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Weekend edition June 14, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Laborup launches as a connection point for blue collar workers

Laborup employs artificial intelligence to help workers on the platform better market themselves for competitive manufacturing positions.

Graduates from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) created software to solve one of the biggest issues in the manufacturing space. The team pitched their start-up called Laborup at the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ACEI) “Boyd Venture Challenge” and took home $15,000 in non-dilutive pre-seed funding. The team said this comes on the backdrop of closing a pre-seed round from Silicon Valley investment firms who have backed internet companies like LinkedIn, Airbnb, Instacart, eBay, Pinterest, Facebook, and more.

The Laborup team is made up of Tasimba Jonga, who graduated from UTK with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Logan O’Neal, a graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, and Braden Hechmer, a soon-to-be senior Computer Science major at UTK.

“I worked a job where I was exposed to the hiring process in manufacturing, and I recognized a broken system,” Jonga said.

He realized a large pool of candidates for manufacturing jobs are having trouble finding and/or landing jobs that they are qualified for. It’s a multi-faceted issue stemming from talent discovery to the job listing process and the resume. Laborup brings to the table a solution for that problem.

Manufacturing jobs are listed in a very traditional way. Often openings are sent to traditional staffing agencies that run on manual processes or posted on job boards, where the resumes are sifted through for keywords. The worker sends off their resume and prays for a phone call. Jonga shared that sometimes it can take up to three months to hire someone for an open position.

To highlight the issue, the team used white-collar recruiting as a contrast. “LinkedIn has helped white-collar workers establish digital identities, streamlining their recruitment. It’s easy to discover and find an accountant, software engineer, HR manager etc. All you have to do is search on LinkedIn and boom you have 100s of profiles in 5 seconds. However, blue-collar workers remain virtually invisible online, complicating their discovery and hiring. Our goal is to expedite their discovery and hiring process, reducing it from months to days,” Jonga said.

“We created Laborup to be LinkedIn-like for the blue-collar community – and specifically to connect manufacturing talent with open positions,” Hechmer said.

O’Neal said that Laborup also helps the workers on the platform better market themselves through artificial intelligence (AI). For example, a blue-collar worker may put “machinist” on their resume. The AI would begin recommending skills based on what a typical machinist does on a day-to-day basis.

“Then, the users can select the skills that best apply to their specific job, or the job they’re hoping to land,” O’Neal said. “This allows workers to quickly create searchable profiles that highlight their skills, licenses, experiences and education.”

Additionally, Jonga said the platform connects these workers with upskilling opportunities at trade schools, too.

With more and more manufacturing jobs requiring new skills like mechatronics etc., Laborup points people on the platform toward new skills courses at places like Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), online workshops, or free programs.

Laborup is up and running. Right now, they are connecting qualified candidates with career opportunities. They are also already conducting paid pilots with select automotive and aerospace companies to refine the product and identify high-demand roles.

“We set out to give ambitious manufacturing companies an unfair advantage and now we’re already doing it,” Jonga mentions.

For companies, Laborup offers an end-to-end platform where they can easily search different profiles, pinpoint the right candidates, and let AI augment the recruiting process from pre-screening to sending an offer letter, saving 10 to 20 hours weekly per recruiter.

“We want this site and mobile app to cater specifically to recruiting in manufacturing. We want it to be easy to use, and navigate, and be an effective connector for these workers and companies,” Jonga said.

The founders were ecstatic to win the Boyd Venture Challenge. They hope the money can go toward hiring an intern from UTK, leasing an office space, or facilitating an in-person hiring/ informational event.

To sign up for Laborup as a manufacturing company or jobseeker, visit the website.

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