Working Habitat: a brave new model for Metro Detroit's white-collar workforce

Tim Calkins has been there. He knows what it's like to be hit by the recession, to have to close a business, to not collect a paycheck for more than a year and not know when another job will come along.

He's already lived through it. That's why he thinks he may be the man to help the thousands of unemployed white-collar workers in the state find their niche in a new economy.

"It’s not only innovative, it’s a revolutionary model," says Calkins.
      
He's talking about his new Auburn Hills-based company, Working Habitat, a web-based project management site that allows engineers, designers and manufacturers to work remotely with companies around the world. Through this portal, workers can market themselves to companies, which can contract them on a project-by-project basis. Hours, pay, communication and work completed are all tracked on the site.

"We enable any company around the world to utilize resources remotely. … This system is built on a project workflow and task basis," says Calkins. "We’re going to help (workers) learn how best to work and also to market themselves."

The idea is for the site to solve two problems: the first being the thousands of unemployed white-collar workers in the state; the other being the relative reluctance of companies to hire full-time employees.

The online portal allows companies to contract workers — who negotiate their own fees — while avoiding the benefits costs of a full-time staff. And, since it enables to companies around the world access to Michigan workers, it solves the geographic constraints as well.

"We are the first company to bring this into the engineering world," says Calkins. "We need companies to recognize these people."

Working Habitat launched last March, but Calkins had been cultivating the idea for at least five years. As the former president of Advanced Design Resources, he came up with the idea for a workflow system that could be successfully managed online. After Advanced Design Resources closed ("As auto struggled, so did we,”"says Calkins), he turned his full attention to developing his new work model.

The site currently hosts 3,500 white-collar workers in search of contract employment. Of those workers, Calkins estimates 98 percent are from Michigan. The main challenge now is to get the word out to companies, a task Calkins is entrusting to a local public relations firm, which will launch a marketing campaign early this year.

Meanwhile, Calkins is excited about collaboration with Oakland University, which will create a curriculum for workers to learn marketing and entrepreneurial skills to better navigate the 21st century economy. In addition, he hopes to expand the training and education resources offered on the site.

"We need to get these people learning again and working again," says Calkins.

There is one obstacle to encouraging a remote workforce: The software needed to complete projects carries with it exorbitant costs – often reaching as high as $30,000. Calkins’ hope for the future is to negotiate a deal with software companies that would allow home workers to rent the software on a per-hour basis, thereby reducing the costs of buying it outright.

In short, Calkins wants to create a type of one-stop shop for contract white-collar workers — one that can benefit both a large and skilled workforce, as well as the struggling engineering and manufacturing sector that employs it.

"We’ve become the most logical place to white-collar unemployed people not only find work, but to find training,” he says. “We can provide that in one location now."

Visit Working Habitat at www.workinghabitat.com for more information.

Megan Pennefather is a frequent contributor to Oakland County Prosper. Get in touch with her here.
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