Uber for Journeymen/Journeywomen?

Engaging in conversations with a wide range of people in and around Industrial America is one of the best parts of my job. I’m always learning something, and I often discover trends before they’re generally considered trends. In a sense, I’m doing in a small way what you and other members of the Industrial Exchange community can do on a broad scale. And that’s to tap into the collective wisdom of IE for ideas, insights and innovations to improve your business. 

This week, I’d like to relate what the operator of a steel fabrication business recently told me. Recently, he flew in gig workers from around the country because he couldn’t find workers with the skills he needed in his local labor market. There was just nobody locally to hire. 

It got me thinking about gig workers, of whom there are now about 11 million in the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Are they going to become a bigger part of the labor pool at industrial companies?

Joanie Courtney, the head of marketing and chief workforce analyst at EmployBridge, the nation’s largest industrial staffing company, believes it will be a while until gig workers account for a significant share of the industrial labor force. The reason, she said, is threefold. 

First, few workers have the specific skills or training that would enable them to be immediately productive at a specialized industrial job. Second, encouraging more workers to become journeymen/journeywomen available for jobs far from home is difficult. Finally, it’s not easy to coordinate gig workers with complex production schedules that can be disrupted by unexpected weather events or machinery malfunctions, for example. 

“Technology, in the form of scheduling software, is likely part of the solution,” she said, “But it’s not here yet.

Sophisticated scheduling software, of course, already exists. It’s also continually improving, so a tool that can bring together workers and production schedules in an Uber-like app is probably inevitable. But for it to be viable, it would have to meet two conditions. First it would have to exist in a geographic area where there was a supply of labor sufficient enough so that workers could be tapped “on demand.” Second, the jobs themselves would have to be commoditized enough so that a wide array of workers could perform them. 

Alternatively, or perhaps concurrently, as Joanie Courtney alluded to, there would have to be a large enough supply of well-trained workers who were ready to take a job anywhere, whenever it was offered. Both conditions don’t currently exist. 

Gig jobs and other workforce and workplace issues are on the agenda for IndEx 2020. I’ll fill you in on more of what’s coming at the conference in the coming weeks. Meantime, if you have more thoughts about gig industrial workers, please email me at jon@industrialexchange.us.