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Uber for construction: Does Grafter fit the bill?

Binyamin Ali

Digital disrupters (often in the shape of a mobile app) such as Airbnb, Uber and WhatsApp have moved the goalposts in their industries, reordering established business models in the process.  

Construction is yet to experience anything on a similar scale. But when it comes to recruiting tradespeople, that might be about to change. 

Grafter is a mobile app aimed at enabling businesses to find ad-hoc workers (grafters, if you will) capable of working in a range of hands-on trades, including many in construction.

It was launched just before Christmas and co-founded by building and development enthusiasts Tom Cape and Richard Knight, who struggled to find local labour when they were working on their own property projects.

Unlike the FMB’s Find a Builder service and various other platforms that target domestic clients who are looking for people to handle a manual labour job, Grafter is aimed at businesses – mainly SMEs – rather than homeowners or landlords.

“Our market is muscle on demand for industries,” co-founder Richard Knight says.

“Our proposition is something that is absolutely under-served: non-specialised labour in the UK market such as building and construction, farming, landscaping, even warehousing – a job where you wouldn’t need more than 10 minutes training.”

How does it work?

After installing the app and creating a profile, users are given a choice of six different types of work they can recruit for: building and construction; farming and outdoor; landscaping and gardening; driving and delivery; industry and warehouse; and leisure and events.

Upon entering the postcode of where the job is located, the user is presented with a list of all the workers able to carry it out, their star rating (made up of reviews from previous jobs), and distance from the job. Looking further into their profiles reveals details of any qualifications, licences, CSCS cards held and previous experience.

After selecting all the suitable workers, the user is asked to provide details of the job. When a tradesperson accepts the job, an automated contract between the two parties is created by the app.

“Within the system there is a very simple contract linking the client or the business to the grafter, and an online payment system as well,” Mr Knight explains.

”In the long-term, we’re looking to make money out of integration with accounting systems. We’ve already got a partner for tax returns, so you can get your tax returns done for £25” 

Richard Knight, Grafter

Paying workers through the app incurs a charge but other forms of payment are available in order to bypass the charge.

“That is how we make money in the initial phase,” Mr Knight says. “If you were to use the grafter payment system, we charge 5 per cent plus VAT, of which we make a small proportion, after our costs.”

As part of the conditions of using the app to find work, tradespeople must confirm they are declared as self-employed with HMRC, and are reminded it is their responsibility to sort out their tax affairs.

But Grafter is making inroads towards helping labourers sort out their taxes. “In the long term, we’re looking to make money out of integration with accounting systems,” Mr Knight says.

“We’ve already got a partner for tax returns, so you can get your tax returns done for £25. With one of our segments, the construction and building industry, we’ll also look to introduce the Construction Industry Scheme tax at source system. It’s one of those value-added services and why we think people will use Grafter, if we’re doing some of that leg work for them.”

Uber for construction?

Grafter is a platform for quickly finding labour for a job, but attempting to find someone a little more skilled such as a scaffolder, for example, is more challenging.

A trawl through some of the profiles on the app reveals there are tradespeople such as scaffolders, bricklayers and plasterers with varying levels of experience available, but finding them requires users to manually go through every profile individually.

As the app is still very new, there are also a limited number of tradespeople available to choose from, and even fewer have any ratings attached to their profiles.

Grafter is not quite Uber for construction, nor does it claim to be. But it does present some interesting questions and possibilities.

Why doesn’t an industry as fragmented as construction have something similar in place for skilled workers already? And what will be the wider effects of Grafter’s plans to incorporate more accounting systems onto the platform?

Having sought £150,000 in crowdfunding in autumn 2017 and been overfunded to the tune of £233,000, it’s anyone’s guess what impact this fledging start-up will end up having.

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