According to a recent report from Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), there were 51.5 million contingent workers in the U.S. in 2020. Those workers represented 35 percent of the nation’s workforce and generated $1.3 trillion in revenue.
This report was among the many topics discussed at SIA’s Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference, on September 21-23, in Phoenix, Arizona. Yong Kim, co-founder and CEO of Wonolo, participated in a conference panel to offer his subject matter expertise on the light industrial and hospitality sectors of the American workforce.
Yong cited statistics that show three million American temporary and contract employees work for traditional staffing companies during an average week, and two-thirds of those workers fill blue-collar positions, including those in the light industrial and hospitality sectors.
Many industries in those sectors are currently facing labor shortages in the U.S. It’s a natural progression to blame the shortage on the COVID-19 pandemic, but Yong said that’s not necessarily the case.
The Labor Shortage Is Nothing New
“As far back as 2012, companies had a challenging time finding workers.” said Yong. “So, the issue of finding quality workers in the light industrial sector is nothing new.”
Rather, Yong outlined four distinct issues that make it difficult for businesses to find quality workers for the plethora of available light industrial and hospitality jobs, as well as discussing how Wonolo is distinguishing itself from staffing agencies while helping businesses address these issues.
Issue 1: Finding Consistent Work and a Steady Flow of Income
“Blue-collar workers typically make less than $30,000 a year as hourly workers, which is just above the poverty line of $26,000 for a family of four,” said Yong. “This is the first problem we are solving at Wonolo, and it’s where we want to be amazing.” On Wonolo’s online job marketplace, businesses can post a general description of the job they would like completed, and independent workers are free to browse through the available opportunities and select the ones that fit their skills, interests, pay requirements, location, and other considerations important to them.
Yong said the most important issue to address is helping workers access consistently available and lucrative job opportunities. If workers have access to a large network of available jobs, they can create a steady flow of income for themselves based on their needs.
To help workers enjoy a steady income, Wonolo partners with businesses across the country to help them meet their needs for reliable workers. For example, if a factory suddenly needs 100 workers every day for a week, the factory can work with Wonolo to find available Wonoloers to help it meet its needs.
Such partnerships are just one of the ways in which Wonolo helps over one million workers, or “Wonoloers” find consistent work, and a steady source of income.
Issue 2: Scarcity of Flexible Jobs
Additionally, Yong said another major issue Wonolo strives to solve is job inflexibility.
“What do these workers really want, or never had access to, that we can provide through technology?” asked Yong. “To us, the answer is flexibility,” which Yong notes is a valuable currency for blue-collar workers.
Prior to using Wonolo, many workers simply lacked the ability to choose when and where they wanted to work. And if they wanted to take a vacation or needed time off, there wasn’t a guarantee their job or shift would be available when they came back.
Wonolo’s technology solution enables workers to freely view and accept jobs posted in real-time on the platform by numerous companies in different industries. With the Wonolo platform, on-demand workers can select work opportunities that not only align with their schedules but flex when those schedules change. As such, Yong said there is a large segment of workers Wonolo can help in ways that staffing agencies may not be able to.
One of those workers reaping the benefits of Wonolo’s flexibility is Evan, who decided to quit his joyless job and live life on the road in a van he proudly calls home.
For more than two years now, Evan has used the Wonolo app to find jobs wherever he goes, while enjoying the flexibility and freedom to live out his dream of traveling. So far, he has traveled to California, Arizona, Utah, Tennessee, Illinois and Florida, and he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Issue 3: Lack of Benefits
Another way in which Wonolo strives to help blue-collar workers is by connecting them with providers offering portable perks and benefits that are not typically available to temporary, contingent and self-employed workers.
“There’s a financial component we have to solve,” said Yong. “Once we are able to provide consistent access to jobs, we must give workers certain access to benefits like health insurance, retirement planning, supporting their children’s education, etc.”
Wonolo partners with providers and industry leaders that offer discounts on portable benefits to Wonoloers as part of the Wonolo Up program. From telemedicine services to programs that help build good credit, workers can sign up for these portable benefits and enjoy them whether or not they work jobs posted on the Wonolo platform.
Issue 4: Absence of Upward Mobility
Lastly, Yong addressed upward mobility, which he said is important to all workers.
“Blue-collar needs like education, skills development, and a focus on wellbeing aren’t different from white-collar needs,” he said. “There just hasn’t been a tech solution geared toward blue-collar workers. I want Wonolo to be the platform where workers can get access to all these things.”
One of the ways in which the Wonolo app helps workers demonstrate the skills that they have is through “badging,” a gamified process where workers can showcase specific skills, important safety knowledge, and more.Badges are included in the worker’s public profile in the Wonolo app, enabling them to find more jobs in the area that they specialize and have experience in.
“We always put the workers first at Wonolo, and in 10-20 years, it will be the company that wins the hearts of the blue-collar worker that will win the market,” said Yong.