Need A Job? There’s An App for That
Job hunting can take an enormous emotional toll. Jobs offer security and a sense of purpose. Not being able to find one—especially if you’ve been looking for a while—can get frustrating, to say the least. The problem is, job seekers can find themselves in all sorts of complicated situations. Some might not be in a position to work a full-time job. Others may not have college degrees or great interview skills. A freelancer might just want to pick up one or two extra shifts on the weekends. Whatever the scenario, the desire for the dignity of work is strong, but the process can be taxing.
And in today’s tech climate, any process that creates pain is likely to spawn startups seeking to ease that pain. Indeed, new companies are aiming to make it easier for job candidates to find the work they want and need through clever technological strategies that reduce the friction of locking down a job. In a world where mobile apps have made securing the labor of others, the script is being flipped: instead of just on-demand labor, think on-demand employment.
Wonolo started inside Coca-Cola as part of its Founders platform—an effort from Coke to create seed-stage startups. At the outset, co-founders AJ Brustein and Yong Kim were aiming to tackle an irksome problem at the soda company: how to find people quickly to do certain tasks that involved unpredictable demand, like stocking shelves at warehouses and grocery stores.
As Brustein explains it, the requirements of this type of work—typically done by a merchandiser—can be pretty erratic. A grocery store might suddenly run out of Coke; and if a merchandiser couldn’t quickly restock the shelves, that might be enough time for a competitor to swoop in and create an attractive store display. To solve the problem, Brustein and Kim created Wonolo—a way for companies seeking on-demand labor to offer quick jobs to temporary employees through a smartphone app.
Soon, Brustein realized the platform could work for so many types of situations, and the company was spun off last year. “Dealing with unpredictability is such a common problem for businesses, and there was no great solution for it,” Brustein tells WIRED. The same tech solution, he says, could transfer well to cashier, housekeeping, retail, warehouse jobs, and other entry-level work.
To get started, workers interested in picking up a job download Wonolo’s app and take a quick test of comprehension, communication, and willingness to work. Afterward, prospects undergo a standard background check, and Wonolo calls up candidates to interview them. Brustein says the company is looking for “the five P’s”: professional, punctual, positive, prepared, and polite.
What stands out, however, are the things Brustein says Wonolo doesn’t screen for, including education and work experience—which is by design. “We’re trying to democratize work,” Brustein says. “We really want to give people a chance to prove themselves.”
In Brustein’s view, the usual process of posting an online listing, having candidates respond with résumés, then going in for an interview, ultimately correlates very little to how well the person performs in the types of jobs offered on Wonolo. The most common jobs on the platform include fulfillment (packing boxes for e-commerce companies, dealing with returns); delivery (for restaurants and on-demand food startups); and event staffing (typically, event setup and teardown). Workers are employed as independent contractors. Wonolo also lets employers rate Wonoloers—after three negative reports, the worker is cut from the platform.
So far, Wonolo says it’s helped about 8,000 workers find jobs at companies ranging from traditional (Coca-Cola, Papa John’s) to techie startups (such as on-demand laundry company Rinse and e-commerce company Joyus). Some startups admit they don’t want to publicize the fact that they use Wonolo for competitive reasons. The staffing platform takes a 25 percent commission when a company uses Wonoloers, and Brustein says it’s able to fulfill the needs of the businesses that approach them 90 percent of the time.
For companies that don’t want to automate the hiring process quite so much, LearnUp recently raised $8 million in a new round of funding to build its online training platform for workers to learn job-specific skills. “Our mission is to tackle the skills gap for the entry-level workforce in America,” says Alexis Ringwald, the company’s CEO and cofounder.
LearnUp partners with employers like Old Navy, AT&T, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sprint, and others to prepare job applicants for company-specific openings. When these companies post jobs, LearnUp advertises itself right on the site as a way to boost a candidate’s chances with pre-interview preparation. Candidates who sign up for LearnUp get a few hours’ worth of online training specifically tailored to that job, including customer service skills, product catalog information, and softer skills like how to write a résumé.
Candidates also get a virtual coach to help them come into an interview feeling more confident. LearnUp makes money from the companies with which they partner, paying the startup an annual fee to train potential candidates. LearnUp claims that as a result of their services, companies can reduce their hiring times by 200 percent and see a 30 percent reduction in turnover.
More than 100,000 job seekers have gone through LearnUp training, Ringwald says. More than just skills, however Ringwald says LearnUp gives candidates access to a network when they lack, say, the family and alumni connections others rely on when seeking a job. “What I really imagine us building is a platform for economic empowerment,” says Ringwald.