months as Foxconn, Apple’s largest contract manufacturer, and its competitors Salcomp and Pegatron look to fill a range of full-time and contract-based roles at their assembly units in India. In 2022, Foxconn had planned to quadruple the workforce at its Chennai plant to 70,000 in two years. Salcomp, meanwhile, wants to double its workers in India to 25,000 over the next three years.

Foxconn’s iPhone manufacturing unit alone has conducted 10 mass-hiring drives since March, Ramesh said. “Come Saturday, they start hiring. Ten walk-in interviews in three months!”

At least six batches of walk-in interviews for Foxconn, Salcomp, and Pegatron were held during February and April at private engineering colleges and major manufacturing hubs in Chennai and Andhra Pradesh. The companies have been looking for talent ranging from fresh graduates to those with experience in setting up, handling, and scaling electronics production lines. They are also hiring people skilled at designing training curriculum for new workers. Six current and former employees at the Foxconn plant told Rest of World they had witnessed a steep increase in hiring and capacity-building over the past few months. They requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

“Between November and now, they have hired 10,000 casual labor.”

In response to queries sent by Rest of World, Foxconn shared Chairman Young Liu’s comments on India during the company’s investor conference call on May 11. “From 2006, Foxconn entered India, ahead of competitors and at a larger scale. During this time period, we accumulated much experience in managing local employees, supply chain and logistics, which are all important competitive advantages that have allowed us to move at a pace that is faster than the market,” Liu said. “It has also allowed us to expand quickly. Apart from continuing this momentum, we also are increasing the production yield locally.”

While investing in new regions or countries brings in challenges of language, culture and capabilities, “It is necessary for us to continue to expand assembly and component operations in India,” Liu said. “We see that more and more suppliers are investing in establishing plants in India and believe that this will become more prominent as time goes on.” Salcomp did not respond to Rest of World’s query about the recent increase in hiring, while Pegatron refused to comment.

Foxconn has also ramped up hiring for contract workers, who assemble iPhones. In November 2022, its factory in Chennai had 15,000 such workers, according to a former employee who was part of Foxconn’s recruitment team. “Between November and now, they have hired 10,000 casual labor,” he told Rest of World. Since the plant now hires in such great numbers, the recruitment team has to constantly monitor for underage aspirants seeking contract work, the former employee said. “Many people edit their Aadhaar [biometric ID card] details and bring them in.” The team now scans the barcodes on the Aadhaar cards to verify the applicants’ age online. Foxconn’s contract workers — mostly women — are hired through third-party firms, and don’t enjoy employee benefits such as insurance. They are supervised by the full-time employees hired through walk-in interviews. The company reportedly has 30,000 women workers, constituting 85% of its Indian workforce. 

“India is currently seeing an unprecedented growth in electronics manufacturing service,” PVG Menon, an electronics industry consultant and adviser, told Rest of World. In January 2022, the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology published a road map to turn the country’s $75-billion electronics sector into a $300-billion powerhouse by 2026. “To sustain this kind of growth, you are going to see people not only hiring more, you will also see them expanding to newer centers,” Menon said. The ongoing rise in hiring isn’t just limited to the iPhone plant; it spans across all of Foxconn’s India manufacturing units, which also make products for companies other than Apple.

The hiring boom by Apple suppliers is possibly also motivated by the Narendra Modi government’s flagship “Production Linked Incentive” (PLI) scheme to boost manufacturing in the country, according to Prachir Singh, a senior research analyst at Counterpoint Research. “They need to expand their capacities to achieve those bigger targets in the coming years,” he told Rest of World. “For that, they will need a higher capacity, higher manpower to achieve these PLI targets. I guess this is all part of the plan.”

In March, Foxconn announced plans to start assembling iPhones at a new 300-acre site in Karnataka. “The HR team has started extending transfer offers for management employees at the Tamil Nadu plant to shift to the upcoming Foxconn plant in Bengaluru,” a former Foxconn human resources executive, who oversaw staff training, told Rest of World. The executive was also approached for a “learning and development” HR role at the Tata Group — the company makes iPhone casings at its plant in Hosur, Tamil Nadu, and plans to hire an additional 45,000 women workers.

“Contract laborers are typically [let go of] en masse to evade the provisions of the Act.”

Foxconn has also had to localize to find more women workers. The manufacturer offers them free food, lodging, and bus services in and out of the facility, according to employees. Typical monthly wages for contract workers are 13,500 rupees ($165), but Foxconn also covers an additional 2,000 to 5,000 rupees ($24–$61) as lodging expenses. These company benefits are a big draw for applicants, according to current and former employees. Those who don’t miss any days of work are given an “attendance bonus” of 750 rupees ($9) per month. 

A former contract worker at electronics manufacturer Flex leveraged the slew of new openings to successfully land a full-time role as a line leader at Foxconn’s iPhone plant in Chennai. “My switch was from casual labor to direct labor. At Flex, I used to get 10,000 rupees [$122], here I get 4,000 [$49] extra,” he told Rest of World.

Contract work at the iPhone plants continues to be precarious, however. In the last week of April, Pegatron informed its workers that they should go on leave for two months because there weren’t any upcoming projects, one of the affected workers told Rest of World. About 4,000 contract workers — predominantly men — were told the company would call them once the projects restarted. There were people who had planned their weddings and were now without a job, the former Pegatron worker said, adding that he would have to start hunting for his next gig to afford next month’s rent.

According to Ramapriya Gopalakrishnan, a veteran labor lawyer based in Chennai, any worker who has worked over 240 days continuously in a year is entitled to retrenchment compensation on being fired, under the Industrial Disputes Act. “Contract laborers are typically [let go of] en masse to evade the provisions of the Act,” she told Rest of World. “With contract laborers, there is absolutely no security of employment.”

Still, these jobs are aspirational for many. Munna Yadav, a self-proclaimed “mobile handset all-rounder” from Haryana, has been looking at multiple Foxconn job listings on LinkedIn. He told Rest of World he applied for two positions online — quality engineer and senior engineer — but hasn’t heard back yet. “I thought I would apply online and get a response, [after] which there would be an online interview,” said Yadav. “I wish to work for Foxconn. I used to study in Chennai and miss the city.”

This story has been updated with Foxconn’s response.

Correction: This story was updated to correctly describe the size of the new iPhone assembly plant.