Hiding in Plain Sight: the Labor Pool at our Doorstep.

Chase Norlin

CEO, Emerge Digital Group


In a recent article on my company, Emerge Digital Group, Michael Bernick talked about an innovative hiring model we inadvertently created in building our business.

Given our rapid growth and lack of capital we were essentially forced into hiring outside the traditional Silicon Valley model of poaching the best candidates from competitors. Instead, we hired workers from other industries, the unemployed or underemployed, interns, really anybody we could get our hands on. What started as a one-off became an almost institutionalized practice of hiring the hungriest and scrappiest people who would do anything to get ahead.

The result? Transformation. They transformed us, we transformed them. I came to believe that one’s ambition and drive are equally if not more important as one’s credentials, degrees, or supposed “smarts”. Why? Because we have real data on the results.

The majority of these hires, if not all of them, contributed to our rapid growth with their scrappiness and outside-the-box thinking. They developed revenue models we never would have thought of, and they showed humility and gratefulness (something atypical today among the region’s entitled Digirati). They transformed our business into a bigger, better, and faster growing business than we ever could have imagined.

And we transformed them into fast-thinking digital advertising experts, many of them moving up rapidly at our company or onto entirely new career trajectories at top Internet companies.

So why isn’t more of this practice happening at our State’s technology companies?

According to employment experts, there are a few reasons for this:

  1. The unemployed are stereotyped as not a valuable resource to employers.
  2. There’s no way to sift through the unemployed labor pool to find the most talented and ambitious.
  3. The industry is pushing to extend H-1B Visas to highly skilled and more senior foreign workers while concurrently outsourcing low cost labor to these foreign markets.

This is unfortunate, as a massive source of low-cost, skilled, and highly motivated labor is sitting right beneath our noses here in California. According to the latest employment figures, the number of unemployed in California is 1,420,000 and the number of Long Term Unemployed (unemployed more than 26 weeks) is 643,000–and even these numbers feel light. So, there’s literally a pool of low-cost skilled labor right here at our doorstep, it just needs to be sourced, deployed, and optimized.

We need to start applying the same business models and value creation that is utilized in the for-profit technology sector to the very real social problems we have here in our State. If we applied that same for-profit mentality of building hyper-innovative technology companies to the problem of tapping this local labor pool, we’d solve all sorts of problems, not the least of which is getting people to work in high-growth industries.

We’d be able to cultivate workers from the ground up within these companies, creating more loyalty. We’d be able to develop more highly skilled local employees thereby mitigating the talent shortage problem many of these companies face. We’d reduce our dependency on foreign labor. And most importantly, we’d be lifting people up at the bottom and making our community a better place to live with equal opportunity for anyone who has the drive and ambition.

I’m ready to start working on this. What about you?

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