Quality work on the fringes

Job creation

Our program won USCM’s national prize for job creation initiatives. Current models of irregular work kill jobs. A better market creates them.





Job killers roam free

Public agencies, philanthropies, educators, and unions are often disinterested in irregular work. But attempts to curtail it aren’t working. So, this vulnerable workforce is left with few legitimate options beyond for-profit marketplaces. Unchecked, their disempowering agenda can be seen – for example – in the $205m gig companies poured into overturning basic worker protections in California.

Gig work companies have  untruthfully spun a narrative that flexibility is incompatible with employment rights. This idea has stuck. Many officials fear that irregular work is inherently bad and a publicly run platform can only exacerbate a race to the floor on wages, eroding jobs. Throughout the economy, that is now the impact of aggressive commercial platforms for ad-hoc work.

This slashing of labor costs is a factor of Silicon Valley business models, typically based on huge expenditure to attract buyers of labor, not anything inherent in online platforms. A publicly run platform like a CEDAH (Central Database of Available Hours) has negligible marketing costs. It uses the unique leverage of public agencies to attract multiple businesses into a new market.

Public agencies have provided labor market infrastructure for decadesAmerica’s Job Centers are an alternative to commercial staffing agencies. State job-banks sit alongside for-profit job boards. They may not be perfect, but the public facilities successfully push an agenda of growth, jobs, inclusion, and skills. As US Conference of Mayors recognized by awarding us their CommunityWins prize for best job or economic development initiative in America, it’s time irregular workforces became part of that agenda.

Recognizing the reality of irregular work, and improving life for those involved, does not in any way inhibit ongoing battles against exploitative labor platforms. It’s another front. Public labor exchanges persuaded cowboy staffing agencies to professionalize or lose their workers. Public options for gig workers could likewise be more of a constraint on unfair labor markets than head-on fights.


Irregular work as a ladder

A CEDAH is just infrastructure, under control of local public bodies. It can harness sophisticated marketplace technologies as those bodies and their labor market intermediaries wish. People fortunate enough to have 40 hours of availability for work a week would typically rather be in a job than irregular work. In a CEDAH, they can use any spells of irregularity to stay connected to labor markets, test their options, and develop wider employability, all fitting around their job seeking.

Too many jobs now being created are in reality just on-demand work. Many employees constantly seek additional hours elsewhere so they can maintain earnings around their job. A CEDAH can be there for them, working to progress them to stability if their primary employer won’t do so.

By constantly fostering options across different types of employment, a CEDAH helps individuals develop and move upwards. They are no longer part of a commoditized group of cheap, algorithmically managed, workers. This drives up workforce quality, but also pay. If a company wants to avoid desirable temporary workers constantly moving up to better paid hours elsewhere, it is going to have to tempt them with a job. And CEDAH supported options like “fill-the-gaps” childcare can support women in particular who are transitioning to full-time.

The economics of job-creation change with a mature CEDAH. A full-timer should be cheaper, per-hour, than a temp., because there’s no intermediary overhead to pay. And few on-demand staffers can match the organizational knowledge, personal investment in company success, and brand ambassadorship of someone on payroll.


New jobs

Post pandemic employment looks set to be flexible for many. Automation is increasingly able to undercut the costs of a full-time employee in a fixed building. Robots are less good at unpredictable tasks in diverse locations. New services for communities will often be demanded as needed. Public employment services focused exclusively on creation of traditional jobs will be underserving their communities.

Some jobs will have regular hours but require worker flexibility within those hours. For example, Community Health Workers may be hired on a 9-to-5 contract. They could then sit in a central office and expect clients to visit them. Or, they could be deployed as needed to visit households, groups, or businesses through each day.

Some of the workers might themselves need support or hours to fit around complexities in their life. Each should have a growing range of skills. Many will want to combine their role with other types of work to build a pathway. This is all a huge logistical challenge if you don’t have a CEDAH (Central Database of Available Hours) locally.


Job options for workers

A CEDAH’s key tool for empowering workers is the individualized options it can give each of them. Work-seekers can set terms on which they will work, then effortlessly let the CEDAH sell their available hours across as many types of work as they wish. With so much demand attracted into a well-launched CEDAH, that brings new dynamics:

  1. Labor market entry: “You start Monday” doesn’t work for a lot of those outside the workforce. “Could you do an hour’s work this afternoon, then maybe two hours another day?” fits the needs of people constrained by uncertainties like medical, family or partial employment commitments: or just unfamiliarity. The CEDAH can be a personalized on-ramp into the legitimate workforce.
  2. Stability: CEDAH workers seeking long term engagement are flagged. By fostering specific commitments and deepened relationships, the system makes it easy to have a portfolio of perhaps 2-3 regular employers with outside buyers only appearing if hours need to be made up suddenly. This kind of semi-regularity makes life easier for both sides.
  3. Employer pools: The CEDAH encourages businesses to maintain pools of top-up workers they rely on regularly. A supermarket for example might pre-train 40 provenly reliable shelf-fillers as checkout operators then buy from that pool of hours as needed. One worker can be in as many of these pools as they wish with the chance to develop within multiple bodies.
  4. Pay settings: A temporary receptionist might bump up the hourly rate at which she can be booked by a local veterinary clinic. If she’s good, this may be when they start thinking about a job. Meanwhile she has other options with other types of work. She is not powerless as in so many of today’s platforms.
  5. Progression“Based on your typical times of availability, your travel area and your track record in bookings for interior decorating, building repair and home viewing supervision you could increase earnings by 20% and bookings by 8% with a further qualification in property damage assessments, click here for training options”. A mature CEDAH can analyze demand/supply in its markets constantly to generate alerts like this. It may facilitate external investment in training in return for an automatically deducted cut of enhanced earnings.


Improved interventions

Some labor market support organizations have developed small scale initiatives to help gig workers. A CEDAH makes a full array of interventions low-cost, efficient, and transparent. Those interventions might be funded and run by a public body like a workforce board, a philanthropy or commercial interests. For example, a local hospitality trade body might fund training of reliable top-up waitstaff in silver service dining. This could ensure their members are ready for Christmas banqueting season. It also adds to local employability when a new hotel opens.

And a CEDAH’s granularity makes it ideal as a testbed for trialing interventions. Some examples:

  • Training to put 100 demonstrably reliable events workers through paid first aid certification.
  • Twenty hours of childcare for a pilot group of Moms in a deprived area returning to work in September.
  • Twenty reliable flexible workers professionalized as peer support for the justice-involved and provided to a first wave of clients.

Each of these initiatives could be completed for around $10,000 with need, selection, administration, and outcomes all transparent. If any program is then worth expanding, that only requires a few clicks in a mature CEDAH. The platform can become a hub of experimentation in job creation strategies for unforeseeable labor markets.


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