construction

Social networking for bricklayers

July 21, 2011: 5:03 PM ET

Proven.com aims to build the link for employers and skilled workers to connect on jobs.

By Alex Konrad, contributor

FORTUNE -- Proven.com wants to prove there's a job site for skilled tradespeople somewhere between the white collar networking of LinkedIn and the anarchy of Craigslist. A site focusing on the workers' end has been up since last year. The employers' end has been active since May under that site's old name, WorkersNow.com. Now both sides are good to go under the Proven banner. According to co-founder and CEO Pablo Fuentes, 400 new workers are creating profiles a day. More importantly for its new phase of growth, employers are joining the network at a clip of a little over 250 per day.

Workers create an account and list a skill set, along with any certifications and references verifiable to Proven through trade degrees or video samples of a worker in action. One unique feature that sets the site apart from LinkedIn: Workers can set their "Crew" of people with whom they enjoy working. Then it's on to an interactive map to find employers and submit profiles, regardless of whether they're hiring at that moment. Workers get five submissions per day.

Employers have to undergo a verification process before they can list whatever skills they seek on the map. Workers in those skill sets see employers as blue; outside that skill set they are gray and without a contact link. A company that is currently hiring appears as green and can privately choose from the profiles submitted to it.

Joining the site is free for both workers and employers, but Proven plans to roll out optional premium accounts for employers in the near future, as other sites like LinkedIn (LNKD) have offered. Those accounts will pay to use more advanced filters to best find workers in their particular skill set. Premium-level worker accounts would only pay to cover the costs of opt-in verifications such as background or DMV checks, and even then Proven plans to allow users to earn credit through site activity such as referrals. Fuentes said Proven also expects to make money through partnerships with certain trade schools.

Proven recently paired up with SkillsUSA, a national non-profit with over 10 million alumni since 1965. The group works with more than 300,000 students and instructors a year to launch students into trade and industry careers. Students from 130 skill set areas can create Proven.com accounts for free. Meanwhile Proven can build relationships with SkillsUSA's thousands of business partners. SkillsUSA's alumni coordinator can then use the site to track alumni's job successes and make it easier for future alums to find similar employment.

Proven currently has a staff of 14 based in San Francisco. CEO Fuentes met COO Joe Mellin in a Stanford graduate program. The two connected through an entrepreneurship class, where design and business students rubbed shoulders and talked startups. Proven later picked up its third co-founder, Sean Falconer.

The site's funding, currently a little less than $2 million, comes from a group of angel investors and "super-angels" with strong track records in Silicon Valley, including Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Stephen DeBerry at Kapor Capital, and Dave McClure of 500 Startups. Fuentes said the company expects to grow five or six fold in the next several months before another round of financing later this year.

Given the newness of the site, many employers registered on Proven contacted by Fortune said they had not yet used the service to find employees; some managers even expressed surprise to find their HR staffers had created accounts. The reaction, however, was largely positive for such a service to gain traction.

But construction is an industry that has long relied on on-the-job experience for employment -- not videos of someone swinging a hammer. Contractors, the prized accounts for Proven.com to expand, may take some time to warm up to the site.

"I'm kind of nervous about hiring new guys," one San Francisco contractor admitted. "The idea is good, but the devil's in the details." For him the logic is simple: "Quickest way for us to find out if it works is to just hire someone." He did say he would try Proven.com at least once, though.

Sidney Feldenkreis, a 15-year journeyman carpenter, has gotten a number of gigs through WorkersNow but said he'd take jobs wherever they came. The site's challenge, he says, will be to maintain consistency. "There's always a better job, and if you know contractors, they can then reach you directly," thus circumventing continued use of Proven. But, he added, "It'll be an introduction."

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