The online marketplace has revolutionised everything from choosing a partner to going shopping. Now, auction websites could be set to change the way we’re employed, with a new service launching this week allowing recruiters to bid for the services of workers online.

First In First Offer is a WA-based “human resources marketplace” that allows job hunters to post their CVs online and have employers bid for them. So far more than 14,500 workers and 500 companies have signed up since FIFO’s launch at the end of April. On Monday, employers were permitted to start making bids.

The website’s primary focus is on the skills-starved mining industry, which has been the subject of initiatives such as the federal government’s enterprise migration agreement aimed at shipping in foreign workers to work on mining projects.

One of the website’s founders, Michael Haywood, says the idea spawned out of the difficulties he had as a business owner finding time to hire staff. He says the website is aimed at bringing workers and employers “closer together”.

“When you post a job, you fish for candidates, what we’re saying is just grab the frozen fish that you want,” he told Crikey. “There’s all this talk and discussion in the media about the skills shortage, we firmly believe it’s just an inefficiency in the process.”

FIFO works a little bit like eBay. Workers upload an anonymous profile detailing their skills, experience and qualifications. Recruiters then search through the database, find the candidate they like best and bid an hourly rate.

The top five bids above reserve are then sent to candidate, who can choose which company contacts them. Many of the jobs are based in isolated regions in WA.

Labour market expert, associate professor Bradon Ellem from the University of Sydney Business School, says websites such as FIFO could represent the future of job hunting, something he sees as “unfortunate”.

He also says there could be issues with “Fly In Fly Out” workers (an acronym shared by First In First Offer), which have led to documented problems in some regional communities.

“The first thing I thought when I saw it was ‘is this a hoax’?” he told Crikey. “In a way, it’s the contemporary reduction of the labour market to its essence. Perhaps to an illogical conclusion.”

But Haywood only sees the service as a positive for workers and bosses. He says FIFO is currently aimed at the resources industry because of its “market depth” but could easily provide a blueprint for other fields.

“The good thing about the resources industry is they employ almost every specialty, from cooks to cleaners to bus drivers to teachers and trainers,” he said, adding that workers could also find out exactly how much they’re worth.

“If people go to the end of their market period and get no bids, then we’ll say to them: ‘Hey, perhaps this is why you didn’t get any bids: your asking price is 20% above the market average, your years of experience is 10 years less than the market average. Here are some things you can do to make yourself stronger’.

“I think the hook of being able to put yourself in the market and within a week’s time knowing exactly what you’re worth it pricks peoples interest. We need that to trigger the snowball.”

But Ellem said there may be issues, particularly if the bullish demand for workers starts to drop off: “What happens if the labour market turns and there are far more people looking for work than there is work? Would [websites like this] become a bidding down mechanism?”

Peter Fray

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