The Inner City 100: Creative Recruiting

Frank Tucker saw all the raw talent he'd need 'on the street corner' every morning. Now they're on his payroll

New area codes are cropping up faster than kudzu these days. And nobody is happier about that than Frank Tucker. Tucker is CEO of Oakland-based Tucker Technology (#4), which provides telecommunications installation and maintenance to large companies. The business, national in scope, is growing as fast as those new area codes, spurred by the proliferation of fax machines, cellular phones, and Internet hookups. "Just think about how that infrastructure has to expand to accommodate all those new numbers," says Tucker. "It's quite an opportunity."

Of course, with that opportunity comes the classic '90s challenge of finding enough of the right people to fill the spots in a fast-growing company. To ride the infrastructure wave, Tucker says, he needs "the bodies to make the money."

One secret to Tucker's ability to find the bodies is linking up with community-based organizations throughout the country. He estimates that 15% of his employees have come from such groups, which often provide skills training. He came upon the idea in 1995, when he was driving to work through some of the most economically challenged parts of Oakland. "I'd see all the human resources on the street corner," he says. "Clearly, they had no jobs to go to." And since much of the service his company provides is basic and entry-level--albeit labor-intensive--Tucker decided those "human resources" might be a terrific source of raw talent.

To draw a picture of the sort of work--and workers--involved in those entry-level jobs, Tucker describes a recent cable installation in Kansas City, Mo. For that job he hired "some real roughnecks, a few steps away from homelessness." The work was in an extremely harsh environment, pulling fiber-optic cables covered with grease through a building's walls. "You can teach almost anyone how to pull the cable and then teach the smart ones how to splice it," he says. "And then they have a marketable skill set." According to Tucker, who pays an average hourly rate of $23, his installation jobs allow workers to build solid lives for themselves beyond merely subsisting. "These are craft people," he says. "Someone here can create a career, buy a home, take vacations. It's not just flipping burgers."

Tucker's foray into linking up with community-based organizations started in 1995, when he scored some cable installers from the Long Beach Training Center, outside Los Angeles. The group, funded by the Private Industry Council of Los Angeles, subsidized 50% of the workers' pay during a 90-day training period. That successful union was only the beginning for Tucker. Today he sits on several community boards, which gives him a chance to voice the needs of both his company and his industry. It also makes his name known when it comes time to place those newly trained workers in jobs.