Quality work on the fringes

3-minute read

Irregular employment is proving unstoppable. America needs a model that works for everyone. That starts with a new kind of market for hourly labor.

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The irregulars

About 20% of Americans can’t work regular hours. They have fluctuating day-to-day medical issues, caregiving, parenting, or studying commitments. Too often, people who don’t have 40 hours of availability for work each week are marginalized by public agencies, educators, unions, and philanthropies focused on traditional job creation and credentials.

And many people officially classed as job-holders are actually irregular workers. Even in 2018, 41% of American’s hourly paid W2 employees didn’t know next week’s hours or pay. Many don’t know tomorrows.  They are left scrabbling for extra hours elsewhere when their primary employer doesn’t need them. And up to 40% of Americans do ad-hoc work illegally in the off-the-books, shadow, economy. Efforts to slow the spread of precarious work are having little impact.

Official data sources aren’t granular enough to fullycapture this trend. Pre-Covid, the Federal Reserve estimated 31% of adults were reliant on at least some gig work. That could be easily become 50% in 2021’s sputtering economy. Absent support from public agencies, many turn to commercial platforms for on-demand work. Those labor markets are investing heavily to curtail worker rights.  → more

Better markets

All sorts of interventions could help irregular workers. But, sustainable, hugely-scalable, support has to start with a better labor market for the full range of hourly workers. Britain’s government took the lead in creating this. Their CEDAH (Central Database of Available Hours) technology now sits in an internationally focused non-profit for open sourcing.

A CEDAH platform for any city or region is under local control. It is built around protections, controls and progression for work-seekers, plus quality of workforce and alignment with needs of local businesses. Each worker is a W-2 with an intermediary vetting and supporting them in return for a mark-up on earnings. The system generates granular data and makes interventions to support strugglers uniquely cost-effective.

Public agencies are ideally placed to launch a CEDAH for their area. They already run infrastructure for the traditional labor market. Every state workforce board commissions its own platform to match any job opening in any sector with candidates. Services like CalJobs or IllinoisJobLink are an alternative to for-profit job boards. Our markets are the equivalent for irregulars.



Why should businesses book their flexible labor through a platform dedicated to progressing those workers? There is a sweet spot of mid-sized companies in sectors like care, construction, and hospitality who can gain from allowing workers more options immediately. Doing so can drive retention and quality. Demand for top-up workers from the public sector can also help get a market going.

We have an open-sourced manual explaining how to successfully launch. Its key point: don’t start the local market until a first wave of businesses and agencies are on board. Otherwise, there will be too many workers and not enough work.

Once the market is launched it should be overseen by an accountable local body such as a workforce board. The flexible work platform can be integrated with publicly run job boards, public assistance, and other systems.  → more


Business case

With so many problems in pandemic labor markets, why go beyond jobs and put effort into supporting irregular workers?

  1. Race and gender equity: Ad-hoc work skews towards women and communities of color. Improving standards and options attacks wider inequalities.
  2. Responsive services: With the right platform, training, peer support, and other interventions can be uniquely, cheaply, tailored to each work-seeker. Targeting, administration, and auditing are all handled within the system.
  3. Key to recovery: Enhancing opportunity for gig workers, bringing them into workforce services, and offering pathways to jobs increases earnings which boosts local spending.
  4. New work types: Community Health Workers, contact tracers, outreach teams and other roles that have grown in the pandemic are rarely full-time, long-term, fixed location, careers. A CEDAH allows them to be deployed cost-effectively, responsively, around their communities,  while protecting them with minimum hours or stable scheduling.
  5. Incremental rehiring: Businesses such as restaurants are unlikely to take back their full staff full time as recovery progresses. Many will want to re-engage their workforce in line with uncertain demand. A CEDAH makes that very efficient and ensures partially employed workers are exposed to multiple other opportunities for work. → more



Beyond Jobs is a project of the non-profit that emerged from British government programs to create better labor markets for people with complex lives. Leading the world, but with problems around welfare changes in the UK slowing progress at home, we work internationally. Annie Casey, Walmart, Kauffman, Wells Fargo and James Irvine Foundations funded our US work.

Bodies including Living Cities, National Governors Association, National Association of State Workforce Agencies, National Association of Workforce Boards, California Workforce Association and Aspen Institute have promoted our solution in the US.

Based in a 501(c)3 created by the public workforce board for City of Long Beach, CA, launch preparation won US Conference of Mayors’ prize for best community-led economic or job development initiative in America. In April 2020 we launched a first market for the Los Angeles/Orange region. Badged “CalFLEXI” it has an initial focus on flexible childcare during the pandemic.  → more


Sustainably supporting the irregular workforce at scale has never been more pressing. Of all the storms in labor markets, irregularity may be easiest to tackle locally. It’s in almost everyone’s interest to have the option of an accountable, stable, broad, market which progresses workers underpinned by deep data about local needs. A spectrum of organizations can offer services on the neutral market platform.

We work with public agencies, funders and other stakeholders around the US.


.The Irregulars