HireArt is another placeform interceding in the broken labor market

Thomas Friedman used his usual blame-the-victim tactics in “How To Get A Job” in the New York Times this morning. His typical pattern when discussing the difficulties in finding work in the U.S. is to state that businesses only want to hire the best of the best of the best and Americans just aren’t up to snuff. He never examines the failure of the American market to employ people, the shortfall in training programs and apprenticeships, and the near collapse of government work as a result of the sequester and other austerity programs. Friedman would rather talk about globalism as if it is a given, like gravity, instead of the result of corporate and government policies. And those policies have led to the hollowing out of the lower middle class and the departure of a great deal of skilled and semiskilled manufacturing jobs to Asia.

Leaving Friedman’s blindness to one side, I agree with him that the labor market is broken. People want jobs and (some) employers are hiring, but there is a great deal of friction inherent in a job market with a high number of people, especially young people with little experience, chasing a small number of jobs.

We can forget public policy: local, state, and federal governments are involved in other issues, and their approaches to the problem of jobs has been to lay more people off.

What is the answer, then? Friedman profiles a new job placeform (marketplace + platform = placeform) called HireArt, started by a team that includes his daughter’s college roommate, Eleonora Sharef. She explains the situation to Friedman:

One of the best ways to understand the changing labor market is to talk to the co-founders of HireArt ( Eleonora Sharef, 27, a veteran of McKinsey; and Nick Sedlet, 28, a math whiz who left Goldman Sachs. Their start-up was designed to bridge the divide between job-seekers and job-creators.

“The market is broken on both sides,” explained Sharef. “Many applicants don’t have the skills that employers are seeking, and don’t know how to get them. But employers also … have unrealistic expectations.” They’re all “looking for purple unicorns: the perfect match. They don’t want to train you, and they expect you to be overqualified.” In the new economy, “you have to prove yourself, and we’re an avenue for candidates to do that,” said Sharef. “A degree document is no longer a proxy for the competency employers need.” Too many of the “skills you need in the workplace today are not being taught by colleges.”

In steps HireArt, with a step-by-step emulation of an interview process, where someone aspiring to a job in marketing is asked foundational marketing questions. For example, to answer the question “what is the largest marketing challenge of 23andme, the DNA testing services that analyzes your spit for ancestry and genes?” it has the candidates record a few videos to lend their perspectives on Facebook’s challenges and to lay out their dreams for a career. Then HireArt will work with the candidates to clean up their punctuation and sharpen their knowledge about big data and then connect them — at least the ones that are potentially employable — with companies that are offloading this early stage of winnowing to HireArt.

Here’s one screen from the service (I was pretending I wanted a job in marketing):


(By the way, I said that Facebook is the new AOL and will fail because it is too one-dimensional, too much like a small town high school, and not enough like the bright social scenes of big cities.)

I can’t speak to the downstream stages of HireArt’s brokering — where it interacts with people seeking work and helps them figure out what they are good for in the business world — but I believe that placeforms like HireArt’s are likely to be the answer to the fast-and-loose world we are careening into.

Why? Because business has no time or inclination to deal with job aspirants. The old approach worked at a long-term time scale: trainee programs that took young people out of high school or college and provided the training and grounding necessary to fit into the roles that businesses had defined in their processes. Then the new hires were obliged to work for the company for at least a few years, so the investment was returned. That’s all gone now. The companies won’t invest, and the workers won’t stick.

In the absence of a long-term investment we need a short-term realignment: to find out what sort psychological and emotional orientation a candidate has and line that person up with a company looking for someone like them. You may not have a degree in marketing, but if you can say some sensible things about Facebook’s and 23andme’s challenges, someone might take a flyer on you. Or if you can take your experience as an angry consumer, amazed at the remarkable unconcern of many companies toward their customers’ satisfaction, and turn it to some sensible ideas about customer support, well, maybe you are meant to be working in customer support at one of HireArt’s corporate partners, despite your degree in medieval French literature.

Companies don’t want to add that extra work to their already straining HR activities, but they will happily match 10 percent or 15 percent off the first year salary to get someone like HireArt to front-end the messiness of dealing with candidates.

This is another example where placeforms broker and intermediate among people and companies, taking the place of failed institutions and leveraging mass dynamics among people who refuse to collectivize here in the postnormal. Instead, they will turn to a for-profit company like HireArt, which will create a placeform where the loose-knit community of job seekers can continue to operate as individuals but where their impact can be connectivized through the agency of the placeform. HireArt — along with other placeforms like TaskRabbit, oDesk, eLance, and so on — are filling the vacuum left behind as corporations, governments, and unions retreat from the postmodern social contract created in the New Deal and the post–World War II Great Society of Lyndon Johnson.

The theme underlying this societal shift is this: Fluidarity is replacing solidarity. Our connections grow weaker and social ties grow more diffuse. We are estranged from a sense of belonging in the 20th century way. We are less likely to join professional organizations, unions, or charitable organizations. We connect online, but that is shifting ahead of the rest of our culture, into the postnormal notion of belonging, which is multiphrenic: We belong to many communities at once, and none exclusively.

And businesses contend that they want us to commit to their goals, to subordinate ourselves to the company’s vision and strategies, but they increasingly make smaller long-term investments in people: no pension, little training, less mentoring. They are actually becoming fast and loose while continuing to espouse the ethos of the past — “our people are greatest assets” — while cutting staff and upping expectations about working more hours. Companies actually operate as if their greatest assets are intangibles, like brands and partnerships, or knowledge about supply chains and tax avoidance. By the way, in some cases these companies are simply clueless: They lack the self-awareness to see the disconnect between their mottos and their policies. But in some cases, they are being duplicitous, and their words are just propaganda.

We will see placeforms emerge in every niche where companies meet people, like market research (see UserScout connects participants and market researchers), mentoring (see As management connections loosen, mentoring becomes the individual’s burden), temp and freelance work (see Work Market raises $10M to move the freelance labor “placeform” forward and Let a thousand placeforms connect us, even as we loosen our connections), and, now, jobs.

I suggested in a recent post (see Freelancers need agents like companies need head hunters), half-jokingly, that employees might be better off if they relied on an agent to negotiate on their behalf for salary increases and promotions. Who better than a placeform that can connectivize and anonymize data about thousands or millions of workers and that knows what talent is worth within the company and across the regional, national, and international marketplace? If I were an employee, I would certainly offer HireArt — or another placeform — a slice of my salary if it could demonstrate that it could do my negotiating better that I can.