Darren Rambo, a 47-year-old industrial mechanic, says he’s made a name for himself in the Illinois construction industry so he’s never had trouble finding work. Then, at the end of 2019, he moved to Florida and had to “start from scratch”. So he got on LinkedIn.
Given that it is the largest professional networking site with over 900 million members worldwide, according to his websiteRambo is certainly not the first to flock to LinkedIn in search of job prospects.
But for him, it didn’t help: “To be completely honest with you, I had a LinkedIn account and I never had success with it,” Rambo told CNBC Make It.
LinkedIn’s stated vision is to “create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.” Lakshman Somasundaram, the company’s director of product management, says the key word in that sentence “really is ‘all'”.
He says LinkedIn has made intentional investments over the past two years to become more inclusive for all types of workers: “For example, if you’re a french fry cook and you come to LinkedIn, ‘french cook’ should be available as a title to put on your profile.” Currently, “Fry Cook”, “Short Order Fry Cook”, and “Fast Food Fry Cook” are all available as job titles on the platform.
According to Somasundaram, 155 million of the platform’s 900 million users today are “frontline workers,” which LinkedIn defines as any job that requires less than a four-year degree: “It’s a growing segment for us”.
The company has been trying to develop this segment for some time. In 2015, LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue told the Financial Times there was “an increasing number of workers on the site”.
Even so, blue-collar workers – those in commercial sectors like construction who work outside of the office — say they are not yet seeing the benefits of their job search.
The term “blue collar” is sometimes applied with pejorative connotations, but Rambo says, “To be completely honest with you, I’m proud of that label.”
LinkedIn? “I never found a job there”
Rambo says he uses LinkedIn “to read or as something to watch when I’m bored. But when it comes to job hunting, it’s never done anything like that for me.” He is not alone.
Sonja Wiltz, a 54-year-old construction safety coordinator, says, “In all the years I’ve been on LinkedIn, I’ve never found a job there.”
Rodney Brock, a 49-year-old pipefitter, says he has a LinkedIn account but rarely uses it: “For me, it’s just something different from what I’m used to when it comes to warm sheets or something more construction-like to me.” Active sheets are physical listings of jobs and projects that construction workers have historically used to find open work.
After moving to Florida, Rambo also signed for Monster Jobs and Indeed. He found little success on Monster, which he said recommended jobs completely outside his skill set, such as working for the post office.
Fortunately, Indeed turned out to be a gold mine for their job search: “In three days [of making an Indeed account]I had four or five people calling me.” Indeed, he said, he was more sensitive to her skills and showed her more jobs that matched her qualifications.
Who online networks left behind
Professional networking and job hunting look different in the internet age, and as Silicon Valley develops more and more sites and apps for workers to connect online, blue-collar workers don’t have not always been the target audience.
In a 2001 paper on the growing use of mobile phones, Jacqueline Brodie, associate professor at Edinburgh Napier University, and Mark Perry, professor at Brunel University, have written that research into the tools blue-collar workers need in the digital age “is strange in its absence.”
“Perhaps this research isn’t considered ‘sexy,'” they wrote. “This is a worrying trend in the design of technology – not only in a sense is it discriminatory (in that technological power is increasingly vested in the hands of managers, not workers ), but also because it ignores a potentially large market.”
LinkedIn was established in 2002 as a platform for people to share their professional credentials and network within industries. It’s mostly used by white-collar workers, but as Somasundaram says, the company is trying to change that “historical perception” with “little things we’re changing”, as well as fundamental changes like trying to improve “discovery of ‘job”.
These tweaks seem to be helping some: Somasundaram reports that now 40% of people who sign up for LinkedIn on any given day are frontline workers.
But workers say that for them, LinkedIn is primarily a social network or, in Brock’s words, “a chat room,” not a place where they find jobs.
And those jobs are still plentiful, even in today’s precarious labor market.
Where blue collar workers find jobs
So far this year, according to a report by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, there were more than 270,000 job cuts, a 396% increase from the same period a year ago.
But amid flurries of headlines about layoffs, “construction, on the other hand, has become a gangbuster,” says labor economist Marianne Wanamaker of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The Department of Labor reported last week that the construction industry added about 129,000 job openings in February, despite an overall drop of 6% in job openings.
This resilience could attract young workers seeking job stability. A National Student Clearinghouse report found that by 2022, enrollment in two-year trade schools had increased significantly. Although all schools have been affected during the pandemic, mechanical and repair schools saw enrollment jump nearly 12% last year while construction increased by 19%.
Blue-collar work, which Wanamaker defines as work in the construction, oil and gas industries, has a different hiring cycle than white-collar industries. They are project-based, and therefore, once a project is completed, workers must look for a new position.
Workers like Rambo, Wiltz and Brock are using a variety of platforms to find work, including grassroots Facebook groups and even TikTok (some have opted for short-form videos to post construction jobs, according to Wiltz). They’re also using BoomNation, which CEO Brent Flavin said officially launched last fall and is trying to fill the gap for blue-collar workers in online job hunting.
“It’s always been an archaic word-of-mouth network,” says Flavin. “Sometimes they find [jobs] relatively quickly, but that’s at least days and mostly weeks and in our view that’s unacceptable.”
Based in Baton Rouge, BoomNation is an online platform and app that provides blue-collar workers with available jobs, allows employers to post job openings, and has a messaging platform and wire news allowing people in the sector to stay in touch. In other words, it’s LinkedIn but built with blue-collar workers as the target demographic.
“It’s not a new technology that we’re talking about. It’s just a kind of matchmaking and opportunity transparency,” Flavin says.
“White-collar workers have had it for a very long time,” says Wanamaker, who is also a BoomNation board member. “All you have to do is open LinkedIn.”
Flavin says that even as LinkedIn tries to pivot to be more inclusive, “we could seriously compete, because we’re built for the worker.”
Rambo says BoomNation is the place he goes when he needs to find work fast: “Anyway, the construction workers in my area tell a running joke that if you get mad at a job, just jump on BoomNation and you’ll be working somewhere else tomorrow.”
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