Podcast: Fountain CEO Sean Behr Looks at the Labor Market

Fountain

Mark:

Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. My guest today, Sean Behr, the CEO of Fountain. They’re a high volume recruiting platform. We’re going to talk about COVID-19 impact on hiring and the dynamics of the labor market in general, all on this edition of PeopleTech. Sean, welcome. Can you tell me about Fountain and its background and your business and what do you do and how do you do it?

Sean:

Sure. So Fountain is all about high volume hiring. There’s a lot of companies in the world focused on helping companies hire knowledge workers. A lot of companies helping you hire software engineers, and marketing managers, and accountants, and sales people, and executives. We’re focused actually on the people that are actually doing the manual labor at most large organizations around the world. We call that high volume hiring. This is typically positions where you’re hiring lots and lots of people, be it a warehouse, be it a retail environment, a restaurant, a delivery network, logistics, healthcare, where you’re hiring thousands and thousands of people.

Sean:

And we believe you need a purpose built software product to help you manage that hiring process. And we fundamentally believe that there’s a big difference between hiring a knowledge worker who sits behind a computer all day and hiring a warehouse worker, or hiring a home healthcare nurse aid, or a call center operator. These are very different hiring processes and very different candidates that you’re going to be engaging with. And therefore you really need a partner. You really need a software solution that’s built for high volume hiring. And so we believe we’re the best product to help you find and hire hourly workers at scale, anywhere in the world.

Mark:

What is it about high volume hiring that requires a different approach?

Sean:

Yeah, I mean, if you start with sort of the approach of the typical hiring process, you kind of very quickly can see where it doesn’t really work for the high volume world. So typically if you’re trying to hire somebody to work in your office, you might do multiple rounds of interviews, potentially do a phone screen, then bring them in for an in person interview. You might have them meet multiple people on the team. You might ask for a resume. You might ask them to do a project. You might collect feedback from a broad group of people in order to determine whether this is the right candidate to help grow your business. In the world of hourly work, in the world of high volume work, oftentimes the candidate doesn’t have a resume and we could debate about the value of a resume or a CV, but in many cases having a CV or a resume doesn’t necessarily make you that much more effective at being somebody that works in a warehouse, or somebody that works in a restaurant, or somebody that works as a home healthcare aid.

Sean:

And so there’s lots of differences between these approaches. I would say the other big thing that kind of comes out in the difference is sort of the speed and the consideration with which you’re making these hires. If you’re only hiring one marketing person, you can probably take your time and really spend time and take weeks and potentially months to fill that role. If you need to hire 10 warehouse workers and if you don’t hire those 10 warehouse workers, packages start to go out delayed to customers, and then you need to give shipping refunds and you get angry customer service calls. You don’t have the time to kind of wait for three months to fill those roles. And so the speed and the consideration with which you’re operating we think is pretty different.

Mark:

Now we’re recording this about 18 months into the pandemic. And so I think it’s fair to say that business conditions are a little weird right now. What do you see going on in high volume hiring right now? How has it been impacted by COVID-19? How do you think people are responding to it? What changes have you had to make to your business because of it?

Sean:

Yeah. First of all, what a tough and challenging 18 months period. And just when we all were hopeful that maybe we were through the worst of it, doesn’t quite yet seem like we’re through the worst of it. And there’s real impacts. A lot of the people that Fountain interacts with have been significantly impacted by this, both on the candidate side, as well as the employer side. So I’ll start with the employer side and I’ll move to the candidate side. On the employer side, we’ve seen businesses that have had significant struggles, right? If you’re a business that was primarily a retail environment with a low eCommerce footprint, it’s been a brutal 18 months. Your foot traffic has dropped significantly and you’ve probably had layoffs. You’ve probably had to spin up an e-commerce operation pretty quickly or scale an e-commerce operation pretty quickly.

Sean:

That’s led to both what I would call EQ challenges of having to have some really tough conversations with employees where you’re having to let people go at probably the worst time to send somebody out and not have a job, but also on the IQ side, you’re having to all of a sudden hire people that can help you spin up a warehouse or spin up a delivery network and you don’t even know how to do that. And so I think for the employers, it’s been particularly challenging. For the candidates, also extremely challenging. It’s been a period where many of them have lost a job over the last 18 months and then maybe had to find a new job and the opportunities and also having to deal with potentially the second order impacts of COVID-19.

Sean:

If your child’s school isn’t sure whether it can be in person, it makes it a lot harder to go work in a warehouse. It makes it a lot harder to deliver packages. It makes it a lot harder to go serve tables or deliver food, or work in the hospital. It’s just, it’s much more challenging if your child is on a Chromebook at home doing virtual school. And so we’ve seen lots and lots of challenges. On the flip side, we’ve seen lots of innovation. I mean, this period, I think has, if nothing else has one, brought up a lot of innovation and two, accelerated changes that were probably happening already just dramatically increased the speed at which those changes were happening. So good one that we see here at Fountain, we’ve always had a video interviewing module within our software product.

Sean:

We’ve always allowed people to sort of have a one to one video interviewing experience with a candidate. And it was, I would say, had pretty good usage. Some of our more innovative customers have been using it for a couple of years now. That product took off like a rocket ship during COVID. And what was interesting is we saw a huge increase in both asynchronous video interviewing where you’re so sort of asking prompted questions that require a 45 second response and live one on one video interviewing, up 60%, at least among our customers during COVID.

Sean:

What’s really interesting is even as COVID sort of waned over the last six or seven months, that usage of that product has not waned. I think people realize the power of doing these kind of video interviewing experiences, even when it’s possible to meet in person. You have some companies still heavily relying on video as a way to gauge whether it’s a candidate that’s going to be a right fit for them. But look, I hope like most business leaders that the future is bright and I hope that we can come together and be resilient. That’s one of our core values at Fountain is to be resilient. And I think, I’m hopeful that hopefully over the coming months, we’re going to be getting back to more normal.

Mark:

It’s interesting you say that, getting back to more normal. Assuming that we do start to go down that path where the economy begins to recover, life gets back to something like normal, what do you thinks going to happen with high volume hiring during that process?

Sean:

I would say some of the normalcy for the consumer will return. So I’m hopeful that at some point, movie theaters will be packed to again and people can go shopping in malls and all kinds of things. From a high volume hiring standpoint, I think this is the new normal. I think it’s a misconception right now in the market and specifically in the non HR, thought leadership media market that once COVID is behind us, all your hiring problems will vanish. And I think you see that if you read some of the big newspapers that, oh, the reason why they can’t hire anyone is because of COVID and once COVID over, they’re just going to have millions of applicants and they’re going to have the pick of anyone they want and all their job problems will go away.

Sean:

I think that’s misguided at best. I think that COVID has again, going back to this notion of accelerators, I could credibly make the argument that candidates were getting more options for jobs before COVID and that COVID has actually only accelerated that optionality. And I don’t think that’s changing. I don’t think that’s ever going to go back. If you go back 10 years, specifically, this is the high volume space, although we could talk also about the knowledge worker space, because I don’t think that’s going back either. I know there’s a lot of questions about work from home and things like that. But in the world of high volume, I’m happy to speak about that as well, but in the high volume area, 10 years ago, a worker filled out a paper application at a fast food restaurant and sat down at a booth and did a interview and hopefully got the job.

Sean:

And if the manager wasn’t there, they handed the application in and that was it. And they hoped that things happen. Those days are gone. I mean, that person has likely applied for the job digitally on their mobile device. They’ve likely applied to four or five places because they don’t have to drive to each restaurant to apply anymore. They can apply to four restaurants. They’ve likely also consider driving for Uber, or delivering groceries for Instacart, or delivering food for Grubhub, or working for Amazon at a warehouse. They’ve probably explored all of those options way before they’ve walked into a restaurant to fill out an application in person. If you’re still an employer who is still treating the world as if it were five or six years ago, it’s pretty easy to know why you’re struggling to hire in the high volume space because the world has just moved much, much more quickly.

Sean:

And that candidate, you can’t just rely on them walking into the restaurant and asking for a paper application. Like you’ll never be able to fill enough drive through window jobs that way. And what you’ll find is you’ll have to close the drive through earlier or you’ll have to pay overtime to people in order to staff the restaurant, whatever the case may be. So I think this is a big fundamental shift that most employers in the country and around the world, frankly need to be really on top of, or I think their challenges around hiring are definitely not going to abate. If anything, they’re going to worsen.

Mark:

Sean, thanks very much.

Sean:

Really great, wonderful to talk to you. And I really appreciate it and happy to do it anytime.

Mark:

Okay. My guest today has been Sean Behr, CEO of Fountain, and this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of recruiting daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs visit www.evergreenpodcasts.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology Report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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