Benjamin Guth, founder of Mobilize, met with owners and representatives of several of the larger Island businesses last week at the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce to discuss an alternative approach to seasonal staffing that doesn’t rely so much on J-1 and H-2B employees.
Mobilize is a Canadian-based recruitment agency piloting a U.S. recruitment campaign on Cape Cod this summer season, and is looking for several businesses on Martha’s Vineyard to get on board for a test run. Several businesses in Provincetown and on Cape Cod have already signed on to collaborate.
Mobilize was founded as an international recruitment agency by Mr. Guth several years ago, but as business was beginning to take off, the Canadian government began to place harsh regulations on foreign workers. “They basically shut us down overnight,” he said.
Mr Guth was desperate to fill the spots meant to be taken by now unauthorized foreign workers, when one employer suggested he look into recruiting domestic workers who needed jobs.
Mr Guth began the search for youth across Canada, ages 18 to 30 — and found there was a strong demand for these workers.
Mobilize recruited for tourist industries in the most desolate regions of Canada, in Alberta and British Columbia, and workers were hired for blue-collar work, mostly in the hospitality sector. Many of the workers return season after season, and some choose to settle year-round.
Mobilize has placed over 650 young people in more than 60 companies across Canada, and that number doubles every season, according to Mr. Guth. He sees this as an opportunity to lower high rates of youth unemployment in the country.
These seasonal employees, or Mobilizers, are employees of Mobilize. Mobilize signs their contracts, receives workers’ applications, and manages them as employees. Mobilize pays workers minimum wage, with performance increases.
Mr. Guth says Mobilize promises employers that they will handle background checks of all employees, and sift out the desirable candidates before the employer even interviews them. “We’re ruling out as many red flags as possible,” Mr. Guth said. Mobilize will also provide employees with training, test them on the employer’s handbook, handle payroll and benefits, and find immediate replacements for employees who don’t work out.
And to the Mobilizers, he promises free housing, which local employers are expected to handle. Mr. Guth said this makes employees more accountable to the employer. If they don’t perform, they are out of housing, out of a job, and have to go back home.
Many attending the meeting expressed concerns about housing, contracts, regulations, pay, and employee management.
“Our model is fluid,” Mr. Guth said, adding that his other programs went through years of changes based on the area’s obstacles. Housing was the most widely discussed issue, and each solution brought up was met with a “Yeah, we tried that,” from around the room. Providing housing is required for J-1 employees as well, and it is done by many Island employers every year.
“This is a great alternative to J-1 and H-2B workers, because there are no visa regulations,” Mr. Guth said. Along with the hefty paperwork involved, employers were also excited about getting American workers, as they feel they may be more culturally cohesive. “You can teach them competency at their job, but you can’t teach them warmth,” Nancy Gardella of the M.V. Chamber of Commerce, said on issues surrounding hiring J-1s. Others felt America’s youth won’t work as hard as a J-1 or H-2B employee. Mr. Guth’s goal is to recruit motivated youth to work low-level service jobs in a new place. It is advertised as a travel experience. Similar travel-work programs, such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), where volunteers can sign up to work on an organic farm in another country, have been wildly successful among young Americans. As a domestic travel destination, Mr. Guth has chosen Cape Cod and the Islands as an exciting starting point. “That’s why it’s here; this place is enticing,” J.B. Blau, owner of five restaurants on the Vineyard, said. “He’s not starting in Newark.”
Mr. Blau suggested the program might also be useful in recruiting Puerto Rican workers who are looking to relocate after a devastating hurricane this past fall. The proposition was recently brought to businesses owners by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.