Today’s “gig economy” is a big enough force in business that a quick Googling of the term will pull up an impressive 14.9 million pages. One of those pages is our quarterly Gig Economy Index, which takes the quarterly pulse of the gig worker.
It’s also a controversial topic – cheerleaders think it’s the future of labor and the shape of things to come for all human employment, while others tend to view it as a scheme meant to enrich a few at the cost of the many, and as the greatest advancement in exploiting labor in over a century.
Gig workers, on the other hand, seem to like working gigs.
Wherever one falls in that debate, it took Uber in 2009 to give it its modern-day label, despite being an employment status many decades before. Uber used the mobile phone, GPS and an app to match black car drivers who had idle capacity with riders who were sick of taking their chances with taxis.
But long before Uber, there was Snagajob. Although it was founded in 2000, back when gig economy wasn’t a label attached to anything, Peter Harrison, Snagajob’s President & CEO, told Karen Webster in a recent conversation that it had two important serendipitous effects.
The first, he said, was that the firm’s founder was trying to help a friend find a part-time, hourly job to fill in around his college class schedule, and discovered that seeking simple shift work was a more surprisingly arduous – and tedious – process than expected.
Harrison said that for employers to be able to connect with the workers who could meet their real needs, the keys were being in the right area, having the right availability and bringing the right attitude to bear.
The second piece of good luck, he said, was just the great digital migration – version 1.0 – that was happening in the background in the year 2000. While it might not seem all that long ago, Harrison told Webster, at the turn of the 21st century an awful lot of job listings were still languishing on paper in the classified ads, and there was a great race to get everything online.
“The core differentiator for Snagajob was that our worker audience was looking for hourly work – we were bringing the audience that wants hourly work, so a very different audience to the very large-scale employers that needed them,” Harrison remarked. Specifically, he noted, these were employers in retail, restaurants and (to a somewhat lesser extent) hospitality who need a steady supply of hourly workers – particularly at certain times of the year.
And while that focus has held strong for the firm, it has evolved over time, as the rest of the market has caught up to Snagajob’s original idea.
The Three Hiring Criteria
In the beginning, Harrison noted, Snagajob’s main interest was to just make the match happen, with the core criteria being location and availability.
Today, however, the question isn’t just about who is out there, but who is best suited for the jobs – because although these jobs may be low-experience, that isn’t the same as being low-skilled.
“It has been a journey adding and enriching our data and improving our algorithms so that we are making matches that work for both parties,” Harrison said, adding that it’s just as important to ensure that the employer finds the right person as it is for the worker to find the right employer.
That means, he said, that it’s also important to screen for a more ephemeral category – attitude. For that criterion, job seekers, apart from being asked about their experience or scheduling needs, are also asked to look at pictures to help Snagajob understand the kinds of representations to which they relate.
“There are no wrong answers someone can give here,” Harrison said. “It’s more about helping the applicant find a match they like and making sure are employers are getting the types of workers they want.”
Because a lot of different types of employees, with different backgrounds and styles, come to the platform.
Today’s largest groups, he noted, are the workers the firm first identified as having a need: college students looking to schedule work hours around other commitments, and others looking for “pay the bills work” while they pursue a different career.
The second biggest group, however, includes retirees looking to keep busy or supplement their retirement income.
The third group, Harrison said, is somewhat surprising, given the platform’s original orientation as a site for people looking to get jobs rather than build careers. Career retail, restaurant and hospitality workers have also become patrons of the site, drawn in by its excellent employer network.
“The reality is we’ve been around for a while – and we are well-trusted by the biggest employers in the space,” Harrison explained. “That makes us a great destination for those who are working as career workers in those service industries.”
The Uber For Hourly Workers
Over the last 17 years, Snagajob has evolved from a firm that was only about the match, to a firm that is about the right match, to a firm that now working with 83 million hourly and 300,000 employer locations to help manage what he calls the “entire employee funnel.” That means making sure they are responsive to applicants’ needs, making sure candidates are vetted via the necessary background checking, affirming that citizenship verification happens and ensuring that the employee, upon being hired, is able to connect instantly to the employer’s payroll management system.
Those services are what Harrison described as Snagajob’s “core,” and are monetized by charging employers for giving them the help they need to fill their recruiting needs.
But, Harrison noted, the nature of worker is changing – and while there are still many workers who seek part-time work, an increasing number don’t want to make that big of a commitment. Particularly, many younger workers are looking to work by the shift.
“Every company that needs hourly workers is facing a lot of new competition that comes in the form of on demand companies, like it or not,” Harrison said. “Pizza delivery drivers are hard to find, because if they have a car, they work for Uber in their off hours. Grocery stores report people are leaving their jobs with benefits and higher pay to go work for InstaCart, because they vastly prefer the convenience of being able to open their phone and choose to work now, as opposed to being locked into a schedule.”
Harrison said that helping workers and employers manage these new worker/workforce dynamics gave rise to a new service that blurs the line between snagging a job and snagging a shift.
As an example, Harrison noted, the sandwich maker who is already working at Subway should be able to pick up extra hours at another Subway store across town if his home store only has 20 hours to give him. Today, because they are, as franchisees, separate business entities, that sandwich artist has to apply at the other store and then balance between two schedulers.
With Husl, Snagajob’s “Uber for hourly workers,” that sandwich artist can just pick up those hours directly via the app, much like an Uber driver can signal that they have capacity and are ready to take riders. In this case, Snagajob vouches that the worker has the skills needed to do the job. When the shift is over and the employer verifies that the worker has worked according to the schedule, Husl pays the employee 24 hours later and Snagajob takes a small cut of that fee.
Harrison noted that even more evolution is coming as the market keeps demanding it. Today, millennial workers want all the flexibility in the world, but as they get older, that flexibility might be less attractive than getting benefits. That, Harrison noted, is an issue they are working with several of the other larger gig economy platforms to solve: creating a mechanism for gig workers to perhaps buy into a benefit scheme in the future.
The Retail X Factor
When asked about demand in light of the disruption taking place across all of the industry sectors they serve – retail, restaurant and hospitality – Harrison said that he’s seen very little drop-off in demand. Instead, what he’s seen is a shift in demand and the worker profile as different kinds of jobs are now more prized. Harrison noted that he’s seen an uptick in what he called “backend work” in fulfillment centers and other non-customer facing jobs that reflect the shift in retail operations.
The real workforce problem, Harrison emphasized, isn’t with unemployed workers, but workers who are underemployed and who want or even need to take on extra work, but have to work around an existing set of commitments. That problem will continue to create a massive – and often unmet – demand for hourly workers, which he says Snagajob is prepared to help solve for both sides of his platform, regardless of whether the employee’s goal is to snag a job or snag a shift.