Southeastern readers looking at the below chart of the U.S. from the Brookings Institute may very well feel discouraged. This 2018 visualization demonstrably shows how the Southeast is the worst region in the country when it comes to upward economic mobility.
“Social and economic mobility is just a huge issue here, and people can’t access the technology they need to help them find work,” says Keith Clithero, who grew up in North Carolina.
Clithero moved to Atlanta after college to work as an accountant and consultant. He observed the construction booms in neighborhoods all over the city, stemming from re-investment in Atlanta’s urban core over the last decade.
He saw the same thing in Nashville when he visited his sister and brother-in-law, who own a construction contracting business. The construction boom, in fact, is happening all over the South.
But Clithero’s brother-in-law could not find enough employees to keep up with the pace of work. He began to recruit from some seemingly unreliable locations.
“My brother-in-law knows no stranger,” Clithero says. “He would regularly hire people off the street to do odd jobs, or hire workers outside of Home Depot.”
“The lightbulb went off — there’s a better way for these people to find work as well.”
Nearly 95 percent of contractors surveyed say they have a hard time finding enough skilled workers. Clithero says hiring in this industry is still fairly tech-deprived — recruiting folks outside of home improvement stores is actually not uncommon.
Even when contractors go ‘high-tech,’ they typically head to Craigslist. It all leads to inconsistency in both work results and employee satisfaction.
“The industry as a whole is grossly behind the times in terms of adopting digitization and automation,” says Clithero. “In places like Atlanta and Charlotte and Nashville, these booms are creating a gap that I think is going to remain around for another 10 years, if not longer.”
His digital construction job marketplace, Gig Connected, combines a LinkedIn-style profile with an Uber-style rating system.
“If I’m picking up Joe from the corner, I don’t know whether he’s actually a good drywall installer or not. By creating a centralization point, it can also create better insight into worker skill sets, better insight into employers on whether they create safe work environments, pay well, pay on time, all those things,” says Clithero.
Clithero, who now lives in Charlotte, works full-time for a national bank on financial solutions for the gig economy. He wants the construction industry to see itself as a similar workforce to on-demand drivers or grocery shoppers.
“The gig economy is broader than people who just do gig work only — a lot of people have full-time jobs and also do gigs on the side. These guys have skill sets that are highly transferable across multiple areas.”
The Gig Connected platform is a mobile-friendly web app. Once workers sign up for free, they create a profile that includes skills, location, previous work experience, English and Spanish language proficiency, transportation options, and more.
On the other side, employers create an account to post jobs, listing the status (full-time, part-time, contractor, etc.), skills required, location, and other details. They can browse partially anonymous worker profiles and reach out to folks they think would be a good fit, as well as accept applications and inquiries from workers proactively applying.
When the job is complete, both parties rate the other to provide transparency for future transactions.
Clithero is thinking through exactly what these workers will need to have their best chance at securing good work. That includes building partnerships withs ride hailing companies and insurance providers.
Many workers also don’t have ready access to a computers or smartphone, so Gig Connected allows them to sign up and receive job alerts by text or even phone call.
Since launch, over 150 workers have created profiles. Clithero hopes to get that to over 500 by the end of the summer.
“I’ve actually been surprised with the ease of finding workers. It’s been harder to find employers willing to adopt a new technology,” he says. His next push will be to increase employer participation.
Once he has a solid user base, Clithero will turn on Gig Connected’s revenue streams. He’s exploring two options: a digital payment system with a transaction fee, and/or a subscription fee for employers to post unlimited jobs.
Ultimately, though, Clithero says that Gig Connected is equally about helping shift that economic mobility chart as it is about his own revenue.
“We want to help everyone spend more time working and more time earning money.”