he staffing industry is a unique beast where the people are the product. With all the quality control tactics known to man there will always be one that’s uncontrollable, the human element. Now more than ever, the quality of the relationships you have in place with your clients needs to be continuously maintained and strengthened. As you both struggle with the challenges of finding qualified candidates, it’s tempting to lower standards and cut corners. But, remember that keeping your focus on quality over quantity can pay off in droves for you both.
Many moons ago, when I was selling staffing services, I would use math to help prospective clients understand the value of the service my company would provide. The eye-opening moment for my prospects was when they started to understand the fact that a 90-day temp-to-hire strategy would increase long-term employee retention and ultimately lower their SUI rate and experience rating for workers comp. Although the ROI was/is real, it can often be difficult for someone to fully appreciate the potential savings since the business case focusing on improving employee retention is based on some hypothetical assumptions.
When hiring to fill their clients’ positions, staffing firms usually have a clearly defined list of criteria to consider: skill set, salary range, availability—whatever their clients tell them to look for. By checking off the right boxes, staffers are able to match candidates to clients: “You want an employee who has X, Y, and Z? Here’s someone who fits the bill!”
It’s a different story when hiring for internal positions, though. When companies need to find their own staff, they often focus too much on cultural fit. Why is that? The answer, in a nutshell, is “comfort.”
People who work full time often spend more waking hours with their coworkers than with their spouses or partners. Forty (or more!) hours a week can seem like an eternity to someone who doesn’t like his or her colleagues. That’s why being comfortable with one’s coworkers can be so important. And that’s why companies that do their own hiring for their internal positions often put too much emphasis on whether a candidate is “likeable” or someone who’s “like us” or someone who would be fun to grab a beer with after work—and not enough emphasis on whether he or she has the attributes and skills that will contribute to the growth of the company.
It’s human nature, after all, to want to work among friends. Unfortunately, prioritizing “likeability” over “competence” can lead to trouble down the road. Applicants always bring their “A game” to interviews—but don’t always sustain it once they’re comfortable in their new jobs. Those hires can end up being disappointments, and sometimes actual disaster ensues when a company thinks it’s hired Dr. Jekyll but has actually hired Mr. Hyde.
There will always a subjective element to hiring. Any time there’s a cover letter, a personal statement, or an interview involved, some aspects of a candidate’s personality will seep through. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the fact is, personality can indeed influence a person’s workplace performance (and ability to interact with coworkers—which can in turn affect their performance).
But personality should not be the main criteria for hiring. Rather, knowledge, skills, and potential are key components of a successful hire. Sometimes, though, companies that fill their own positions themselves have trouble seeing beyond the “do we want to work alongside this person?” question and can’t accurately evaluate a candidate’s skill set.
With their distance from the workplace, staffing firms often have the perspective—and objectivity—that companies lack. When marketing their services, staffers should highlight their ability to deliver candidates who are best for the company’s future success.
You know the old saying “Think globally, act locally”? That works well when talking about taking action to save our planet. But a global—or even national—perspective doesn’t work always so well in staffing.
Rather than put lots of resources toward trying to compete on a huge stage, many local or regional firms would be better off playing up their unique strengths. Local staffing agencies have several distinct advantages over national firms and should draw on them as much as possible when working with current clients and courting new ones.
Consider market knowledge. Who’s going to understand a particular market better: an agency whose primary (or even sole) location is actually in that geographic area, or the branch office of a national firm that’s based on the other side of the country? Compared to an out-of-towner, a staffing or HR professional who’s lived in an area for a long time will have a deeper understanding of its history, its people, and its employment environment.
Companies that work with local staffing agencies gain two particularly useful benefits from those relationships: the companies have direct and easy access to the agencies’ owners, and the companies often enjoy greater flexibility in terms. Better access means better communication—which enables staffing firms to meet their clients’ needs with greater speed and efficiency.
And when companies deal with local agencies that are empowered to arrange their own terms and prices (rather than have to “check back with the home office” in another state), there’s a greater chance that the two parties will be able to build a mutually beneficial business relationship. Need to make an on-the-fly adjustment to a requisition? Or take an action that’s unique to a particular client? For local agencies that are their own bosses, taking such steps pose no problem at all.
If your firm is a local agency, don’t underestimate the power of your position! Rather than fret about how you’re “up against the big guys,” use your “little guy” status to your advantage. Make sure that your marketing materials highlight your knowledge, availability, and flexibility—and keep this perspective in mind when working to attract both clients and employees.
It’s almost 2017, and the skills gap is still here—and it’s wider than ever before. Hopefully, you worked diligently throughout 2016 and already have a plan in place to close that gap so you can focus on staffing your open positions. But if you haven’t figured out yet how to deal with the skills gap (or maybe haven’t even started thinking about it), don’t panic! It’s never too late to work on this problem, and here are some great places to start.
Embrace the gig economy
Consider breaking one full-time position (or work product) down into several tasks or shifts and staffing each piece with a different worker. This option could work well when a company has trouble finding someone that can work at certain times, such as the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. weekday shift in a manufacturing plant, for example. Breaking that eight-hour shift into chunks (say, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays; 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays; and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays) and letting different people work each slot could greatly increase the company’s ability to staff those times. Granted this might take a bit of work educating your clients and fine tuning a program but rest assured that more and more companies are embracing this workplace “Uberization,” in which employees (gig workers) grab the shifts or tasks that they want to work or do and decline the rest. The trend toward this sort of gig economy is growing so much that international payroll company ADP is even developing a mobile app to help this workforce manage their pay and taxes.
Creative staffing involves finding new ways to connect with candidates. Mobile recruiting apps, for example, make it easier for job hunters to browse and apply for open positions. But virtual connections have their limitations, so take inspiration from mobile blood banks and bookmobiles and go where the people are. Instead of an RV full of medical equipment and books, bring an RV full of mini-cubicles and computers to sporting events, large shopping centers, concerts, and other places where crowds gather. Another option is to set up stand-alone hiring kiosks in grocery stores and shopping malls. Both types of mobile recruiting station let people apply for jobs and even complete some pre-employment testing all in one convenient location.
Build the Bridge
The “skills gap” that most employers are facing today typically arises from one of two causes: either companies simply can’t find enough people to staff their unskilled positions, or they can’t find enough employees with the specific skill sets that the organization needs. If numbers alone are your problem, then casting a wider net (in part by trying one of the two strategies mentioned above) might help. But if you’re mostly faced with a lack of skilled workers, you need to tackle this challenge before your future employees enter the workforce. For example, partner with local high schools to establish programs to give students the training they’ll need to be able to fill skilled positions after graduation. Reaching out to groups that are underrepresented in your industry (for example, women make up about 47% of the labor force but only 27% of the manufacturing workforce) is another strategy that can help you find the skilled workers you need.
Companies will always need workers, and people will always need jobs. Most of the time, those two interests align for mutual benefit. When there’s a skills gap, though, both sides struggle to meet. Fortunately, companies can bridge that gap—by thinking outside the box and exploring new strategies.