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Jeff Dirks Is the Right Man for the Job

Jeff Dirks Is the Right Man for the Job

Veteran tech leader Jeff Dirks is virtualizing TrueBlue’s entire experience so that associates can onboard, match, work, and get paid—via smartphone

Courtesy of TrueBlue
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It’s an outdated business model. A day laborer looking for work goes to a contingent staffing branch location and fills out a stack of paperwork required to onboard before they can take a work shift. They get approved (often days later), return to a branch location, wait to be dispatched, get a ride to a job site, work a shift, check out, receive a day’s pay, and commute home. It’s time-consuming, inefficient and error-prone. Someone needed to disrupt the staffing industry, and Jeff Dirks was the right man for the job.

Dirks, a respected innovator and technology leader, is helping staffing and recruiting giant TrueBlue digitally transform and reimagine the way workers and employers connect. It’s big business. Each day, the company engages its massive database to assign and dispatch as many as twenty-five to thirty thousand associates to job sites. Incorporating new technologies to help improve the process attracts and retains better candidates, produces more satisfied clients, and helps TrueBlue stand out in a highly competitive landscape for workers.

Although Dirks, who joined TrueBlue in 2018, is new to staffing, his unique hybrid experience makes him the perfect person to shake up the industry. The veteran tech leader logged two decades building companies in senior business leadership positions as CEO and chief operating officer of venture capital-backed startups. He then spent ten years in chief technology officer and chief information officer roles at larger public companies. As a result, he knows how businesses are built, and he understands the power of technology to help those businesses thrive.

Jeff Dirks TrueBlue
Jeff Dirks, TrueBluePhoto Courtesy of TrueBlue

After starting his career at IBM, Dirks was a vice president at a startup known as FourGen Software, where he was VP of R&D and led a team of 135 software developers developing supply chain management software for Fortune 500 companies. “I’ve always been interested and passionate about the intersection of tech innovation for business benefit,” he says. “I like to find inefficiencies and think backward to see how tech can solve a problem and create value.”

That’s exactly what Dirks did later at Seattle-based CapitalStream. As president and COO, he led the launch of banking’s first real-time web-based credit application and real-time credit scoring service. When Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and others adopted the technology, CapitalStream attracted a major suitor that acquired the company.

After twenty years in startups and ten years leading companies, Dirks never pictured himself in staffing. But when TrueBlue started recruiting him, he noticed something that seemed surprisingly appealing.

“The legacy staffing industry had an old-school reputation and was generally a technology adoption laggard,” he notes. “While those facts were at first discouraging, I soon realized they actually represented an opportunity for me to use technology and innovation to totally transform how people connect with work.”

At TrueBlue, Dirks began working with the business’s leadership to identify a problem and then work backward to introduce a novel and elegant solution. The problem is friction. It takes workers too long to find jobs, and companies often get inconsistent or unreliable results. Dirks’s vision is to “connect anyone, anywhere, anytime with any job” by introducing the complete virtualization of the client experience.

“I like to find inefficiencies and think backward to see how technology can solve a problem and create tangible value.”

Jeff Dirks

Dirks and his team aim data science and machine learning at huge amounts of historical data to create algorithms that identify TrueBlue associates with the highest levels of interest in a job and the highest probability of showing up for their shift. Then, they seamlessly match labor supply with demand as associates/workers, armed with a smartphone, swipe an app to search for jobs within their preferred radius, set their schedule, pick a job site, self-dispatch, check-in, work, and get paid without encountering any of the obstacles that once stood in their way.

But it doesn’t end there. For Dirks, that’s just the starting point. He says TrueBlue is starting to invest in advanced tools like conversational AI guides that will help associates manage their work daily—and provide a guided pathway to help them get their work done in a way that reduces human interaction and drives efficiency. While some of these steps are still underway, Dirks says the digital transformation of TrueBlue’s on-demand business will be fully complete by the second half of 2022.

Dirks has also made some important internal changes. He took TrueBlue’s IT out of data centers and into the cloud to remove hardware costs and speed up performance time. In 2019, the team deployed about one thousand “changes” or project enhancements. In 2020, the more agile function deployed more than ten thousand changes. Improvements that once took a year to go from idea to approval to reality now speed through the process in weeks, days or even hours.

Prior to starting his career in the civilian world, Dirks was a US Army intelligence analyst serving at Field Station Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the time, he used technology for data collection. Now, he’s using it to help other veterans. Dirks knows that soldiers returning to civilian duty can encounter work-related challenges, and he is proud that TrueBlue puts about thirty thousand veterans to work each year.

The world, the workplace, and the way we work are all changing. Nobody can predict exactly what will happen next—but whatever happens, Dirks and his colleagues at TrueBlue are building and perfecting the platform that will connect people to jobs in a whole new way.

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