Landing a job is often about who you know — and that's doubly important in Latino culture, where job seekers often learn about openings by word of mouth rather than online job boards or other formal channels. While hearing about a hiring opportunity from friends or family comes with its own perks (it's a lot easier to find out what the boss is really
like over beers with your brother-in-law than in a stilted or rushed interview), it also has drawbacks. So a group of Latino entrepreneurs in Denver created Chamba
, a bilingual hiring app to help their community find work in the hospitality industry. Its goal: to smooth the path to employment and ease some of the language barriers that may be an obstacle to workers and employers alike.
Corina Hierro, Chamba's communications manager, notes that word of mouth, Facebook groups and asking friends and family are typical ways that Latinos search for employment. But that approach can limit the kinds of opportunities workers hear about, and Hierro says Facebook groups can be unreliable. "[We] saw the need for Latinos to have a platform where they can easily have access to jobs. ... We created Chamba for this community as a place that’s trustworthy. We show our faces; we're not hiding behind a screen." (You can see Hierro's face all over the app's Instagram page
, talking about topics like minimum wage and inflation, how to resolve labor shortages and the cost of living.)
Chamba (which is slang and "a humble word for job" in several Latin American countries, according to Hierro) was already in the works before COVID became a household word, with plans to launch in Colombia. But when swaths of businesses in the United States shut down in March 2020, Latinos across the U.S. were suddenly out of work, so the Chamba team decided to go live domestically, and started in April of that year. "One of the first jobs we were able to help people find was mask-making," says Hierro, noting while the app initially listed a wide range of jobs in the blue-collar sector, it's currently focusing on the hospitality industry because of its dire labor shortages and the potential for applicants to be hired quickly.
The app is free for job seekers; employers can pay for one or three job listings, or opt for a monthly fee that allows up to 25 listings per month. Employers submit job postings in either English or Spanish, and Chamba automatically translates them to the applicant's preferred language. Since its launch, the app has been downloaded 200,000 times and listed 44,000 jobs nationwide across all industries. Over 4,000 of those are restaurant jobs ranging from dishwasher or buser to executive chef or manager.
Once workers are hired via Chamba, they aren't on their own. The company employs what it calls a "Chamba navigator" — a bilingual "customer success agent" whose job is to work with individual job applicants and businesses to ensure a smooth hiring and onboarding process, and to provide translation services, if needed. "He's pretty busy," Hierro notes with a laugh.
"Our plan is to expand," she continues. (Chamba's biggest markets are New York City, Los Angeles, Denver and Houston.) "We see the huge need in several sectors....[and before Chamba, there was] no platform that specifically catered to the Latino community in the U.S."
Head chef Julio Gaspar credits Chamba with an uptick in hiring at both Teocalli Cocina locations.
Julio Gaspar, head chef at Teocalli Cocina
(which has locations in Lafayette and Arvada
), agrees. "It's the first bilingual app I've heard of," he says. Gaspar has been cooking in restaurants for two decades in New York, California and Denver, and he describes the industry's hiring strategy succinctly: "People know people." He used Chamba in conjunction with Indeed to staff Teocalli's Arvada location in advance of its February 2022 opening. "It really helps me a lot," he says. "I was surprised." So far he's hired 21 staffers using the app, and notes that staffing at the Lafayette restaurant has also become easier with Chamba.
In an industry with a strong immigrant presence among the staff (Gaspar estimates about 65 percent of his kitchen staff speaks solely Spanish or limited English), Chamba's bilingual component is key. "It makes sense because people want
to look for a job, but they don’t know how
to look for a job," he says of potential employees who may not feel confident about their English. He points out that Chamba makes it easier for applicants to apply and faster for businesses to hire, and compares it favorably to other job boards. "We did Indeed first. It was so expensive, and we were getting only five or six people [applying]. One of my friends was using Chamba and told me about it. We got ten people applying for one job."
Hierro thinks there's a simple explanation for that: "Since we are Latinos, and immigrants doing it for other immigrants, we have a deeper understanding of how tech is being introduced [in our community]....and the trust factor is huge in our community. Once you have that trust, it makes things a lot easier."