Blue-collar job openings have 'gone gangbusters'—workers aren’t finding them on LinkedIn

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Darren Rambo, a 47-year-old industrial mechanic, says he had built a name for himself in the Illinois construction industry and as a result, 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's the largest professional networking site with over 900 million members worldwide, according to its website, Rambo is certainly not the first to flock to LinkedIn in need of job prospects.

But for him, it was to no avail: "To be quite honest with you, I've had a LinkedIn account and I've never had any success with it," Rambo tells 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 operative word in that sentence "is very much 'every.'"

He says that LinkedIn has been making intentional investments over the past couple of years to become more inclusive for all kinds of workers: "For example, if you are a fry cook and you come to LinkedIn, 'fry cook' should be available as a title for you 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 "first-line 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 grow that segment for a while. In 2015, LinkedIn cofounder Allen Blue told The Financial Times there was "a growing number of blue-collar workers on the site."

Even so, blue-collar workers — those in trade sectors like construction who work outside of office settings — say they're not yet seeing the benefits in their job hunts.

The term "blue-collar" is sometimes applied with derogatory connotations, but Rambo says, "To be quite honest with you, I'm proud of that label."

LinkedIn? 'Never gotten a job on there'

Darren Rambo is an industrial mechanic based in Florida.
Courtesy of: Darren Rambo

Rambo says he uses LinkedIn "to read or as something to look at when I'm bored. But as far as finding employment, it's never done anything for me like that." He's not alone.

Sonja Wiltz, a 54-year-old construction safety coordinator, says, "All the years I've been on LinkedIn, I've never gotten a job on there."

Rodney Brock, a 49-year-old pipefitter, says he has a LinkedIn account but rarely uses it: "To me, it's just something different than what I'm used to as far as the hot sheets or something that feels more construction-y to me." Hot sheets are physical lists of jobs and projects that construction workers have historically used to find open work.  

Upon moving to Florida, Rambo also signed up for Monster Jobs and Indeed. He found little success on Monster, which he says recommended jobs that were completely outside his skill set like working for the post office.

Fortunately, Indeed turned out to be a gold mine for his job hunt: "Within three days [of making an Indeed account], I had four or five people calling me." Indeed, he says, was more sensitive to his skills and showed him more jobs that aligned with his qualifications.

Who online networking left behind

Professional networking and job searching looks different in the age of the internet, and as Silicon Valley develops more sites and apps for workers to connect online, blue-collar workers have not always been the target audience.

In a 2001 paper on the increasing use of mobile phones, Jacqueline Brodie, an associate professor at Edinburgh Napier University, and Mark Perry, a professor at Brunel University, wrote that research into what tools blue-collar workers need in the digital age "is strange in its absence."

"Perhaps this research is not seen as 'sexy'," they wrote. "This is a worrying trend in the design of technology — not only is it in a sense discriminatory (in that increasingly technological power is invested in the hands of managers, and not the workers), but also because it is ignoring a potentially large market."  

LinkedIn was created in 2002 as a platform for people to share their professional credentials and network within industries. It is primarily used by white-collar workers, but as Somasundaram says, the company is trying to change that "perception historically" with "small things that we tweak," as well as foundational changes like trying to improve "job discovery."

Those tweaks appear to be helping some: Somasundaram reports that now 40% of people who sign up for LinkedIn on any given day are first-line 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 very much abundant, even in today's tenuous job market.

Where blue-collar workers are finding jobs

So far this year, according to a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, there have been over 270,000 job cuts, which is a 396% increase from the same period a year ago.

But amid the flurries of layoff headlines, "Construction, on the other hand, has gone gangbusters," says labor economist Marianne Wanamaker of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The Department of Labor reported last week that the construction industry added about 129,000 job openings in February, despite the overall rate of job openings declining 6%.

That resilience might be drawing young workers seeking job stability. A report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that in 2022, enrollment at two-year trade schools increased dramatically. Though all schools took a hit during the pandemic, mechanic and repair schools saw enrollment numbers jump nearly 12% last year while construction increased 19%.

Blue-collar work, which Wanamaker defines as work in the construction, oil, and gas sectors, does have a different cycle of hiring than white-collar industries. They are project-based and therefore, once a project is complete, workers must seek a new position.

Workers like Rambo, Wiltz, and Brock use a variety of platforms to find work including grassroots Facebook groups and even TikTok (some have taken to short-form videos to post construction job openings, according to Wiltz). They also use BoomNation, which, according to CEO Brent Flavin, officially launched last fall and is trying to fill the blue-collar gap in online job hunting.

"It's been historically an archaic word-of-mouth network," says Flavin. "Sometimes they find [jobs] relatively quickly, but it's at least days and most times weeks and in our opinion, 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 openings, and has a messaging platform and newsfeed for people in the industry to stay in touch. In other words, it's LinkedIn but built with blue-collar workers as the target demographic.

"This isn't new technology we're talking about. This is just kind of matchmaking and transparency of opportunity," says Flavin.

"White-collar workers have had that 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 that BoomNation is where he goes when he needs to find work fast: "There's a running joke from construction workers in my field anyway that if you get mad at one job, just jump on BoomNation and you'll be working somewhere else tomorrow."  

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