Driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the return on investment provided by strong safety and sustainability programs, organizations are valuing environment, health, and safety (EHS) professionals more than ever, and this presents great opportunities for the EHS field. However, these opportunities highlight the complexities surrounding hiring and recruiting for EHS positions. In this episode of EHS on Tap, we spoke with Michael Zalle and Michelle Tinsley, cofounders of YellowBird, an online two-sided marketplace that quickly and easily connects EHS professionals with businesses on demand, helping the right people, in the right location, with the necessary experience land the perfect job.
Justin Scace: Hello, everyone, and welcome to EHS on Tap. I’m your host, Justin Scace, senior editor of the EHS Daily Advisor. Despite all the challenges currently facing business and industry, there arguably has been no better time to be an environment, health, and safety professional (EHS); driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and also by the return on investment provided by strong safety and sustainability programs, organizations are valuing environment, health and safety perhaps more than ever. And this presents great opportunities for the EHS field. However, these opportunities may also add to the complexity surrounding hiring and recruiting for EHS positions.
So today on “EHS on Tap,” we’re talking with the two cofounders of a service dedicated specifically to hiring and recruiting for EHS functions, and they have some timely information and advice for our audience. Joining us today on the show are Michael Zalle and Michelle Tinsley, cofounders of YellowBird, an online two-sided marketplace that quickly and easily connects EHS professionals with businesses on demand, facilitating the right people, in the right location, with the right experience for the job. So, Michelle and Michael, welcome, and thank you for being with us on “EHS on Tap.”
Michelle Tinsley: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here.
Michael Zalle: Thank you, Justin.
Justin Scace: Now, to start things off, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves and what brought you together to cofound YellowBird?
Michael Zalle: Sure, I’ll kick us off. So, this is Michael Zalle. I had this brainchild in the back of an Uber, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I’m from California, born and raised, and went to school in northern California and was part of the Internet foundations. I’m a little older than most tech start-ups in today’s day and age, but my passion has always been on meaningful work. And what I mean by meaningful work is touching on people and impacting people in a positive way. And so I was fortunate enough to have a long career in satellite communications of all things—geostationary satellite—and the driver behind satellite is environmental, health, and safety. And what I mean by that is the number one thing that will get an organization shut down in mining or construction or in the emergency management field is the inability to call 911 or to get help if they need it.
Michael Zalle: And so I got to know the dynamics of the EHS environment very, very well. And so through my passion for that, and through my knowing of these dynamics, both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other things that are drivers of the business, I began to realize the biggest issue that most organizations have is knowledge set in the right locations. And so I came up with this idea, and I was very fortunate to be introduced to Michelle Tinsley here, who I’ll let introduce herself in a moment, but I was fortunate enough to be introduced to her about 3 or 4 months after founding the company. I was looking for a cofounder who was a great operator who understood what we were doing and why we were doing it. We were very much changing an old model. And from there, Michelle and I connected, and we founded and launched Gilbert. So, Michelle, why don’t you talk about yourself, too?
Michelle Tinsley: So, I basically started my career at Intel and worked there 26 years in a variety of functions, I’d say 18 of them in finance, and then became part of the Internet of Things business and grew that 10x from when I started in ’03 with them to 2016-ish, and then I moved into sales. And what I started realizing was that I wanted to exit corporate and go more into the world of start-ups and smaller companies. I’ve been an angel investor since 2013, putting my personal investment dollars into start-ups. And I was kind of jealous of the pace and the speed and the learning that was occurring in that ecosystem. So, I ran my own consulting business for a while. And then I was introduced to Michael and said, yes, I could kind of put that consulting business off on the back burner and partner with him; obviously, coming from Intel, I value safety immensely, seeing that it’s part of a great culture and valuing employees and keeping them safe. So, I joined up with him. I’ve been here in Arizona for 22 years and transferred down from Oregon; I got my MBA here and have a husband and two kids. So, we just love the outdoors and the fact that year-round, you can get outside and do fun sports.
Justin Scace: That’s great. Thank you both for those introductions. Before we move on, Michael, you mentioned earlier that you had a story about the founding of YellowBird. Could we hear more about that?
Michael Zalle: Yeah. So, I mentioned before that I came up with the idea in the back of an Uber. So, I always like to tell this story because I enjoy it. And I think people find it interesting.
I’ll try not to make it too long, but it was 5:30 in the morning. I was heading to Dallas on a business trip. And the gentleman who picked me up was a very well-put-together, articulate man from Argentina or Chile, excuse me. He was from Chile, and he was actually driving an Uber. He’s in his 60s, and you can tell this man had a great background. And so I started talking to him on the way to the airport, and he tells me that he was a very high-ranking officer in the air force in Chile.
And when he retired, he didn’t golf. He didn’t like television. He needed to keep contributing. And he came up to America to be closer to his grandchildren. And so he said he has a program. Every morning, he wakes up at 5:00 a.m. He gets himself together and goes and drives Uber until 11:00. And he feels he’s participated in contributed to the community. And it wasn’t for the money. It was to be part of the community. So, I started thinking about all the people I knew in the EHS space who were transitioning from the military or from working 20-plus years or 30 years in industry or even folks who were saying, you know what, I want to try and be a consultant, so I’m going to do this on my own. And even my father did that when he retired; he tried to become a consultant, and he was a senior financial guy who wasn’t in the agent space but thought that he’d be getting board positions and consulting opportunities, but he really wasn’t a salesman.
And it wasn’t dedicated to the level of that. You really need to develop a larger, good flow of opportunities. So that was the original thought. And so it stuck with me, and it stuck with me for a while, and I just couldn’t shake it. And when you have an idea and you’re somebody like me, who can’t shake an idea at some point, you just have to try it.
And so that’s where I was. I thought, you know, there’s probably a better way of sourcing EHS and giving opportunities to people, not focused on the company, per se, but focused on the professional. And if I keep the professionals happy and keep great professionals on the platform, companies will come to us. And that is the mind-set. And that’s different from most staffing and recruiting firms. They work for the company, and they try to find the professional. I’m trying to represent the best in our professionals and the companies that flock to us. So that’s the story. I always like to tell it, and I hope it gives somebody a smile out there.
Justin Scace: Now, of course, we’re here today talking about hiring practices. That’s what YellowBird does. So, improving hiring practices, you know, whether it’s pairing professionals with the right opportunities or preventing discrimination and hiring—those are important things across all industries, but what led you to focus YellowBird specifically on the EHS field?
Michael Zalle: So, the gig economy is kind of a buzzword that’s been floating around in the consumer world for quite some time—the Ubers and Lyfts and even two-sided marketplaces, as they call it, like Airbnb, where you’re able to take something that you have and monetize it to provide a service to somebody else. And so that foundationally is what any two-sided marketplace does; it connects, and what I believe and what we believe as an organization is that it’s the ultimate in equality platforms, if you do it right. When you look at Airbnb as an example, as the host, as they call them, your ethnicity and your background and your status in life and all of these other things, whether you’re a female or a male or of a certain background and ethnicity, don’t matter.
Do you have a great place? Have you represented that place in a way that somebody will benefit from it and enjoy? And that’s how Airbnb has been able to really scale because it takes what’s most important and it puts it in an economic scenario.
What we are doing is something very similar, but we’re doing it for professional services. We look at people for their experience and their background and not just their certifications and not just their degree and everything that you find on a résumé; we’re looking a little deeper. And that’s where technology really comes in. We’re not a recruiting firm, and we’re not a staffing agency. We are a matching organization that matches consultants and professionals to opportunities. And it can be anything from 1 day to a week or a month. We’ve even had folks looking for people for 24 months on a project. And the only thing that matters to us is that we touch on the skills and capabilities, both soft skills, as they call them, and the ability to culturally fit, and we’re working on that and providing the opportunity for professionals to say yes or no, not based upon anything other than the thing that matters the most, which is whether they are the right people in the right location who can do the job effectively.
Justin Scace: So, what sorts of EHS career services does YellowBird provide, and how do they benefit both employees and employers?
Michelle Tinsley: Sure. So essentially, as a professional on our platform, we do quite a few things to make it really easy for these professionals to do the work. We cover them with two types of insurance policies. One is an occupational accident coverage. So that’s like a workman’s comp. And the second one we cover them with is a professional liability policy. So again, a lot of folks say, well, you know, I work full time at XYZ corporate, but you know, I may want to do things on nights or weekends or take a vacation day every now and then and earn a few thousand dollars, but it’s not really worth my taking the personal risk of doing that all on my own. If they wanted to go set up their own consulting business, there’s at least $20,000 in some costs of starting up a website, doing the legal framework, and getting your first contracts set up.
So, there’s quite a bit of administrative work that they would have to do, and that’s not the fun part. We do all the billing, the collections, and the invoicing of the customers. A lot of times with bigger customers, we have to run the gauntlet of a supplier management organization and get COIs certificates of insurance to show that we’re legitimate and validating all that with the supplier. So really, what we take out of the way is all the not so fun stuff for the professional and really just let the person do the work he or she loves, go do the audit, go do the training, and go do the on-site work, whether it be environmental or construction. And then we pay the person within 48 hours. And so people just love it because again, the prices have already been negotiated. We see a lot of these folks are very detail-oriented and conscientious, almost like engineering types.
They’re not real fans of spending their time marketing and doing self-promotion, which is honestly what you have to do if you’re going to do a lifestyle or a consulting business. On the company’s front, what we’re doing is we’re vetting these folks. We’re making sure that it is not a tube and that not every professional who expresses an interest makes it through our process. We do screen for things like soft skills background. We do nationwide digital background checks. So, we make sure that if somebody has a criminal record, is it recent? Is it serious? If it’s a failure to stop at a stop sign or put a seatbelt on, we’re like, hey, everybody’s human, but if it’s more serious, we’ll definitely say, you know what? This person’s probably not right for our platform. And so we do that for the companies, again, to try to keep it easy.
We’ve had a lot of bigger customers say, you know what? We’ve had 5 or 10 folks who used to work for us kind of lightly retire. We’d love to bring them back a few days a year, but again, it doesn’t make sense from their supplier management or to start onboarding all these little onesie twosie companies, but they could go through YellowBird and have these people come back as often as they wish. And we do allow them to ask for pros by name. So, if they, again, have a great working relationship with one of our YellowBird pros, they can request repeat business with that pro as much as they like; we’re just going to make sure that pro has the right background and experience to do the work that they’re asking for. But yeah, other than that, we’ll match them.
Justin Scace: That sounds great. Sounds like a win-win situation for employees and employers alike, especially in the environment, health, and safety space. Now, I might like to switch gears just a little bit here and talk about some of the challenges surrounding this current atmosphere. What’s the biggest hiring or recruitment mistake that’s made in the EHS field on the part of both employers and perhaps also EHS professionals who are seeking new opportunities?
Michael Zalle: I’ll take this one. So, Justin, I’d say the biggest, I mean, it’s a mistake, but the reality is it’s more of a process and protocol issue; doing things the way things have always been done is a challenge for everybody. And that’s what we’re disrupting, right? That’s what YellowBird’s about—really shifting how things are done.
And those stakes that we’ve seen that we’re really trying to address are, on the employer side or on the side of the person who needs help, thinking in their mind-set of, oh, well, I have a safety person, or yeah, we know all of that because they think that the generalists that they have internally, no matter how well educated and what our backgrounds are, we are all strapped for our resources, time, energy, and things to that effect. So, the number one issue that we’re seeing right now is folks who are doing things the way they’ve always done it. And part of that is even how you write the specs of your job role. The companies will say, I need a certified safety professional who has a bachelor’s degree who is flexible in his or her working capabilities.
And if you can get more granular, if you can say, I want somebody who has a construction background who understands industrial construction and welding safety, then matching at that level, you can really get the right person for the role. And you may not need to have that as a full-time role. We look at it from our perspective as air traffic control versus firefighting. Where you have the knowledgeable EHS, we call it EHS&S, sustainability does play into what we’re doing, but EHS&S professionals who are managing resources all across the country will do it in a sharpshooter kind of a way if we make it efficient for them. On the professional side, again, our industry is full of folks. We used to be called engineers back in the day, and ASSP used to be ASSE. And there are a lot of engineering components to it.
And taking the time to present yourself in the best way that you can is always a challenge being it’s the normal things that you want to be able to do. But most importantly, for us, what we’re saying is that folks aren’t even putting their résumés together in a modern capacity. They’re not representing themselves nearly for the gig or for the abilities that they have.
You don’t need to sell yourself per se, although we all do, let’s be honest, but the most important aspect of it and the thing that we’re solving for it at YellowBird is that we give you the opportunity to, at your own time, update your capabilities on the platform so that we can match you as well as possible. And I’d say that’s the biggest issue that folks have right now; maybe they’ve been out of the workforce for a while and their résumé isn’t quite where they want it to be and people get a little bit of writer’s block. I think the YellowBird platform really helps concierge people through that process. So, I’d say that’s the biggest—just the representation of people for all they really are.
Justin Scace: So, as I mentioned at the beginning of the episode, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of other driving factors, as well. Organizations are prioritizing EHS more than ever before. What trends, both the opportunities and also the challenges, do you foresee in EHS professional development and hiring in the post-COVID business world?
Michelle Tinsley: Yeah, so I see a huge opportunity for the EHS function because COVID has heightened the thinking around employee safety to a whole new level that we probably haven’t been at in a while, especially for industries that aren’t as industrial. So again, in general industry and for office workers, a lot of times, you’re going, hey, you know, what’s the worst that can happen? Carpal tunnel, tripping on the carpet … but there’s a whole new thought process around industrial hygiene. What is the air quality like at work? What kinds of filters do we have? You know, what are they ready to catch? How often/many times an hour are we changing out the air? These are all things that now leaders in the business are thinking about because they want to ensure that as they bring workers back into the office, it’s a safe environment. One of the biggest challenges I think they’re going to have to overcome is rebuilding that trust with employees.
I mean, they’re going from where they perceive their safest spot possible—their own home—to now back into a public space. And in some cases, you’re subletting from a real estate owner. And so how do you make sure that that landlord has really made sure that for your tenants, all the office environments are truly operating the way they should be? So, I see it as a great way to, again, segue in and get a conversation going around environment, health, and safety. We’ve been doing quite a few what we call mock OSHA audits, during which we bring in our YellowBird pro like a third-party neutral pair of eyes to look at that business and say, if we were to pretend with an OSHA hat on that, we’re auditing your business today. What types of things do we see as hazards or things that you probably want to tighten up?
How well are your policies understood by your employees so that we’re proactively addressing those risks and not waiting for incidents to happen? I think the second piece is it does point to the fact that the generalist who used to work and cover everything is now being supplanted by, wow, if I could get, say, an industrial hygienist on demand, that would be amazing. We’ve seen churches and schools use this, which, again, never in the past would they have hired these people full time. So just being able to get them for 4 hours or 6 hours or 8 hours to understand their new capacities and an outlay of safe protocols is a great way to address that.
So, I’m hoping that what we can do is start encouraging new people to go into this industry. We’ve obviously got a lot of young people who want to get into sustainability. You know, they’re coming from a generation of people who want a job that allows them to make a good living, but they also want to pay it forward and leave the earth a better place. So, they’re getting into the sustainability aspects pretty well in school, but can we also get them into the traditional occupational health and safety and environmental spaces so that we have new people coming in at the learning levels in this industry? Because long term, we do need to refresh that and have new thinking.
Michael Zalle: I’m going to dovetail on what Michelle said, which she said it better than I can, but I’ll dovetail on that and say, it’s amazing. So, we’re very active in our community out here in Arizona. And we’re dedicated to giving back to our local universities. And we’ve had a couple of interns in here from ASU, and we’ve also used some outsourcing, which, as a young company, you do. And people are saying, wow, your pros make that? Or, oh my gosh, you know what a cool gig I could go out and I can beat in the field? And people think they have to become an accountant, or they have to go down and get their business degree at this particular line, without really realizing that there are some things that we do that are really dynamic and fun.
And if you have a passion for helping others, this industry is not an industry of company cops, as we used to be called. You know, it’s not an industry of hard jerks. It’s an industry of people who really do care. And the one thing I will say, if I take anything away from my passion for this industry, is the honesty that we find in our platform is absolutely amazing. I don’t mean to be a pitch if you’re a big sales guy, but the way our platform works is that companies go on, and it’s free for them. They fill out a form and say, I need somebody for XYZ need. Let’s just say it’s a mock OSHA audit at 15 locations.
And so we send out a message to those 15 locations for anybody who meets the criteria, and all 15 of those locations cross the country. Mako was a bad example, but I’ll use it anyway, just because I’m already on a roll. And there will be people who look at it, and they’ll call up and say, I’d really like to do this job, but I don’t know if I’m qualified. So, can I get some more details? You know, they are so diligent in making sure that they’re going to be able to achieve what is being asked of them. It’s really heartwarming. It truly is. It’s a wonderful industry. And the more I supported the ecosystem, the more I realized that this is full of really great people who need an advocate. And that’s what we’re hoping that we are for everybody. So, sorry, I didn’t mean to go on a tangent there, but I always like to mention that because I really do love this industry.
Justin Scace: No worries. Absolutely. It is a great industry to be in for many, many reasons. And this has been great, Michael and Michelle. You’ve provided some excellent insights and good advice for our audience of environment, health, and safety professionals. Now, for more information on YellowBird and its services, you can visit www.goYellowBird.com. And thank you so much, Michael and Michelle, for taking the time to be with us today on “EHS on Tap.”
Michael Zalle: Thank you.
Michelle Tinsley: Sure.
Justin Scace: And as always, we’d like to thank our audience for tuning in today. Remember to keep an eye out for new episodes of “EHS on Tap,” and keep reading the EHS Daily Advisor to stay on top of your safety and environmental compliance obligations, get the latest in best practices, and keep your finger on the pulse of all things related to the EHS industry. Until next time, this is Justin Scace for “EHS on Tap.”
|Michael Zalle is the Founder and CEO of YellowBird. As a career tech entrepreneur, a board member, and an advisor, he has a passion for making a difference through finding “the better way” to solve big problems through tech. He is responsible for creating and building new concepts and companies, resulting in multiple successful exits over a 25-year career. He attended San Francisco State University and Pepperdine University, with a focus on Business Management. Zalle enjoys traveling with his wife of 20 years and 2 kids.
Michelle Tinsley is the COO and Cofounder of YellowBird. An experienced executive and angel investor in the start-up community, Tinsley continually delivers fresh ideas to build relationships and drive growth. She is a dedicated mentor to professionals, investors, and businesses across the country. In 2018, her skills and successful career led her to launch Tinsley Retail Insights, a consulting firm dedicated to helping retailers drive innovation to compete with digital disruption. Her dedication to growing individuals had a lasting impact on teams around the world, resulting in greater shared success. During her 26-year leadership career at Intel, Tinsley served in finance as a mini “CFO” in the Internet of Things and as a manager. She earned her bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing from the University of Oregon and a master’s in finance and supply chain from Arizona State University. She lives in the valley with her husband and two kids.
“EHS on Tap” is an EHS podcast by BLR’s EHS Daily Advisor. On each episode of “EHS on Tap,” our host will discuss emerging legal, regulatory, and policy issues with industry experts and the impacts to everyday safety and environment professionals. “EHS on Tap” topics run the gamut of contemporary issues facing EHS managers and professionals today.
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