Jobcase builds a social platform for worker empowerment - is it working out? A Workday Ventures story

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed August 5, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
Putting people to work is always a worthy ambition. But as we learned from a recent Workday Ventures event, Jobcase's ambitions go deeper. Can Jobcase change employment through data-driven worker advocacy?

Jobcase graphic
(via Jobcase)

Every few months, Workday Ventures gives analysts an interactive view of companies from its venture investment portfolio.

This time around, we got a closer look at three companies with altogether different market opportunities: Auditoria (FinOps) Securiti (AI-powered security), and Jobcase (job networks). Each warrants their own article, but in terms of my burning questions on the future of work, Jobcase stole the show. 

If I told you someone was building a 'LinkedIn for blue collar workers,' you might say: get back to me when they get some traction. Well, how does 100 million members sound? Yep, that's traction. But as Jobcase CEO Frederick Goff told us, he isn't crazy about the "blue collar worker" elevator pitch. He sees Jobcase as much more than that:

Most people on this call are extremely familiar with the future of work, and therefore understand it's extremely daunting to lower wage workers. And certainly concerning to Workday, with their mission of economic empowerment to all.

Helping workers who hit the unemployment wall - it's about community

One vexing skills question: what should workers do when they hit the unemployment wall? Goff told us the story of "Sarah," a Jobcase member who lost her job as a cashier. Other Jobcase members chimed in, coaching her on options. The unexpected result? A career as a truck driver. During Jobcase discussions, Sarah got tips on the training requirements. Misconceptions were debunked (you don't necessarily have to be away from your family at night; life as a female truck driver.). And, via a job posting on Jobcase, a career was launched. Goff:

She didn't thank Jobcase; she didn't thank my founding team; she thanked the people on the platform that helped her.

Goff's team founded Jobcase in 2014 with a clear mission: "build a social platform to empower workers." I'd argue they are now operating at a level above their brand awareness. Goff said something similar:

We've never necessarily broken out on our brand, but we have scale. We're ranked about the third-largest in the country, by ComScore and others, as an online destination for career services.

Goff finds it ironic - in a good way - that Jobcase is part of Workday Ventures. Because when Jobcase launched in 2014, Workday was already part of their positioning:

When we launched Jobcase, we used to explain it as a complement to Workday. Workday is out there getting actionable insights and big data and giving it to Brian Moynihan to figure out his labor maximization within Bank of America. And we would say: 'We're trying to find actionable insights in big data and give it to the tellers, so they can take it with them wherever they go.'

No paywalls - open access to workers is fundamental

That spirit of collaboration continues: today, Jobcase and Workday have 200+ joint customers. As for tellers taking Jobcase with them, that's a core principle of the platform. Jobs change, sometimes in unexpected/unwanted fashion, but you take your Jobcase profile with you. That means: no paywalls or "premium member" tiers of monetization. Open access is fundamental:

If we're going to advocate for workers, we don't put a paywall behind it. We don't block employers from meeting our members, but we provide the platform from which they keep their information, and take it from place to place.

Example? Goff cited a really interesting scenario, which indicates how the gig economy review culture has career impact:

Early on, Home Depot loved to talk to us about recruiting Jobcasers who had really high Uber driver ratings on their profiles. It told them all sorts of wonderful things about how they dealt with customers, about their timeliness, etc.

Today's workplace dictates the need for co-ownership of data:

It's an early example of how you need to have co-ownership of data for this whole future of work. With frequent job changes, we might have 40 million Americans, I think maybe that's last year's stat - it's probably a lot bigger by now - in the Workday platform in North America. But they're not in silos. They are moving all around. So how do we help workers as they move all around? What's that agnostic platform that can do that?

An open platform matters, but Jobcase will only get as far as the community takes them:

That's the HR tech tools portion of Jobcase, but the heart and the soul of Jobcase is the community. When we built it, we built it informed as much by Quora and Reddit. It's not so much the first and second degree connections for a lot of people, to figure out how to navigate this future of work.

AI can do a lot of things, but getting folks into new gigs takes more than that:

If you're trying to figure out how to get a job at Walmart, it's not It's not like my MIT ML scientists know how to do that. I don't know how to do that. The expert in the whole country is the lady who got a job at the Natick, Massachusetts Walmart this morning. She just did it. She'll tell you how. How can we use our technology to get you together? If you want to start a hair salon, who can advise you of that? It's all about people helping people as the heart of what's underneath Jobcase.

In addition to Jobcase.com, Jobcase uses the Jobcase Network to power a range of regional job boards. Goff cited examples like Back to Work Rhode Island and Find your Future, a job network for young people in Los Angeles.

My take - overcoming the dangers of employment algorithms

Speaking of AI, I really wanted to hear Goff's take on the role of algorithmic screening of job applicants. It's a hot button topic we have scorched on diginomica more than once. And yet, automated applicant screening is a staple of modern employment. During the Q/A session, I raised the question. Goff responded with a call to action:

This is something that we're trying to educate the industry on - and you all can probably help us. There's something that's very dangerous right now. The phrase is 'quality candidate.' HR wants quality candidates, quality hires. I think this is toxic.

Why?

It's toxic because it builds a landscape that justifies mistreating people. In other words, if we've got a Jobcaser who takes thirty minutes to fill out an application. Okay, he's not a match fit. Maybe the qualifications don't match the skills, or maybe it's an intent fit... that's perfectly valid.

But to call them a 'poor quality candidate,' well, that's where the black hole information comes from, etc. As soon as you open up the conversation about screening, first, I think we should change the dialogue to: 'What are we screening for?' Is it a match for the job? Or is it an intent fit for the job, whether it's culture, their intentions, whatever - that's what we want to measure. And once you do that, then you can go to the technology, and strive to build it in such a way that's transparent to both sides: 'Here's what we're trying to assess for.'...

Even AI superpowers like Amazon can get themselves into trouble here; Goff noted Amazon's 2018 abandonment of an AI screening tool that turned out to be biased against women.

Watch the feedback mechanisms and understand, no matter how much you're trying to reduce bias, it's in there. And so then you need to have a human component to go back afterwards and say, 'Does this make sense?'

You can talk about 'empowering workers,' but that's a pretty abstract concept if your workers can't find their next gig. Jobcase breaks this down in steps. First step: help their members figure out next steps. But Jobcase also wants to advocate for workers in board rooms and policy rooms.

If I were interviewing Goff, I'd ask him about the dilemma retailers face between the heightened goal of "customer experience" and the miserable wages so many retail workers are paid. I don't care how many smart devices you put in workers' hands, if you pay them substandard wages, they'll have one foot out the door - and so will your customers. To me, that's where Jobcase as a worker advocate has possibilities, beyond the essentials of job placement. Find gigs, sure - but let's try to change the caliber of those gigs also.

Goff alluded to that, via the potential shift from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism. Despite the buzz about stakeholder capitalism I hear frequently, that's not a shift I personally see as imminent. But where I see Jobcase having an outsized voice is via their data. One Jobcase study found that, contrary to the lazy narrative, unemployment benefits are not the main factor holding people back from seeking work (COVID/safety concerns were a much bigger factor as to why workers remain on the sidelines - 60% cited this reason).

In other polls, Jobcase found that the so-called "great resignation" is real, with only 35% of workers who want the same type of work they had before. The majority plan to seek other work, reconsider their employment options, change their commutes, and so on.

Putting people to work, while issuing data-driven wake-up calls? Sounds like a pretty good mission to me.