Old Nokia feature phone on a desk

Luis J. Salazar is the CEO and co-founder of Jobaline.

Any business owner knows how difficult it is to recruit the right help. Finding the right workers is one of the many challenges companies have long-faced, especially when it comes to filling hourly jobs. Companies from Starbucks to the local gas station rely on hourly employees, which represent over 59 percent of the US labor force and more than 74 million workers, reinforcing the notion that hourly workers truly are the backbone of business in America.

While potential solutions to this recruiting problem should exist within our mobile devices, statistics show that businesses are still struggling to catch up with demand, as only 13 percent of corporate websites have truly mobile versions.

The even greater challenge businesses face is that of a pervasive “digital divide” that separates employers from hourly workers. Most of the population of the latter relies on simple cellular phones and flip phones, and does not have access to smartphones or even personal computers to access web-based recruiting tools such as LinkedIn.

So how are employers supposed to reach the talent pool they need the most?

The hourly worker’s dilemma

Most of the inefficiencies that affect small business owners and corporate America, with respect to hiring hourly workers, are a result of the digital divide. Long associated with the gap between those who have Internet access and those who don’t, today the digital divide has expanded to include the lack of availability of mobile-friendly Internet solutions.

We live in a society of mobile phones. Eighty-eight percent of adults in America have a cell phone, while only 57 percent own laptops, according to the Pew Research Center. A recent study by Potentialpark in 2012 found that 26 percent of job seekers use their mobile devices for career-related purposes, and another 59 percent could imagine doing so.

But in the hourly jobs economy, the technological divide between job seekers and the recruiting needs of business owners is quite pronounced. According to Nielsen research in 2012, people making less than $35,000 per year tend to forego purchasing the $250 smartphone and $100/month data plans preferred by mid- and high-wage workers. Because hourly workers use a large portion of their earnings to cover basic needs, they tend to gravitate towards mid- to low-priced feature phones and cheaper plans that allow text messaging, phone calls and some basic apps.

In addition, 57 percent of hourly workers prefer phone calls to other forms of communication, and text messaging is another popular option — both for smart and not-so-smart phones. The Pew Research Center in 2011 noted that text messaging and phone calls are the preferred means of communication among all demographic groups. Americans send and receive an average of 40 text messages per day, and this number is two to three times higher among the hourly workers demographic.

A simple step to maximize mobility

A huge segment of the workforce isn’t leaving their “basic phones” any time soon. Companies that want to recruit these people will need to reach out not only through web sites, but through mobile means, such as text messaging.

Right now, there are a few steps in the right direction. The recent launch of LinkedIn Mobile signals a response to market demand for mobile solutions, but it does not address the issue of the digital divide. Facebook Zero is also promising — as it aims to give people with feature phones access to the social network — it does not present a holistic solution for matching employers and hourly workers. Classified ads on Craigslist are fairly mobile-friendly, but they’re just simple information-sharing units, without much engagement.

My company, Jobaline, aims to enable engagement with hourly workers — via text message on smartphones and simple feature phones — and to start where Craigslist ends. By supporting employers in connecting with and pre-screening hourly workers via text messaging, we hope to aid in removing the implicit discrimination of Web-based or smartphone-only tools, which only reach people with a certain level of access to technology.

The relatively small step of widening mobile access will help enable workers to secure jobs they wouldn’t otherwise know exist. The same kind of text- and voice-enabled technology that Jobaline has designed can also be applied to other vital elements of work, such as learning about the availability of and applying for healthcare insurance (but that’s another hot-button issue for another post!).

Companies and hourly workers must be on the same page — technologically speaking —  using solutions that enable engagement, much the same way that businesses are currently doing with professionals, for whom most mobile technology is currently geared.

Mobile access for job growth

Rather than focusing solely on improving online access, it is time to build interactive mobile recruiting technologies that reach people on all kinds of devices, even feature phones.

By developing technologies and policies that enable wider — even simpler — mobile access to recruiting capabilities that both employers and hourly workers need to survive, we can help bridge this gap, fill this digital divide, and truly put America back to work.

Luis J. Salazar, founder of JobalineLuis J. Salazar is the founder and CEO of Jobaline, a simple, social and mobile jobs platform that matches employers with hourly workers. A longtime tech executive in digital media, mobile technologies, and software as a service, Salazar has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, Microsoft, WPP research (GMI), Xerox, and others. Originally from Venezuela, he is working to make a true social impact through developing innovative technology on the United States.

Top image credit: Thomas Kohler/Flickr