NEWS

Short-time workers, long-term demand

Nate Legue

Ken Westcott knows a little bit about staffing companies.

As the manager of a heat-treating plant, Westcott came to rely on those firms to provide workers to meet customer orders, sometimes on a day’s notice.

“I’ve been to a lot of temporary services,” Westcott said. “Some are OK, some are so-so, and some are really terrible. Some are bad at helping your company out.”

Then he was laid off and found himself needing the very employment office that he once used to find his own staff. Now a plant manager for One Source Recycling Inc., Westcott found his new job through a temp-to-hire position with Workplace.

Westcott’s experience underscores the growing influence of the temporary work force in manufacturing, clerical, health-care and other industries. With flexibility and responsiveness demanded in nearly every market, more employers want a fluid work force, to outsource complicated human resources operations and, for manufacturers in particular, to scale their staff quickly in response to business.

The result has been a huge increase in workers in the staffing industry, which nearly tripled since 1990 in terms of average daily employment, according to the American Staffing Association, a trade group.

Starting in 1990, the industry’s employment growth “handily outpaced” overall job growth in 13 of the next 17 years, according to a 2007 report from the ASA. Also, one in 11 nonfarm workers had a job with a staffing company at some point during 2006.

It’s not hard to see why companies have come to rely on temporary staff. A 1999 survey by the American Management Association found that 91 percent of HR managers at more than 1,200 firms listed “flexibility in staffing issues” as important, and 95 percent said they were using staffing companies to achieve it.

“I can get you five people in the door tomorrow, which is much faster than any human resources office, because that’s all I do all day: screen and hire workers,” said LoRayne Logan, founder and president of Workplace.

That service was what Westcott needed when he ran the heat-treat job shop. Customer orders had to be filled, regardless of whether he was at full staff. Many companies, especially smaller ones, use staffing firms to handle the HR functions and the inherent risk in bringing on a new employee. Dickey Staffing Solutions focuses on providing permanent employees after a 60- to 90-day trial period, General Manager Kurt Dickey said.

“It’s a ‘try before you buy’ type of situation,” Dickey said. “It’s tough to put it in that frank of terms, but that’s what it is. It’s hard to go through a three-month amount of time without showing your true colors.”

The regional employment market attracts even national chains. Aerotek, a Maryland-based staffing firm with a huge Schaumburg office, opened shop in Rockford a month ago. The company hopes to carve out a niche in skilled technical occupations as well as recruiting for manufacturing and distribution jobs, account executive Erin Bland said.

Locally owned job agencies dominate the market here. Even mom-and-pop staffing companies can eke out a living on a few contracts with local employers.

“Somebody working for Manpower or another company says, ‘I can do a better job than this,’” Bland said. “So he steals one client, opens up a company in his garage. He may have only three companies, but he’s making $500,000 a year.”

Nate Legue at (815) 987-1346 or nlegue@rrstar.com.

Do you need a staffing service?

Nearly a quarter of companies with 100 employees or more use staffing services, but only 12 percent of companies with 25 to 99 employees get temporary workers from employment agencies, according to the American Staffing Association.

Here are some reasons local staffing executives gave for companies to use their firms:

They’re struggling with turnover. High-turnover jobs, such as call centers and customer service, can rely on staffing companies when they need quick hires.

Their workflow is unpredictable. Staffing firms can respond quickly to jumps in production, and letting temporary workers go when business drops off is easier because they remain employees of the agency.

They’re too small to have an HR officer. Staffing firms can do the screening, give the drug tests, pay the unemployment insurance and perform other tasks that can be overwhelming for a small company.

So you’ve decided you need a temp service. How do you find the right company? Here’s some questions to ask yourself:

What kind of business are you in? Different agencies specialize in finding workers for different industries. Many in the Rockford area supply manufacturing workers, but some carve niches in professional, distribution and other sectors.

What kind of worker do you need? Some agencies provide pure temporary workers for just a few days, weeks or months. Others try to place workers on a track for permanent employment. And some line up project-based contracts with professionals like engineers or accountants.

How much do you want to pay? To defer all your search work for qualified personnel to a staffing agency will cost you. Less expensive firms are out there, but they may be better suited for providing temporary help than finding potential long-term employees.