Tom Clark is a marketing executive for myEDmatch, a staffing start-up for the education industry. He lives in Washington D.C and spends his days connecting people to jobs. His company's mission is to place the “right teacher in the right classroom," which happened to come in handy during the government shutdown.
“A day into it, I started getting asks from furloughed friends if I knew of any part-time or temporary work,” he told Inc. So, on October 2, Clark created a Google Doc spreadsheet, called the Shutdown Work Board, to connect furloughed workers with available temporary work. At first, the Google Doc was circulated around companies at start-up incubator 1776. “Within six hours, we had more than three dozen temporary jobs posted," says Clark, "and within 36 hours, had more than 3,000 visitors to the site.”
As many as 800,000 federal workers are stuck at home, estimates NBC, costing the country about $12.5 million an hour. Clark's spreadsheet--which was later replaced by the simple but elegant website, www.unfurlough.us--could offset those losses while keeping workers productive.
News outlets have started picking up on the phenomenon, sharing stories of people like Tim Hudak, a furloughed Agriculture Department employee who normally works on website analytics and discovered the Google Doc on the D.C. Tech Facebook group. One of the first to sign up, Hudak has now been contacted by three prospective employers, according to The Washington Post.
Inc. interviewed Clark via email to learn more about the project:
Why a Google Doc?
Honestly--and a bit embarrassingly, given that I work at a tech company--it was the quickest, easiest way to pull together a collaborative list of temp jobs. Once it started to take off, the brilliant minds at BLEN Corp built www.unfurlough.us, which pulled the data from Google Doc and gave it a much cleaner interface for users.
Had you worked with 1776 previously?
I've actually been working from the 1776 campus since I started working at myEDmatch this spring--my first foray into the start-up world--so I've been part of this community since it opened. The Shutdown Work Board is totally in line with the spirit of 1776, our start-up community. If the people who are making laws and deciding policy can't come up with a solution, we'll find a workaround that solves the problem at hand. In less than 24 hours, I had an idea, had fellow 1776 campus members play with it and poke holes, and now designers and developers are aggregating this data into their own websites.
Why focus on start-ups rather than more established companies?
Honestly, the focus on start-ups came from the environment. Every day, I'm surrounded by entrepreneurs who are building amazing new products from scratch, so we're used to being scrappy and asking for help. Plus, the nature of our work is fast-paced and often project-based, so we can nimbly hire and contract with job seekers unlike lots of bigger, more established companies. I think the bigger focus has been on DC-based small businesses. Our town isn't just our nation's capital--it's home to lots of residents who make the city a vibrant, fun place to live--and many of them have been badly hurt by the shutdown. No other city is being affected by the government shutdown the way we are, so we need to bind together to get through it. We just want to put our city back to work.
How many workers have you've placed so far?
Unfortunately, we haven't been able to officially track hires--it's not that snazzy yet--but I do know that at least eight of the positions that were posted have been filled. It's far from putting 800,000 furloughed employees to work, but it's a start.
What happens to the site when the shutdown ends?
That's a great question--and I don't think any of us have thought that far ahead yet. I think, given the interest from both start-up employers and short-term and project-based job seekers, it's likely that we'll develop this into a more substantial temporary job board in some capacity.
What's been the most surprising thing about this experience?
I've been most surprised--and impressed--by the willingness of people to jump in. We have furloughed federal employees who are actively seeking outside employment to make ends meet, going so far as to post their contact information and experience on a public document in hopes that someone will contact them with a temporary work opportunity. Unfortunately, I haven't yet personally chatted with any of the hired employees, but I know they're out there.