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'Instant job' apps find niche in Spain's troubled labour market
October 7, 2016 / 12:07 PM / a year ago

'Instant job' apps find niche in Spain's troubled labour market

Marta Romero, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of WorkToday start-up, holds an iPhone showing its application's welcome page as she poses in Madrid, Spain, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) - Marta Romero’s small start-up is in hiring mode, and it’s not just her own workforce that is growing: she’s trying to find jobs for 4.6 million unemployed Spaniards too.

A wave of home-grown job search apps like hers are shaking up Spain’s labour market with a nimble formula that allows people to find work quickly in nearby shops and restaurants, even for last-minute shifts.

“Everything started on a bar terrace one day. The waiter was missing and it all became a little chaotic. I realised there was an easy solution when there are so many unemployed people,” Romero said.

That encounter inspired her to develop WorkToday. Since launching it a little over a year ago, the app has notched up 100,000 jobseekers and around 5,000 employers and now advertises permanent jobs too.

Romero, who says she has found work for 5,000 people, has more than doubled her own staff to eight.

Similar instant job portals have cropped up in the past few years in the United States, Sweden, Canada and Britain, often touting themselves as flexible tools for people to earn a little extra spending money.

STEPPING STONE?

In Spain, that is the case too, though many jobseekers there are also looking for a permanent way back into the workforce. Three years into a robust economic recovery, the jobless rate is still running at 20 percent, the second-highest in Europe after Greece.

An active private services sector, which drives about half of national output, has also made Spain a magnet for foreign businesses looking to test this “quick hit” job model.

JobToday, a Luxembourg-based start-up which runs its app in France, Spain and Britain, was first launched in 2015 in Barcelona, lured by the city’s steady churn of seasonal employment in bars and hotels.

The portal, which offers a mix of short and longer-term jobs, has attracted a million candidates and around 100,000 employers, according to Sergio Balcells, its general manager for Spain.

Marta Romero, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of WorkToday start-up, holds an iPhone showing its application's welcome page as she poses in Madrid, Spain, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

The apps are far from the ideal remedy to Spain’s chronic unemployment problem. Many of the jobs they offer last only a few weeks or even hours in sectors that are notoriously badly-paid.

Temporary employees already make up a quarter of the workforce, more than in any other European country bar Poland, and economists worry this abundance of low-skilled workers in precarious positions pose a latent threat to the recovery.

Such insecure jobs can also hinder people’s access to welfare, given Spanish workers only become eligible for unemployment benefits once they have notched up 12 months of work.

TOUGH MARKET

But some jobseekers argue any chance is better than none, and that a permanent position could arise as a result.

“At least if I have the opportunity to work for four hours that’s more than someone who isn‘t,” said Frankel Diaz, 34, an avid WorkToday user based in Madrid.

When he lost his regular job as a hotel events manager, he found shift work as a waiter through the portal. Though he got his old job back after a six-month layoff, he still supplements his income with evening work at restaurants when he can, usually at the same venue. “I haven’t stopped,” Diaz said.

Overall, websites placed 29 percent of the jobseekers who found work in 2015, a poll by recruitment firms Infoempleo and Adecco found.

Other surveys, which do not break out apps as a separate category, have shown lower figures for internet-related searches.

Even the higher figure lags behind the 36 percent who said they found jobs via word of mouth, but it dwarfs the 1.7 percent of salaried employees official data shows were placed by state-run job centres, down from 2.8 percent when Spain’s downturn started in 2008.

The apps’ promise of a hassle-free format, fast results and direct contact between candidates and employers are also winning over users all the time, their backers say.

“In less than 24 hours a business can find and hire the candidate it needs,” said Balcells of JobToday. The portal has found jobs for 20,000 people in the services sector since launching, and aims to increase that to 100,000 by year-end.

editing by John Stonestreet

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