People+Work Connect: A Bold Idea, Powered by Accenture.

I am constantly inspired by the ingenuity of the business community. As more than 20 million Americans find themselves out of work, employers are going through a similar level of angst. One company needs to lay off or furlough thousands of restaurant, retail, or airline workers, while another needs to hire thousands of people to clean or assist in hospitals, delivery, or distribution centers.

Typically the job market sorts this out on an individual level. Right now as more than 20 million people are out of work, more than 10 million jobs are open, so people are expected to “find these jobs” on their own. It’s a difficult, stressful, highly inefficient process.

EMSI job postings

Fig 1:  The EMSI Job Posting Dashboard, my personal favorite place to analyze the job market.

Looking For A Job Is Difficult

If you’ve ever been laid off, you understand how terrifying this can be. People go home with a final paycheck, sometimes there’s a small bonus, and they have to go online or make phone calls to find, apply, and interview for something else. Not only are most people in shock from their layoff or furlough, they have financial worries and stress at home, and the jobs they’re looking for may be in a different industry, different city, and often different profession.

This is why the job market is so “sticky.” We can lay people off in a few hours, but it takes months or years to rehire – almost like a one-way valve. Easy to let people go, hard to hire them back. And added to this inefficiency is the enormous cost of looking for a job. Employers have to pay companies like Indeed, LinkedIn, or others to post and advertise positions, they have to pay for interviewing and background checking, and the job seeker has to spend money looking for a job, interviewing, travelling, and often buying new clothing or equipment.

Well Accenture is trying to fix all this. In the last several weeks, Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture, sat down with Ellyn Shook (the CHRO) and a small group of senior HR executives to discuss their response to the crisis. And as they started to talk, a bold idea started to emerge.

Christy Pambianchi, (CHRO of Verizon), Pat Wadors (CHRO of ServiceNow), Lisa Buckingham (CHRO of Lincoln Financial), Ellyn Shook (CHRO of Accenture) and Eva Sage-Gavin (Accenture) talked about how great it would be if companies could essentially “swap workers” to help make this problem go away. And they sat down and decided to do it.

People+Work Connect: A B2B Talent Exchange

When I first heard about it I figured this was another “talent marketplace” like many existing recruitment and internal job mobility platforms. Nope, that’s not what it is.

This is a true “CHRO to CHRO exchange,” where senior HR leaders can post information about people they are letting go (a minimum of 100 at a time) so other “buyers” of these skills can find these pools of people and hire them. It’s like a business to business matching system (the eBay for pools of talent) designed for HR leaders themselves.

Why is this important? The rate of job destruction is something we’ve never seen. Restaurants, hotels, airlines, theaters, theme parks, and gyms are closed. Hospitals, delivery services, insurance providers, gaming, and online learning business are exploding with growth.  People who worked in hospitality, food service, and the leisure industry are already well trained and ready to serve customers. And they have a strong work ethic and lots of energy on their hands. If we can quickly move them from company to company, everyone is better off.

And then there’s the critical issue of maintaining a positive employment brand. Many studies show that laying off people does irreparable damage to your company: a report in the aerospace industry found that as many as 25% of people who are laid off vow “never to work for that company again.” If you’re a consumer goods or services company, this means all these ex-employees wont be customers either. So employers want desperately to treat people well.

Verizon, for example, has shut down most of their retail stores. These workers are highly trained sales and customer service professionals, all familiar with technology and the local cities they serve. Why can’t they just pick up jobs in a local food bank, hospital, or delivery and logistics location? They can – and that’s what Christy is helping them to do through the People+Work Coalition.

There’s A Lot To Learn Here

In only a few weeks the People+Work Coalition has received hundreds of applications from companies to find or post workers. Here is how it works.

The system is elegantly simple. If you’re an employer, you post “people needed” or “people available” and uses AI to match the group you’re looking for against the groups that have been laid off or furloughed.

When you post that people are available, the system asks you for information about their job title and role (using the O*Net job architecture). If you’re hiring mid-level logistics workers in a certain zipcode in Atlanta, for example, the platform then uses AI to match your needs against groups of people with similar or adjacent skills. 

(This is not a job board like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, or LinkedIn – individuals themselves are not listed.  Other vendors are doing this, but they’re more traditional job boards – for example The Layoff Network who publishes The Lay off List.)

If you’re an HR leader or talent acquisition executive, you can go and find these pools of people, talk with the company that let them go, and then it’s up to you to work out the right arrangements. If you reach an agreement, you may want to send a joint email or letter to these people, letting them know how to apply for jobs with the new employer.

As I was talking with Pat Wadors about the program, she told me they’re already learning a lot. For example, one of the companies wanted to continue to pay benefits to their furloughed workers but knew they couldn’t give them work. So they are negotiating with another company to pick up pay and hourly wages while they continue to pay benefits.

Another company found that they could avoid background-checking. Marriott, for example, does extensive background checking of their workers – so if a company wants to hire furloughed Marriott workers, they may be willing to forgo the time delay and cost of a background check. This speeds up the process too.

If you’re growing quickly (like ServiceNow is at the moment), this may help you quickly. You could find a pool of well known, well-trained workers through this network, reach out to the HR leader who knows them and then put together a personalized email or letter to each of these people. No need for job boards, advertising, screening interviews, or complex hiring practices. Of course, employers will still have to go through some form of interview and final checks, but the entire process removes many forms of friction.

This is all still very new, and the companies I talked with are learning very fast. Can, for example, a worker receive benefits from one company on furlough while they take employment with someone else? Will labor unions want to get involved in all this? There are legal and regulatory issues that may crop up, but right now this network is immediately adding value, and I know the People+Work team will keep this legal, valuable, and on track.

And by the way, the whole thing is free. Not only is this an incredibly useful service for many companies, nobody is putting themselves in the middle to force you to pay to play. Accenture is powering the platform, but the real leaders of this coalition are the HR leaders themselves.

I can’t be sure where this will all go, but I think we should give Accenture and this team a huge round of applause for their work. It’s a sign that good things come from a crisis, and this is one that makes everyone’s lives a little bit better.

(You can learn more and join the Coalition here.)