The 2015 closure of Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster III manufacturing facility at the Long Beach Airport spurred Pacific Gateway, the city’s workforce development agency, to analyze the economic composition of Long Beach – who its major employers are, what industries are driving growth and the demographics of Long Beach workers. According to Pacific Gateway Executive Director Nick Schultz, this led to the discovery that at least 35% of the city’s residents were earning wages that were insufficient to meet the area’s cost of living. The revelation set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to a project to uplift this sector of the economy, developed in partnership with a British nonprofit from across the pond – an initiative that is being recognized on March 13 as the best of its kind in the nation by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Wells Fargo.

“When I looked at that deep economic and demographic dive, [I saw] there were a lot of people in jobs living here in Long Beach who were earning wages that weren’t sufficient for them to afford to live here,” Schultz said. “There was something else going on locally that was bolstering or supporting people’s ability to afford to live in the community that we couldn’t get out of the official data.”

What was going on, Schultz found, was that as many as 41% of Long Beach residents were not working full-time. Rather, they had multiple part-time jobs, or worked on-demand. As he began investigating how to support such a sizable segment of the economy, Schultz consulted with the mayor’s office, which connected him with Wingham Rowan, director of the British nonprofit Beyond Jobs.

Rowan’s nonprofit developed and implemented what he refers to as a central database of available hours (CDAH) to connect on-demand workers with employers. This public system allows workers to publish their available work hours and employers to request their services. After successfully launching the platform in Britain, Rowan began looking into bringing it to the United States – an effort that ultimately brought him to Pacific Gateway. “We’ve worked with local workforce boards around the U.S. It was Long Beach that took the lead,” Rowan said.

Through a $42,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation awarded in October 2016, Rowan and Schultz partnered to bring together workforce boards and organizations from across the United States to discuss the needs of on-demand workers and their employers. “I convened the roundtable for the Greater L.A. region, which included all the directors from both Los Angeles and Orange counties,” Schultz said. Through these discussions, Schultz determined that “our traditional workforce dollars and performance metrics wouldn’t give us credit for supporting those types of businesses or those less than full-time workers.” With the support of other workforce board directors in the area, Schultz wrote an open letter seeking philanthropic funding to address the needs of the on-demand economy.

The letter resulted in a $58,926 Kauffman Foundation grant in 2017 to explore the extent of the demand for flexible work in the two-county area. The effort revealed about $20 million in aggregate demand just within Long Beach, according to Schultz. Several of Long Beach’s largest employment sectors rely upon on-demand workers, including the hospitality and tourism, health care, and transportation and logistics industries, he noted.

Additionally, the Walmart Foundation supplied $123,696 to Americanize Beyond Jobs’ technology deployed in Britain.

According to Andrew Muñoz, director of staffing services for the nonprofit arm of Pacific Gateway, Pacific Gateway Workforce Partnership, the first step in creating a new CDAH for the on-demand workforce in Long Beach was to identify major employers in need of such a tool. “Once we had the grant and we had staff on our small but mighty team, we hit the pavements and started talking to folks about the potential for being involved in the project,” he said.

Among these companies was Cambrian Homecare, a Long Beach-based provider of home care for people of all ages, including seniors in need of hospice, and youth and adults with special needs. Rhiannon Acree, founder and CEO of Cambrian Homecare, said that when Rowan first called her about getting involved in the creation of the database as an initial user, her reaction was: “Thank god – it’s about time a public sector agency understood our industry.” She added, “finally somebody has listened, understood and gone with it.”

When Cambrian Homecare Founder/CEO Rhiannon Acree heard that Pacific Gateway was working on a system to connect employers with on-demand workers, she was delighted to sign on as an initial user. Pictured from left: Acree; Paul Quiroz, director of operations for Cambrian Homecare; Andrew Lippa, business development specialist for Pacific Gateway Workforce Partnership (PGWP); and Andrew Muñoz, PGWP’s director of staffing services. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Annette Semerdjian)

In the home care industry, on demand workers are crucial. Since Cambrian was founded 22 years ago, it has relied upon flexible workers, Acree noted. However, doing so has become increasingly difficult. “I talk to the staff these days about what I call the ‘uberization’ of home care,” Acree said. “It’s an on-demand business now. Gone are the days we had 48 hours to book a shift.” Most challenging for Acree is the process of reviewing applications. “If we are processing over 1,000 applications a month, the labor cost on that is high,” she explained.

The CDAH that Pacific Gateway and Beyond Jobs have developed, which launches in April, places the responsibility of vetting employees on Pacific Gateway. The organization’s staff will onboard workers to the system, which will display their qualifications, such as certifications, in addition to their hours, Muñoz explained.

Having this information at their fingertips, rather than having to sort through applications, will reduce employers’ overhead and increase efficiency, Acree noted. “This is a game changer,” she said. “That application can be processed so much quicker, so much more efficiently, and they can be in work getting paid hours quicker.”

The system also makes it easier for on-demand or flex workers to present themselves to a variety of employers, Muñoz noted. “I call it a pro-worker project because it empowers the worker in a way that they are not empowered now,” he said.

Schultz explained the benefit to workers: “They are not locked into a specific employer. They can take their talents, their abilities, their skill and their time and actually place it into a flat market place where an employer can buy based on need.”

Last July, the Wells Fargo Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors – an organization comprised of mayors of cities with 30,000 residents or more – selected the Pacific Gateway/Beyond Jobs initiative as the best of its kind in America. The project is receiving first place in the 2018 CommunityWINS Grant Award Ceremony on March 13, an honor that comes with a $300,000 grant to test the database in the Greater Los Angeles area.

According to Muñoz, this is the first time public technology is being implemented to facilitate the on-demand labor market. “We anticipate the majority of it will be done online and through smart phone technology,” he said.

Muñoz reflected, “There are an awful lot of underemployed people, and this pool of people has always been on the fringes. . . . Now we have a way of connecting all those hours of availability for work – all those skills, all those resources around Long Beach – to the employers that need them.”

Employers interested in using the database may contact Andrew Lippa, business development specialist for Pacific Gateway Workforce Partnership, at 562/570-3747.