In a competitive economy where employers are scrounging for workers, Mark Richardson has found himself playing matchmaker.
As president of consulting company Unfinished Business, he connects employers with employees in a role that, in his view, goes far beyond being a traditional job coach. And in his most recent venture, he’s building off the idea by developing an app, GigBlender, that would help potential employers more easily recruit candidates from diverse backgrounds.
His mission is connecting “talent” — his term for the prospective employees he coaches — with “opportunity” — potential employers — by relying on the connections he’s made during his years of working in the Madison area. He’s half job coach and half recruiter.
It’s work that benefits both workers and companies. He helps potential employees find meaningful work, while helping companies find a diverse talent pool to choose from when looking to build their teams.
“I can really leverage my networks, and not just for persons of color or professionals of color, just really anybody who is looking for opportunity but doesn’t see it,” Richardson said.
That said, Richardson prides himself on working with those who emphasize their real world experience, not just their educational background. He says doing so is especially important in a city such as Madison that suffers from gaping racial disparities.
He argues companies should stop listing inflated educational requirements for jobs that don’t necessarily require it, something that could provide a break for many hungry job seekers who are probably just as qualified for the role.
“We have these blinders on, which, by design, keeps us focused on a very narrow swath of what should be your talent market,” Richardson said.
After post-college stints in Illinois and Michigan, Richardson ended up in Madison, where he worked for the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, a position that helped connect him with the heavy hitters of the city.
He’s also worked at Charter Communications, in the state Departments of Tourism and Commerce under former Gov. Jim Doyle and for the nonprofit Urban League of Greater Madison, where he served as vice president of economic and workplace development. He left that post in 2013 to found Unfinished Business.
He sees it as reducing potential employees’ reliance on chance in the job hunting process, especially when they’re seeking to change industries or professions.
“Networking doesn’t have to be quite so random,” Richardson said. “You can network with intention.”
Richardson believes companies can network with intention as well. The idea has driven him to push the small and medium-size companies he works with to focus on hiring diverse applicants.
He says a more diverse workforce can help drive profits, not just fill quotas.
“It’s not about a compliance mindset,” Richardson said. “It’s about understanding that you’re more competitive when you have a team that comes at problems all kinds of ways.”
Richardson said he didn’t want to cede creative authority by securing venture capital for his GigBlender app, so he’s working to roll it out slowly.
GigBlender would help companies more easily recruit a diverse workforce by allowing potential employees to create profiles detailing their backgrounds. That way, companies would be able to specifically target and recruit candidates who are veterans, women, LGBT, or people of color, for example.
“Think of it as a dating app for a job-and-talent search,” Richardson said.