Mall Rats: (From left) Forge executives Megan Hottman, Stacey Ferreira and Keaton Wyse at the Mall of America.

Mall Rats: (From left) Forge executives Megan Hottman, Stacey Ferreira and Keaton Wyse at the Mall of America. Photo by Forge Tech

With record low unemployment in the United States, retailers are looking to nontraditional methods for staffing shifts and filling open positions.

That’s been a boon for Playa Vista-based Forge Technologies Inc., an online platform that allows retail outlets at shopping centers and malls to share employees.

“Both low unemployment and low workforce participation rates are, in part, causing retailers and restaurant operators to find new avenues to attract talent,” said Forge Chief Executive Stacey Ferreira. “With more jobs in the U.S. than people to fill them, sharing talent is the perfect way for a business operator to get access to quality employees looking for a few additional hours.”

Forge’s service is already in use at 10 malls nationally. The company launched at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. on April 18, and it has plans to roll out its talent sharing platform at the Glendale Galleria and five other Southern California malls in May.

Forge works directly with real estate investment trusts and landlords that own malls before approaching individual business. It then encourages store managers to join the platform and recruit their staff to join. Once signed up, managers can recruit staff from other outlets to cover shifts at their stores, and employees can look to pick up additional work at nearby retailers.

Ferreira said stores treat employees picked up through the Forge platform as W-2 hourly workers, and that the hiring process and internal human resources functions are left to individual retailers.

“We’re very hands off on that part,” Ferreira said.

The demand for retail workers is driven by ultra-low unemployment rates that dropped to 3.8% nationally in March, down from 4% in January 2019. Roughly 15.8 million people nationwide worked in retail as of March, up from 15.6 million during the same period a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

California’s Employment Development Department said total retail jobs in the state are expected to increase 11% to 133,690 jobs in 2022 from 120,450 jobs in 2012.

Venture backing

Forge has raised $4 million in two fundraising rounds since it was founded in 2015. The company’s backers include downtown-based venture investor Inevitable Ventures, founded in 2015 by Ron Burkle and D.A. Wallach.

Wallach said Inevitable invested in Forge because retail employment solutions were an undervalued market segment.

“We felt like the new challenges that big parts of the retail economy were encountering deserved equal attention and were under-appreciated and under-covered by investors, in particular the incredible rates of turnover you see at retailers at malls or local restaurants,” Wallach said.

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