The United States faces a huge gap between the skills demanded by companies and the skills available in the workforce — a gap Yscaira Jimenez, MBA ’14, hopes to fill with her new startup, LaborX.
Founded in 2015, LaborX is an online platform that matches high-tech employers with skilled but nontraditional job candidates — such as those with technical training but no college degree. Taglined “the LinkedIn for the LinkedOut,” LaborX highlights candidates’ qualifications with video resumes and work samples.
Already, before its public launch, the company has placed people in living-wage jobs, earning candidates interviews at Salesforce.com, Amazon, Google, and other places that otherwise might have ignored or rejected resumes.
“With college so expensive, I thought creating an alternative pathway to meaningful employment in the knowledge economy was critical,” said Jimenez, who will speak at the MIT Sloan Global Women’s Conference Oct. 6 in New York City.
Set to launch publicly Sept. 15, LaborX has partnered with the City of San Francisco to help move a diverse population of skilled job-seekers into the workforce. Through that partnership the company is working with 48 training programs, which together serve 7,000 people, to target employment at some 1,300 companies, Jimenez said.
Recruitment is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and the need for new pathways to employment is clear. In a June 2015 blog post, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates highlighted an expected shortfall of 11 million college graduates over the coming decade.
Jimenez said her inspiration for LaborX is personal. Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., Jimenez is connected to people for whom her own educational path — which included an undergraduate degree at Columbia University — was unattainable.
“I went to some very good schools. And I know I got good training. But I think to get into the schools, ability is not the only measure. Oftentimes it’s privilege, [including] the privilege of hoarding extra resources to study and do well,” she said.
LaborX is not just for people who didn't attend or finish college, however. According to Jimenez, the site has many users with degrees — even master's degrees and PhDs, though they may have gotten their credentials at foreign universities. “The common denominator is, they have skills and lack social capital,” she said. “I’m trying to have people judged on ability, not on race, gender, or class.”
LaborX has raised $1 million from private and public sources, much of it in the form of foundation grants. Jimenez has a social entrepreneurship fellowship with Echoing Green, which led to foundation support for her startup. Partnerships with AT&T Foundation, Tipping Point, and the Tomkat Foundation in turn helped LaborX connect with three training programs, Year Up, Udacity, and the Stride Center, to begin testing its service about a year ago.
The company plans to make money by charging companies membership fees to access the LaborX talent pool. With billions spent each year on training and recruiting, Jimenez believes it’s a strategy that will work.
“Once we start scaling and showing this can work for all people, we can get more support,” she said. Next steps: LaborX is planning a pilot in Boston and hopes to expand to other cities over time.