On-Demand Apps Are Reinventing Staffing

By Dave Zielinski September 24, 2019
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​Employers often struggle to fill urgent or unexpected labor needs on short notice. Contract and temporary workers often struggle to find such work in time-efficient ways.

Enter cutting-edge, on-demand staffing apps to resolve some of these age-old staffing quandaries.

JobStack, Fiverr, Wonolo, Upwork, Snag and a growing number of industry-specific sites allow employers to quickly fill roles for hourly or gig workers. When organizations need to staff a special event, experience a spike in product demand or need workers with specialized skills for specific projects, they turn to these apps to find workers in a hurry.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Independent Contractors]

Making Inroads

Chris Russell, managing director and lead consultant of RecTech Media, a recruiting technology consulting firm in Trumbull, Conn., said companies are increasingly using on-demand staffing apps. "It's a growing industry that's likely here to stay, although I do expect a number of smaller companies to consolidate in coming years," he said. "There's also a number of niche apps that have emerged to serve specific industries like health care."

One on-demand staffing platform is JobStack, part of staffing company PeopleReady in Tacoma, Wash. The platform is used primarily by companies in the construction, hospitality, transportation, and waste and recycling industries to find qualified workers on short notice for temporary jobs.

Companies place orders for talent, and workers accept assignments. Employers can see in real time who accepted assignments and can rate workers' performance or invite employees from past jobs to work for them again, said Patrick Beharelle, CEO of TrueBlue, the parent company of PeopleReady and JobStack. The workers also can rate companies they've worked with and update their profiles as they gain new skills or experience.

One way JobStack seeks to distinguish itself is by hiring the workers who will be assigned out to employers, instead of using freelancers. "That means we assume the risk for those employees and handle all of the payroll, taxes, workers' compensation and more, which we believe translates into fewer issues for our customers," Beharelle said.

Before workers can use JobStack, they first have to apply to be an "associate" at a local branch of the company. "They fill out the proper paperwork, complete our onboarding process and go through background checks," Beharelle said. "We meet them and vet them before they go out on any assignment."

Tom Manning is director of operations for Philadelphia-based Spectra Venue Management, where he oversees many events with tight timelines. He uses JobStack to hire workers for short-term needs.

When Spectra hosted a rodeo and then a conference in the same space 48 hours later, Manning used JobStack to find workers to clean up the space quickly. "We have to move fast and often need extra hands on deck at a moment's notice," he said.

The Vetting Question

On-demand staffing providers take different approaches to checking workers' backgrounds. GigSmart in Denver, Colo., gives employers the option of using workers who are either heavily or lightly vetted for their labor needs, said company president Rich Oakes.

"Some employers need workers for certain jobs who are thoroughly vetted and background-checked, while others don't," explained Oakes, whose platform charges employers a 10 percent fee of workers' total pay to use its services. "We believe that vetting process should be optional, especially when it can make the worker pool much smaller for certain roles that need only a minimum level of vetting."

Russell said extensive checking isn't always necessary for the jobs posted on on-demand platforms. "For some of these positions, as long as the worker is conscientious, prompt and hardworking, the employer is usually happy," he said.

Experts say employers should be mindful of shifting government regulations for gig workers when using these platforms. Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer of the American Staffing Association (ASA) in Alexandria, Va., said organizations that use on-demand staffing apps should be aware of the new California law on how to classify independent workers.

The law makes it more difficult for companies that employ a large number of gig workers—like Uber, Lyft or DoorDash—to classify those workers as independent contractors.

On-demand platform vendors that provide W-2 workers can help employers rest easier, Wahlquist said.

He sees more benefits than drawbacks to using on-demand platforms, especially in a job market that continues to have more openings than people available for work. "These platforms can create new efficiencies for both employers and freelance workers," Wahlquist said. "On sites where workers are vetted, employers can review their work histories or ratings from other clients, and it gives gig workers a new way to find a variety of assignments more quickly and easily than in the past."

Niche Sites Emerge

Boon is a niche app that connects licensed health care professionals to contract work opportunities. The app initially focused on the dental industry and has plans to move into the medical and veterinary markets in 2020. The platform screens health care professionals, validates their licenses and conducts background checks before placing them on the site.

"One group of independent contractors with a long history of being used by staffing firms is temporary doctors, so platforms like this can make sense," Wahlquist said, adding that California's new law includes a "carve out" or exception for several occupations, including physicians, surgeons and dentists.

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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