Start-up helps hourly workers land jobs through text messaging

KIRKLAND, Wash. - A Kirkland-based tech start-up is revolutionizing the way hourly workers find jobs, and all that's needed is a phone that can text.

As a former Microsoft manager, Jobaline founder and CEO Luis Salazar saw a serious problem plaguing hourly workers trying to connect with employers. This digital divide, he said, is not only hurting those needing work but it's also costing employers' time and money.

"Twenty percent of households in the U.S. don't have access to the Internet," Salazar said. "It's worrisome that this industry doesn't allow you to instantly search and create job applications via mobile devices."

There are 75 million hourly workers in the United States, which accounts for 57 percent of the country's total workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While access to a computer or the Internet isn't always a possibility, Salazar said text messaging can be done from nearly every cell phone, and that's where Jobaline can help.

"Workers can complete job applications from the device they carry with them 24/7, and it saves them a lot of time," Salazar said.

So how exactly does this mobile marketplace work?

Maybe you see an ad for a company hiring an HVAC service technician. The ad prompts you to text a code to a phone number. A reply is then sent to your phone confirming this is the position you're interested in and explaining you will have to answer a series of questions via text message.

These are considered prescreening questions, and through this process Jobaline can help weed out candidates who may not be qualified for the position. Those candidates who are qualified then move onto the next phase of the company's hiring process.

Hourly workers can often have two to three jobs a year, Salazar said, making them constant job hunters, and anything to help make the process more efficient is critical.

But, Jobaline doesn't only improve access for job seekers, it also helps cut down on the time companies spend hiring.

From an employer standpoint, the mobile hourly marketplace can be used to ask those prescreening, minimum-requirement questions, such as "Do you have a valid driver's license?" and "Can you lift between 25 and 50 pounds?" Or employers can choose to ask more trade-specific, open-ended questions where a candidate might be prompted to record a 15 to 30-second answer from their cellphone.

"A recruiter can then listen to those answers," Salazar said. "This can be useful for front-end positions and customer service positions."

Paper applications, phone calls and emails just to determine if an hourly applicant is qualified for a job can cost companies up to 10 hours of time per hire, Salazar said.

Rick Amero is operations manager for Madden Industrial Craftsmen, Inc. The company provides staffing in manufacturing, construction and facility maintenance industries throughout the Pacific Northwest. They started using Jobaline's mobile marketplace service in August.

"Say you have 50 responses to a Craigslist ad. You have to go in and do all the prescreening, but you really maybe have three to five you can count on being good candidates," Amero said. "With Jobaline those same 50 have already been prescreened, already prequalified. It saves time, and the reliability of knowing that these candidates are going to be good and going to be who they say they are."

In the last two months, Amero said, they've interviewed more than 40 candidates using Jobaline, and found work for more than 50 percent of them.

Jobaline launched in Seattle and Miami over the summer and quickly expanded to the San Francisco area. It serves not only English-speaking workers and employers but also Spanish-speaking workers - a population Salazar believes is vastly underserved in the hourly marketplace.

"Twenty percent of the workforce in this segment is Hispanic," he said.

Since its launch, Jobaline has processed more than 185,000 applications total - with 30 percent of those coming from the Seattle-market - recorded more than 250,000 minutes of phone interviews and handled more than 700,000 text interactions.

Jobaline has plans to expand quickly over the next year, going after a new city each month.