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Austrian, Filipino form website for OFW jobs

Ritche Weekun and Georg Steiger left their highly-paid jobs in management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Singapore to start a new website in Manila that helps Filipinos find jobs overseas.

Within a month of launching the website, OFWguru.com has attracted hundreds of applicants and many of them quickly found jobs posted by recruitment agencies.

“It is really a website for OFWs to find a good job,” says Steiger, an Austrian national, who now lives in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, referring to OFWguru.

The website currently has hundreds of job listings for private nurses in Qatar, factory workers in Taiwan, waitresses in UAE, carpenters in New Zealand, engineers in Saudi Arabia, sales ladies in Dubai and physical therapists in the US.

Steiger describes OFWguru as the Philippines’ first free job-listing site specifically designed to connect recruitment agencies accredited by Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the overseas Filipino workers.

OFWguru.com founders Ritche Weekun and Georg Steiger 

He says OFWs are a big part of the Philippine economy and should be protected.  “We have to make sure they don’t fall prey to illegal recruiters.  There are a lot of things that can be improved,” says Steiger.

Weekun says he is optimistic about the potential of the website, as the OFW population continues to grow.  “There are about 4,500 OFWs being deployed everyday, versus 2,800 Filipinos getting a job in the country everyday. Every year, 1.7 million Filipinos are deployed overseas,” he says in an interview in Makati City.

Steiger says OFWguru had a soft launching in early August 2015 and now registers 5,000 visits a day. “We heard from one agency that they had a recent posting and out of 40 applicants that came to the interview, 35 were referred by the website.  They were very happy and very surprised,” says Steiger.

Weekun, himself a former OFW, joined Steiger in OFWguru early this year.  The website now employs about 10 people in their office in Ermita, Manila, near most recruitment agencies. 

“I was also in Singapore with McKinsey.  We worked together, mostly covering financial services.Before McKinsey, we were doing IT stuff as well,” says Weekun.

The two website founders discovered an unmet need among OFWs for a website that posts jobs accredited by POEA.  “We were looking at the OFW segment.  We were looking at other businesses as well in the financial services space.  The more we look at OFWs, the more we saw there is quite a big opportunity to improve how things can be done,” says Steiger.

“I basically landed in the Philippines because I have some friends here, who are former clients. The startup climate here is pretty good.   If you look in last one or two years, there have been a lot of happenings in the startup scene.  It is very vibrant.  That basically is why we decided to start this in the Philippines,” he says.

Steiger says while OFWguru is not the first website to announce job openings for OFWs, it offers many features that make browsing a lot easier.  “What you have in the marketplace is really messy in terms of presentation.  It is just difficult.  We actually have agencies that looked at our site for the first time and found it so much easier, cleaner.  That’s one thing.  Another is ease of use, ease of interaction from the job recruitment side and job seeker side,” he says.

Steiger says recruitment agencies can post their job orders on OFWguru website for free.  “The only requirement is that they should be POEA approved and in good standing.  We actually refresh our database on a daily basis.  We are following the POEA list,” he says.

Weekun says it is important to follow the list of POEA to protect the job hunters.  “POEA generates a list in their website, which agencies changed status. We monitor pretty often  any changes in agency status.  If it is suspended, we basically hide their job listings,” he says.

Steiger says OFWguru decided to make all job postings free for the agencies.  “Our goal is to have the entire OFW job market in our database.  We want to make sure we have as many jobs as there are, so that job seekers will have a better choice for jobs,” he says.

He says OFWguru also joined Internet.org, a Facebook initiative for free Internet access so that it can be available to more OFWs.

“We are getting about 5,000 hits a day,” Steiger says.  “Job seekers are sending 300 applications to recruitment agencies a day.”

Steiger says the number of applicants can be higher, because others decide not to fill out their online forms and instead directly go to the office of the recruitment agencies that posted job postings at OFWguru. “Agencies usually post interview dates and people can just go,” he says.

Weekun says the website continues to evolve with more features.  To generate traffic in the site, the company asked 100 pedicabs along Mabini Street to carry OFWguru tarpaulins. 

“You would be surprised with our pedicab tarpaulins.  They have been around Mabini.  We are printing 200 more.  But we get calls from as far as Ortigas and Makati recruitment agencies and they are basically calling how to register as a recruitment agency in our site,” says Weekun.

Weekun says aside from the job search, OFWguru also has a guide page that helps OFWs understand the steps in working overseas.

Steiger says they are currently developing a financing model for the website.  “The most simple way to generate revenues is premium services, where agencies will be able to post more prominent job postings and  improve their internal processes.  There are a couple of premium services that we might launch in the future. Frankly, right now, our concern is how to grow the platform as fast as possible,” he says.

Steiger says their goal is to be the leading website for OFWs.  “If you ask me what success looks like, I would say a year from now, every OFW will check our website if they are looking for posting abroad.  They will see us a very valuable resource for them to find jobs, to find information,” he says.

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