Michelle Tinsley, Co-founder of YellowBird, has been involved in the field of technology for more than 30 years. For our latest “Faces of EHS” profile, we sat down with Michelle to discuss why she made the leap from tech to environment, health, and safety; her thoughts on YellowBird’s importance as an EHS recruiting tool; as well as trends and best practices for the EHS industry, including how COVID-19 has created new opportunities in the industry.
You’re an executive, angel investor, and consultant with a 26-year leadership career at Intel. What led you to get involved specifically in the environment, health, and safety (EHS) space?
I have worked in technology for over 30 years and that experience has equipped me with the roadmaps and tools to help businesses succeed in the startup space. During my 26-year leadership career at Intel, I was exposed to a company culture that highly values a safe workplace. I respect the need for strong safety programs and culture, so when Michael Zalle introduced me to YellowBird, my thought was that we could bring top notch safety at an affordable price to any business. As we have developed the company the surprising aspect to me has been the amazing backgrounds the EHS professionals have. They are dedicated to helping others. I am proud to see that we are making their skills more accessible to businesses that previously thought they couldn’t afford good safety protocols.
You’re the cofounder of YellowBird, an innovative EHS career services solution. What sets YellowBird apart as an EHS recruiting tool?
At YellowBird, we understand the needs and challenges of EHS workers and business leaders in the high consequence industries such as construction, manufacturing, and insurance markets. EHS professionals are in-demand, but it can be challenging to get noticed in a traditional staffing agency, and assuming the costs of starting a contracting business is beyond what many can do. Curiously, we have noticed that the risk-taking needed in entrepreneurship is somewhat contradictory to the risk averse/risk mitigating strengths of EHS professionals.
On the other hand, business leaders need EHS expertise, but many can’t afford a full-time EHS professional to handle all of their companies’ needs. That’s where YellowBird comes in. We offer them professionals on-demand, the chance to bypass the hurdles of the hiring process and save them time and money. We are dedicated to matching companies with the best qualified EHS professional quickly and smoothly to ensure timelines are met. Companies can request a professional on-demand, at any time. With no staffing fees and a quick turnaround time, the process is fast and effortless.
But we are also a game-changer for professionals. YellowBird is helping bridge the talent gap in the risk and safety industry. Generations of skilled, experienced, and highly qualified EHS workers are retiring and their expertise is going with them. The shortage of EHS workers slows down projects in critical areas of the economy. YellowBird offers them the ability to apply their expertise to on-demand jobs beyond retirement age. YellowBird also helps to develop a soft landing in the EHS industry for those who have been laid off or are changing careers. Any professional finding themselves in transition may want to do work on the YellowBird platform. It’s a win-win for both sides.
YellowBird uses Artificial Intelligence to help businesses find the EHS professional they need for a specific location, with experience and knowledge in a specific area, or with a specific certification, for example. We use hundreds of data points to allow users to connect with the EHS expertise that is the best fit for the project or job.
By hiring EHS professionals on-demand, business leaders and HR professionals bypass the piles of resumes and interviews. They don’t need to scan each and every candidate looking for the necessary accreditation for the job because our AI platform filters that for them. In operational terms, AI saves these executives time that can be spent toward tasks that are much more valuable for the company.
In addition, businesses hiring EHS professionals through YellowBird can rest confidently knowing that we completed our thorough five-step vetting process, which includes background and accreditation checks. We cover our EHS professionals with two types of insurance, so we manage the risk for the end customer and the professionals.
Do you think that the EHS profession makes appropriately frequent and efficient use of technology? Where does the profession succeed on this front, and where might it improve?
I think the EHS profession does make great use of technology when it comes to tools to do the job smarter. There is a lot of innovation in both hardware tools but also software tools to now digitize the EHS workload. What I think can improve is the innovation around the soft skills of the industry: How can you get workers engaged in daily safety protocols? What incentives and management techniques work best to keep workers living the safety culture? These are tougher subjects to tackle, but certainly leave space for technology innovation.
How can EHS professionals, either those just entering the workforce or those looking for the next opportunity, stay one step ahead in a competitive job market?
Certifications are increasingly important, whether EHS professionals are in-house employees or plan on joining the gig economy marketplace, which is why we are forming partnerships with certification bodies such as the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) to ensure that certificate holders see substantial value to earning the certificates and using them to further their careers. Our platform enables the professionals to update their profile over time, so as they develop more experience, they can evolve their profiles and what jobs they are eligible to take.
How does YellowBird support and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the EHS recruiting and hiring process?
The EHS industry has been making progress to become more diverse and inclusive. Still, approximately 84% of EHS employees are men, and most are between the ages of 50-69, even though a wealth of studies has shown that diverse organizations perform better than the less diverse ones.
Here is an example: English is the required language in most US-based organizations, but the lack of training in additional languages (such as Spanish) begs the question – how much do diversity issues impact safety? If the employees cannot understand safety protocols and directives, they will not be able to implement safety measures. So, clearly, DEI matters in the workplace. But diversity doesn’t mean only racial and gender diversity. Age, sexual orientation, language, disability, and even different life experiences all contribute to a more inclusive and diverse team. At YellowBird we work with the customer to scope the work and set the price, then this is what goes out to all qualified professionals in the area. By doing this, we are leveling the playing field on diversity pay at a gig-by-gig level.
Economic inclusion is also often overlooked. Every week I hear from EHS professionals who share stories about being overlooked for jobs and promotions because they cannot afford professional and general liability insurance. Many organizations require insurance for any contractor or freelancer working on-site or virtually on their behalf. This keeps many professionals from advancing in their careers and learning new skills. So, in March 2021 YellowBird issued a new policy providing professional and occupational accident coverage for all professionals on our platform at no charge. By doing so, we are removing economic hurdles for independent risk and EHS professionals and giving equal opportunity for professionals based expressly on their experience, background, certifications, and skills. EHS is making strides to bring more diversity into the workplace, and we’re excited to be a part of the movement.
What do you see as the main emerging trends, both positive and negative, affecting the future of the EHS industry?
Artificial Intelligence is here to stay. It has allowed many industries to solve their needs in a faster and less costly way. This is also true for the EHS industry.
Specialized knowledge and experience are a strong trend. Each day we hear from business leaders seeking EHS professionals that they now have the chance to hire exactly the professional with experience in a specific area and with certifications that apply to that limited scope, whereas before using YellowBird, they had to rely on the one employee who was a generalist – not an EHS professional with vertical experience and knowledge in one area of EHS. By using AI, we can not only focus on the key certificates needed but also match the soft skills which are critical to a great match.
I think the workforce is rapidly changing – away from employees being loyal for 20+ years to a company and instead setting their own career path. This desire for more flexibility is at the foundation of the gig economy. What we are seeing now is that gig marketplaces for labor are moving into the more professional space so that workers can earn more and support their families. I love that folks on our platform can earn money in a “side gig” that allows them to put a down payment on a house, take that dream vacation, or work and explore a different region of the U.S., for example.
Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has created new opportunities for EHS professionals, and if so, how?
The worldwide pandemic has created visibility and new opportunities for the EHS industry. Eighteen months ago, not many people knew what PPE stands for. The pandemic has raised awareness of safety in the workplace, and this is a time for companies to embrace that. Not only will high risk areas need a safety plan, but all businesses under the OSHA guidelines should have a COVID-19 safety plan. This means helping managers bring workers back into the commercial workplace, knowing how to manage exposures, and building trust with the workers that their work environment is safe.
What’s your favorite success story (so far!) during your time at YellowBird?
We are very proud of how we were able to help Phoenix-based NPL Construction solve a pressing issue. Early in 2020, NPL added a new construction project which required an onsite safety manager. Initially, NPL used their typical process for sourcing EHS consultants. They started the search with their internal team to source candidates, then turned to a recruiting agency with the specifications. The formula had always worked in the past: Scan through resumes from as many internal recruiters and EHS recruitment companies as possible, in hopes that one candidate would be a good fit. But the original project scope didn’t call for a safety manager, and by the time it was added to the project, NPL didn’t have much time left to vet and find the right individual.
This project had very specific needs, whereas NPL’s recruiting team specialized in finding candidates with broader skills and specializations. In addition, the project was in a remote location, far from the company’s their local projects, and NPL’s typical hiring model would have left them with some long-term challenges. The project required senior-level experience, and many of the candidates had all the basic attributes but didn’t have the level of knowledge necessary to complete the job. Time was of the essence. They needed to fill the role quickly to keep the project on schedule. The Regional Director for Safety and Quality at NPL Construction needed a senior-level, experienced safety professional fast without having to do all the searching, and most importantly the vetting process. Within three days, we matched NPL with certified professionals that fit all their safety requirements. The project also required the vendor/consultant to have Avetta certification, which YellowBird completed before the job could start.