There is “a lot of pain around finding good workers. And even if you find them, getting them on your workers’ comp policy is problematic, and maybe you only need them for a few weeks — that’s a hassle,” says Pablo Fuentes, CEO and co-founder with Joe Mellin, COO, of Worker Express, a new way to look at staffing.
Worker Express screens and hires tradespeople — carpenters, electricians, HVAC installers, drywallers, plumbers, general laborers — for jobs in the construction industry. Once hired, Worker Express notifies them via text message about the availability of a job for which they are qualified. Worker Express pays a competitive salary, including employment taxes and workers’ compensation. The remodeling company owner then pays Worker Express. For example, the billing rate for a journeyman framing carpenter is $43.60 per hour, and the wage paid by Worker Express is $26 per hour, which includes burden. There are no other fees. If a company owner wants to hire the worker, the owner pays $990 if the worker has worked for him for less than a month on a temporary basis; $490 if the worker has worked on a temporary basis for him for more than one month.
The screening process is rigorous, and if a remodeler is looking for a carpenter with particular skills, for example, he or she can visit WorkerExpress.com to read individual profiles that include past experience, references, photographs of tools they own, and a photograph of the worker. “Journeymen carpenters might not have a good way of marketing themselves,” Fuentes says. “We give workers the opportunity to showcase their skills.”
Fuentes and Mellin developed the business while getting their MBAs at Stanford. Fuentes, a first-generation Chilean immigrant, was working for a company that made loans to populations that find it difficult to get credit. He wanted to “make a difference for these hardworking people.” Mellin had written his thesis on wealth creation for the day-labor market.
The pair looked at which technologies are being used in the construction industry and found that most laborers have cell phones. So the company uses the cell to broadcast jobs and to track employee location and time sheets.
Based in San Francisco, Worker Express had 250 workers available at this writing. Fuentes and Mellin would like to see their model expand nationally and are planning regional expansion in 2011 and 2012. They are partnering with BuilderLink, an online community, as well as community colleges and trade schools. “We’re solving an inefficiency in the labor system,” Fuentes says. “This is increasing the fit between workers and company owners.”
—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.