For the 17,000 or so retail workers who are about to lose their job at Target, many may not have a profile on professional networking site LinkedIn. Most however do own a smartphone, a tool that Derek Szeto says will help them land on their feet with the aid of his app, Wirkn.
The latest venture from Szeto, a founder of RedFlagDeals苏州丝足, Wirkn is a brand new service that aims to connect local retail and service sector workers to local employers.
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Szeto’s service is offering free job-hunting training and advice to displaced Target workers, in order to help displaced employees and also to grow awareness about his app, a service far better suited for hourly retail workers than a site like LinkedIn, Szeto says.
“There’s nobody really serving this group,” the Toronto-based entrepreneur said in a phone interview Monday.
To start, retail and hospitality employees skew younger, with about 40 per cent of Canadian positions filled by workers age 28 or under. Members of this younger cohort are permanently attached to their phones, Szeto says.
Many store-level retail positions aren’t career gigs, either, meaning a LinkedIn profile isn’t nearly as useful as knowing what stores or restaurants in the area need some help right now.
Wirkn, which is available on iPhones and Android devices, aims to connect local workers with local store managers fast. Montreal shoe retailer Aldo, as well as Liberty Entertainment Group in Toronto are two early partners in the venture.
Szeto and his backers, which include former Aldo executive Francois Jobin, want to grow Wirkn’s network of corporate employer partners, he says.
How it works
The app allows applicants to upload a profile from their phone, as well as attach a short video explaining what work they’re looking for, or why they’re a good fit. Applicants can also reach out directly to local employers with openings listed on the mobile site.
The video provides a chance to demonstrate personality and communicative skills — traits often considered as important to retail or service work as education or other factors, Szeto says.
Workers also specify the hours and days of the week they are available; flexibility to be able to work different hours or on short notice being another desired qualification among retail employers.
“We’re trying to optimize the matching process, to make that easier by creating the platform,” Szeto says.
Wirkn is new. So new in fact that it’s completely free for both employers and job seekers at the moment. But it has plans to monetize itself.
The app, which launched in Toronto, Montreal among other markets this summer, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in venture capital to date. Once the app achieves some critical mass, employers will be charged for access to the data being collected by Wirkn, Szeto says.
The app has been downloaded 5,500 times, a number that’s climbing fast thanks to Target’s abrupt decision and Wirkn’s efforts to get itself noticed by affected employees.
Experts suggest the mass layoffs coming at the retail giant represent the single biggest purge of jobs in the history of the Canadian labour market. BMO’s chief economist, Doug Porter, says the decision represents “possibly the largest one-off private-sector layoff ever in Canada.”
Szeto says Wirkn, in partnership with Montreal human resources firm Drakkar, is prepared to provide “a package of career counselling, resume writing, digital
recruitment training and other support services” for affected Target workers.
“We thought we could offer something,” he says. The value of the aid is about $2,000 per person, according to the app founder.
Szeto says Wirkn is also a good fit for seasonal work or situations where employers need to staff up quickly during busy times. Just send out a push notification to possible applicants and vet candidates on the spot.
Such fluid arrangements though have been criticized for fostering so-called precarious employment, where employers provide virtually no job security, benefits or reliable hours. Pay is generally lower than what a full-time worker would earn, as well.
Still, Szeto says Wirkn isn’t enabling that trend. Instead, the app is helping workers stabilize their incomes by landing them new work quickly.
“We see it the other way. Retailers are already moving this way, the number of full-time jobs versus part-time, the shift is moving toward part-time,” he says. “It’s already happened. What we’re trying to do is make it easier for employees.”