Estonia-based tech startup Werk raises $1.3M Pre-Seed for the first hiring and relocation platform for skilled migrant construction workers
One of the unintended consequences of climate change is migration. As a threat multiplier, climate change can exacerbate economic insecurity and food shortage, which in turn may lead to migration causing people to look for greener pastures in the safer part of the world. We see this played out as million of Sub-Saharan Africans moved to Europe. In other cases, we also see people from Eastern Europe moving to Western Europe to search for a better life.
However, most of these migrants face many challenges finding jobs let alone getting paid the right wages. The situation is even worse especially if the migrants are looking for jobs in the construction industry where migrants are most often exploited. It’s for this reason one Estonia startup is on a mission to help migrant construction workers.
Enter Werk, a Tallinn, Estonia-based tech startup that brings transparency to the often exploitative world of cross-border blue-collar contracting. Werk supports workers relocating to other countries by automating paperwork and visa documentation, and only works with companies that guarantee they will provide workers with the same payment terms, treatment, and protection conditions as they would if they were a local.
Today, Werk, announced it has raised a $1.3 million pre-seed round led by Change Ventures to enable companies to hire skilled and vetted migrant construction workers, handling everything from recruitment, verification, and relocation. The raise is among the biggest ever pre-seeds in European HR and construction tech companies.
Other backers in the round include Foundamental VC the largest global investor covering the Built-World – ConstructionTech and architecture, engineering and design technology, and angel investors Anthony Danon and Carmen Alfonso-Rico (Cocoa VC), Declan Kelly (Foreword VC), Gonzalo Manrique (Ironhack), and Andreas Klinger (On Deck CTO and Head of Remote at AngelList).
Founded in Tallinn, Estonia in 2020 by Martin Kalamees (CEO), Marion Kallakas (COO), and Markus Tarn (CTO), Werk is a platform that enables companies to hire skilled and vetted migrant construction workers.
For contractors, once they input the skills they require on-site, the platform uses AI to match them with suitable, high-skilled workers who have been vetted by industry experts. Once the worker has been hired, Werk handles HR and payroll too.
With recent 20% month-on-month growth, the startup has already reached over 2,000 verified and vetted construction workers and has customers within Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. Werk is developing and testing its cross-border relocation functionality, which automates visa and residence permit processes, the opening of bank accounts, flight tickets, accommodation, access to safe financial services, and support for their families back home. In addition, the startup is testing a social feature which allows workers to speak with one another, receive advice, ask questions about living and working within different countries, and consume relevant construction-related content such as tips and tricks.
Labour shortages have been a major problem for construction companies for years, with the process of hiring blue-collars internationally being extremely time consuming and complicated due to increased regulation, while the limited pool of middlemen can be unreliable and sometimes even operate illegally.
Demonstrative of the size of the problem is that 30% of workers on construction sites in European cities are foreign. The labour shortage issue was exacerbated by the pandemic’s travel and work restrictions. With Ukraine, Belarus and Russia supplying the majority of blue-collar labour workers for other European countries, the recent war has further disrupted Europe’s construction sector, which Werk is now helping to rebuild by providing skilled and vetted workers from countries such as Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines.
Martin Kalamees, Co-founder and CEO of Werk, comments: “Our platform solves two major, and growing global problems. Firstly, skilled blue-collar migrant workers are being taken advantage of by unregulated agencies and contractors, which sometimes operate illegally. Secondly, construction companies face labour shortages because of the difficulties in sourcing workers from abroad, and of course the devastating situation in Ukraine. We are helping to connect skilled workers with contractors in a legal, transparent, and safe way. We’re excited to welcome Change Ventures, Foundamental and our angel investors onto this journey, with this first injection of capital enabling us to grow our team and enhance our technology.”
“From travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, to the war in Ukraine cutting off labour supply networks, there are a number of uncontrollable elements affecting skilled migrant workers looking for construction jobs,” adds Rait Ojasaar, Investment Partner at Change Ventures. “Werk is providing a valuable service for businesses that need labourers, as well as a safe platform for those looking for jobs outside of their native countries. We are delighted to lead this first round of investment.”
Patric Hellermann, General Partner at Foundamental, adds: “Werk is solving a huge opportunity in Europe – discovering a steady supply of skilled craftsmen, and making them mobile across borders. The kicker is that we do it compliantly and bring transparency and lower administrative burden.”