Nov 20, 2018AgHelp streamlines labor recruiting, job availability
Where do specialty crop operations find their next workforce? And, how does that workforce find them?
Feliciano Paredes envisioned a mobile platform designed to address the agricultural labor shortage with a holistic approach. With that in mind, he has led an effort to develop an app that connects agricultural employers with the available local labor, sourcing labor and support services nationally at what he said is a fraction of the cost of what is currently available.
That effort, which included a couple of years to develop a feasible prototype, was set to reach fruition in October with the launch of a website (www.aghelpapp.com) to connect workers with jobs, while providing them access to support agencies in their area, and enabling laborers to chat directly with the farmer for questions on housing, crop conditions, pay and other issues.
“This will give the worker many more options that they never had before,” said Paredes, the project’s founder and west Michigan resident who has been joined in the effort by co-founders Sadoc and Ivan Paredes, and business administrator Lori Paredes.
“AgHelp is going to be an easy, intuitive site to use with no cumbersome sign-up process,” Feliciano Paredes said.
“It will be available on a mobile platform as well, and be available in multiple languages. Also, the website will be 100 percent free for all agencies and workers.”
For 18 years, Feliciano, Ivan and Sadoc Paredes worked alongside their father, mother, younger brother, and four sisters picking fruits and vegetables in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Michigan. Often having to rely on word of mouth and outdated flyers to find work – and faced with the unpredictability of whether the site would have appropriate housing for their family – uncertainties plagued the Paredes family from year to year as migrant farm workers. They found that not only was the network of work unreliable, but also constantly having to be newcomers at every site proved difficult when trying to find support services like health clinics and education programs.
“We wanted to address the needs for agricultural employers to attract more talent so that they can harvest their crops, and to help farm workers find the local support services and work as they travel across the country and within their own state,” Paredes said. “This helps increase a farmworker’s earning potential by allowing each to continue to earn money during downtimes at their home farm.”
A farmworker would do this by using AgHelp to find available agricultural work near them, Paredes said. “Farmworkers will feel more safe and secure knowing that they can locate support services, like migrant health clinics, migrant educations programs, legal assistance no matter where they go to find work.”
“Not only will it be free for workers and support agencies, but easy,” Paredes said. “If you’re an agency, go to aghelpusa.com to sign up and establish your profile for workers to view. If you’re a worker, sign up to find your next job, and if you’re an employer sign up to let us know you’re interested in posting your open positions.”
A structure for subscription fees has been established for participating farm entities, said Paredes, who currently works as a recruiter for Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Spectrum Health.
While developing the AgHelp project, Paredes said assistance has come from a host of organizations that “have been instrumental in our success.”
They include Jason Pliml at Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Small Business Development Center, StartupBoost Detroit Preaccelerator, Iowa AgriTech Accelerator, StartGarden, Muskegon Hub, TC New Tech and Varnum Law.
AgHelp is one of five ag tech startups selected for the 2018 Iowa AgriTech Accelerator program. The startups participating in the program receive intensive mentoring, $40,000 in seed funding, field trips to investor and mentor companies, outreach, networking and presentation opportunities.
The startups presented their innovations at the nation’s largest outdoor farm show, the Farm Progress Show, in August and at The Accelerator’s Demonstration Day, which will be hosted during the World Food Prize Oct.16 in Des Moines, Iowa.
“We’re definitely excited having developed the platform and receiving program funding,” said Paredes, who noted AgHelp has qualified for funding through several other business investment programs.
“The funds have enabled us to seek out a development company, which we found in Latin America. We have spoken to a lot of top-level executives in the agriculture industry who have helped us refine our business model and structure. This helped to set the stage for our launch (in October).”
He said worker signups are already underway. Paredes anticipates AgHelp will become an intermediary with farmworker recruiters to attract domestic and foreign laborers through the app. Plans are in the works to enable workers to sign up with the program through their Facebook or other social media accounts.
“Agencies are an integral part in supplying the support side,” Paredes said. “We’re continuing to make connections with them.”
AgHelp is forging a relationship with the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP).
NFJP is a nationally-directed, locally-administered program of services for migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MSFWs) and includes 52 Career Services and Training grants, also known as Employment and Training grants, as well as 11 Housing grants across the United States and Puerto Rico.
The program partners with community organizations and state agencies to counter the chronic unemployment and underemployment experienced by farmworkers who depend primarily on jobs in agricultural labor performed across the country.
“If a grower is looking for employees to be year-round or seasonal, the workers can learn additional skills to get a higher-paying job. We want to help those growers connect with this program,” Paredes said. “It’s free money a grower can use. A lot of growers don’t know this resource is available. We want workers to connect with training resources, and to help growers with their needs. We’re excited about that partnership and we’re actively working with that organization.”
Tiered payment approach
“We have something for the farmer that hires one or two people seasonally, to producers or packing facilities that hire 500 or 1,000 workers,” Paredes said. “If they’re hiring two or three people, it could cost $35 a month to post the jobs across the country. It’s really inexpensive.”
“The models we came up with are from growers of different sizes who know what it costs to recruit labor,” Paredes said. “An employer can create a profile for any worker within 50 miles of that farm. The worker will receive notification of available jobs posted in that area.
A function of AgHelp will allow the farm and prospective employees to communicate through a dashboard messaging feature.
“We want the employer to be able to hire the worker through the platform (which is being offered in English and Spanish) rather than using a lot of different tools. They will be able to stay connected with them – something employers haven’t done in the past. Farmers like that they will have access to labor or talent not just locally, but nationally – and it’s agriculture-specific.
“They also like that the platform was founded by a former farmworker, not some technology people,” Paredes said.
“We’re people that know this type of work and know the industry.
Once the site has been fully launched, Parades is looking to have enough agriculture operators signed up in order to secure enough revenue “to grow organically and take as little venture capital money as possible. We want to build up equity” in order to sustain the concept, he said.
Top photo: Two of the founders of AgHelp, Sadoc, left, and Feliciano Paredes. Photos: AgHelp