Not everyone can work at a tech giant or a unicorn. Constructing buildings, wiring electricity, fixing cars, and stringing up elevators—generally work we city-dwelling, Macbook-toting folk don’t do—takes the skill of a blue-collar worker.
But for blue-collar workers looking for their next job, there is no single app or website you can open to land work. And hiring a blue-collar worker often means trawling through Google, navigating Craigslist, or relying on personal networks and referrals. Additionally, with a projected shortage of 2 million skilled laborers over the next decade, finding the right blue-collar worker will become increasingly difficult, as some construction companies are already experiencing.
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There are, however, tech startups that are attempting to serve the needs of blue-collar workers in hiring and finding work. And it’s a labor market that even Big Tech wants to get in on as well.
Let’s take a moment to find out how startups are helping blue-collar workers build the coffee houses you tweet out of.
Working With A Handful Of Startups
There are a number of startups, and large companies, dedicated to helping employers in retail, software development, grocery, and a variety of other industries hire workers. However, we wanted to focus on startups that service blue-collar workers or their interests exclusively. For these purposes, Crunchbase News defines a blue-collar worker as a skilled or unskilled manual laborer, typically working in the manufacturing industry and its corollaries (informed by Investopedia). We excluded startups that appeared to primarily focus on filling service industry jobs and the ilk.
Although it’s a strict definition, it was still surprising to see that only seven startups—including those manually added after additional research outside of Crunchbase’s data—fulfilled our qualifications. (You can view the full list here.) But for those few who are attempting to serve the market, there are some big ambitions and unique approaches.
For instance, Workhands was founded to be the Linkedin for blue-collar workers. With twenty thousand dollars in seed funding from Tumml, an SF-based non-profit startup incubator, the company was founded on helping blue-collar workers find jobs just as easily connecting over Facebook.
While the company hasn’t taken on any additional funding since its angel round in 2013, it still appears to be actively hosting job opportunities. The company serves blue-collar workers in welding, steel working, carpentry, and a variety of other trades. Jobs and workers through the platform are located in all 50 states.
Yet Workhands doesn’t appear to have cornered the blue-collar workforce. Its last job request publicly posted was on August 22nd, nor did the company respond to emailed questions. But that hasn’t completely stalled investors from funding startups in the space.
In September 2015, investors put $3.2 million into BlueCrew. The company, funded by Y Combinator and a number of other firms, is looking “to change the future of work by adding transparency and automation to the staffing of blue-collar positions,” according to its Crunchbase profile. And out of the known startups in this sector, BlueCrew has raised the most capital. Yet just because it’s the largest deal doesn’t mean it will be the platform laborers, especially those that are skilled, will choose to use.
More recently, Work Today raised $1.1 million in seed funding. Founded by Joe Nigro, Work Today would also like to connect blue-collar workers to future clients and employers. But instead of using an app or a website, the app lets workers receive and accept jobs via text.
“Many of our workers don’t have smartphones,” Nigro told the L.A. Business Journal as justification for the lack of an app. “SMS is instantaneous and accessible to everyone.” And it’s that accessibility that may give Work Today an edge, as well as staying power, within the blue-collar workforce.
But while SMS is accessible and near-ubiquitous, so are major tech companies and their services.
Big Tech Doesn’t Just Want Knowledge Workers
Although Workhands stated ambition is touted as LinkedIn for blue-collar workers, LinkedIn may actually be the LinkedIn of the blue-collar workforce.
Owned by Microsoft, the largest social network for professionals “wants the site to shed its elitist image as an exclusive club for knowledge workers,” according to the Financial Times.
How successful those efforts have been is difficult to determine. But it’s not just Microsoft’s subsidiary that is interested in attracting blue-collar workers to its platform.
Amazon, also a tech giant, launched its Home Services vertical in 2015, allowing customers to hire laborers through Amazon’s sprawling all-in-one purchasing empire. To ensure quality, the e-commerce company verifies each technician’s credentials and runs a background check. Once the job is completed, customers may leave a review. Over time, the list of jobs have come to include commercial tasks such as water heater repair and tankless heater installation.
Still, whether or not blue-collar workers will move to these platforms en masse, and whether a startup or a tech giant will be able to convince the blue-collar workforce to do so, is unclear. For now, it appears that knowledge workers need to write a lot more code to get blue-collar workers on board.
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