Four High-Powered Women Are Matching Workers to Jobs

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(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Here’s one difference between the pandemic-induced recession and a typical economic downturn: In this one, some companies are hiring like crazy. Amazon.com, Walmart, CVS, Albertsons, and Fidelity are among those adding hundreds of thousands of employees to cope with a flood of new business that, in most cases, is coronavirus-related.

Wouldn’t it be nice if companies that are shedding workers could place some of them with companies that are adding them instead of leaving their laid-off and furloughed workers on their own to navigate the turbulent job market? That’s what four women thought when they exchanged notes at an online conference for chief human resources officers of large companies hosted by Accenture PLC on March 24. 

They hurriedly put together a business-to-business jobs platform called People + Work Connect. It was announced on April 14. Within 24 hours, the platform had about 100,000 postings, roughly half consisting of workers in need of jobs and half jobs in need of workers.

I interviewed two of the four originators of the platform: Ellyn Shook, chief leadership and human resources officer at Accenture, and Pat Wadors, chief talent officer at ServiceNow. The others who were involved from the beginning are Lisa Buckingham, executive vice president and chief people, place, and brand officer for Lincoln Financial Group, and Christy Pambianchi, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Verizon Communications. The four have known one another for five years or longer. Also pitching in were experts from Cornell University, the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, the Gallup Organization, Conference Board, and others.

“In a societal crisis, companies really need to step up as responsible leaders,” says Accenture’s Shook, sounding like the HR exec that she is. Accenture, a technology consulting firm, built the People + Work Connect platform. “People will look at companies that create value and lead with values.”

The response from other companies has been enthusiastic. About 1,300 HR executives attended four information sessions during the planning stages, and more than 250 companies are in the process of signing up. That number is growing rapidly. Among the early joiners: Archer-Daniels-Midland, Baxter International, Blue Apron, Cargill, Frito-Lay, Marriott, Mondelez International, Nordstrom, Walmart, and Zenefits.

“Success for me is when the talent leaders at companies start engaging with each other,” says Wadors, whose company, ServiceNow, helps customers manage digital workflows. “That’s starting to happen.”

Companies with temporarily idled employees will open up about information they ordinarily hold close to the vest: how many people they have working in which jobs and in what locations. There are potentially more than 1,000 kinds of jobs, classified using the U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored O*NET OnLine. There’s no personally identifiable information on the platform. Hiring companies generally agree to accept the sending companies’ background checks. They may conduct hiring interviews, but those are usually abbreviated.

The aim is to get people to work as quickly as possible. “It’s not mass hiring, but streamlined hiring,” Shook says.

Workers on furlough will technically have two employers. The original one covers benefits. The temporary one pays the salary. Wadors says lawyers for the companies would need to sign off on the arrangement.

For employers, one obvious concern about People + Work is that the employees they help place won’t come back when the health emergency is over. To deal with that, Wadors says the companies are agreeing with each other that the original employer is entitled to get its people back with two or three weeks’ notice. The worker, of course, doesn’t have to go back if she or he doesn’t want to.

The concept of lending idled workers out isn’t brand new. For instance, as Bloomberg has reportedgrocery chain Albertsons is hiring furloughed dining staff from BJ’s Restaurants Inc., and meat warehouse Americold is scooping up those recently let go from Great Wolf Lodge. What’s new about People + Work Connect is scale and technological sophistication.

Says Wadors: “It’s going to get smarter over time. The goal was to be fast.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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