One Immigrant's Plan to Ovehaul the U.S. Job Market

PHOTO: Job seekers lined up to apply for an opening with Major League Baseballs Miami Marlins on November 15, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The baseball team was looking to fill over 2,000 positions ranging from ground crews to managerial positions.

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Luis Salazar has achieved the American Dream and he's looking to "pay it forward."

The former Microsoft and Yahoo executive immigrated to the United States from Venezuela in 2000 and naturalized on October 10, 2010. Now the Seattle-based entrepreneur is launching a company to match hourly wage earners and employers, a segment of the workforce he says is underserved by current recruiting methods.

"There's some sort of digital divide between employers and employees in the lower-end segment," Salazar said.

Seventy-four million people -- nearly 60 percent of the U.S. workforce -- are hourly workers. That figure includes everybody from dishwashers to seasonal sales clerks. A quarter of the workers in this segment are Hispanic. The job market is so tight right now that when an employer posts a hotel front desk assistant job, they often get hundreds of applicants. The hotel manager is left to sift through applications until he comes across someone that might fit the bill. It's a time-intensive and costly process.

That's where a company like Jobaline comes in. Salazar launched it on Tuesday after painstakingly designing and testing it for more than a year.

Jobaline will narrow down and rank applicants for employers looking to hire hourly workers, and show would-be employees other job openings in the area.

Here's how it works.

Employers post a position on Jobaline they want to fill. They select questions they want applicants to answer -- How they would handle an angry customer, for example -- and other required skills. They can do all of this in English or Spanish, and they can request that the answers be returned in either language.

Once the job opening is submitted, the employer can display a Jobaline-generated code on their website or social networking sites that announces the opening. The opening is automatically displayed on traditional sites like Jobs.com. When people apply, they are prompted to answer the questions selected by the employer and provide their address and other information. That information then goes back to Jobaline to sort through.

But here's where it gets interesting. Many hourly workers simply don't have the funds to buy a computer or to pay for internet access, which can make applications difficult. Salazar recognized that and from the start, the idea has been for applicants to submit information via a mobile device. And not just a mobile device, but a non-smartphone mobile device. People can apply using standard SMS texts.

"The question was, 'How do you build technology for people without access to technology and bridge the digital divide?'" Salazar said.

As Google and other innovators have advanced technology at warp speed, a significant segment of the population has been left in the virtual dust. More than half of the job applicants who applied during beta testing used standard text messages. Just 30 percent used something other than a mobile device, like a desktop or laptop computer.

That's a pretty good indicator that mobile devices, and not necessarily smartphone devices, are critical for this segment of the workforce. Yet, that is not where companies choose to put their money. For many, mobile is a clunky afterthought and that just doesn't work for hourly wage earners.

"LinkedIn is doing a great job at the upper end, but at the lower end, there are not as many options and none of them are mobile ready," Salazar said.

Jobaline ranks the applicants according to how well they fit the employer's specified criteria. The process is transparent, so applicants can see where they rank and employers can see how many people have applied and listen to the answers the applicants provide to the interview questions. The site also confirms that the applicants live at the addresses provided. Jobaline does not check immigration status since it's not the final step in the hiring process. That would be up to the employer to do later.

Up until this point, everything is free and visible, except the applicants' contact information. Employers pay a fee for that information, from $6.95 to $2.95 per person, depending on how many applicants an employer chooses to consider. There is also a monthly subscription option.

During beta testing, Salazar said, Jobaline conducted about 2,000 interviews per week and saved hiring managers around 10 hours in pre-screening time per job post.

Applicants are notified if they are not selected, and invited to apply for nearby openings. Employers can use the site to hire long-term workers or short-term temporary workers, depending on their needs.

The site currently operates in Seattle, where Salazar lives, and Miami. With it's Hispanic population and significant number of hourly wage earners in industries like tourism, Miami provided "the perfect pilot market," he said.

The Jobaline founding team has eight members. Three are immigrants. They received $1.5 million in venture capital last year from Madrona Venture Group and angel investors.

Salazar says he wants to expand quickly to other cities and countries, and he's essentially crowdsourcing where to open next. Jobaline keeps track of visitors from outside Miami and Seattle. Dallas and San Diego may be options, as they've been popular in beta testing.

Latin American countries like Mexico and Venezuela are also good options because they have a high percentage of hourly wage earners and their populations are even more reliant on mobile devices.

"I'm a Hispanic entrepreneur and the Hispanic community is close to my heart," Salazar said, "but it's not necessarily at the top of the mind for most technology companies so I wanted to do something for Hispanics first."

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