What is the forecast for staffing industry in the year ahead?
In a word(s): The “big squeeze” in the staffing industry will continue in 2012 as clients maintain downward pressure on rates, reduce the number of staffing vendors and recruiters they work with and demand perfection from an American workforce of uneven quality.
The statistics show: Demand for contingent labor is still slack. Employment in the “temporary help services” category stagnated at about 2.3 million workers in the last three months of 2011, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the supply of staffing firms tightened, only to the extent that many agencies folded or merged in the 2007-2009 recession and its lingering aftermath.
Which staffing firms and recruiters will have the best chance to thrive in these cutthroat conditions? The ones that dare to specialize, to pick a successful niche and mine it for all it’s worth.
Here are some top ideas for supplying skilled workers as a unique service, under a compelling talent brand that doesn’t try to be all things to all employers.
Mom Corps: Sourcing Seasoned Professionals Who Are Working Mothers
Staffing firm Mom Corps’ recipe for success begins with an underutilized source of top talent: young women who want to continue their established professional careers while bringing up children.
“Our talent is not in the general workforce,” says Allison O’Kelly, CEO of Atlanta-based Mom Corps. “So we spend a lot of time identifying members of this pool of experienced talent that’s largely untapped.” Mom Corps places working mothers in roles ranging from office manager to network engineer.
Among Moms Corps’ special challenges in making a match: sourcing professional moms who may be passive candidates, and matching the scheduling needs of white-collar parents and their prospective employers.
Moms Corps’ offer is based on professional excellence at superior value. By allowing non-traditional, flexible work arrangements that often include some telecommuting, “clients can pay less for office space, and we don’t bill for professionals’ time at high-end rates,” O’Kelly says.
Interim Executives: Thriving in the Open Waters of an Emerging Market
Most recruitment firms crave executive searches and their five-figure-and-up commissions. But firms that carve out a different niche are less likely to drown in a sea of a thousand staffing solutions providers.
That’s part of what spells success for Cerius Interim Executive Solutions.
“Small to midsized companies bring us in because they lack specific management expertise -- say they want to go into the international market,” says Pamela Wasley, CEO of the Irvine, Calif., firm.
“Big companies come to us because they’re having trouble finding the right executive and they need someone to run the ship” in the meantime.
The trick for Cerius is to get prospective clients to consider an interim employment arrangement, rather than automatically mounting a search for a permanent hire or engaging a consultant.
“The interim executive model is not well-known in our target market of small to midsized companies,” says Wasley. “But they love the idea when they find out about it.”
Filling the Training Gap
Everybody frets over the talent gap, but few staffing firms offer a true solution -- in the form of contingent staffing -- workers who consistently come fully trained for the assignment at hand.
“I want temps to have at least a semblance of team-building skills -- the attitudes, behaviors and actions of being a team member,” says Tim Whitney, a vice president of Naturich Labs with long experience using contingent labor.
“No one in the staffing industry is focusing on this; temp services just throw people at the client’s problem until somebody sticks. Temp services should be doing more training, to take pressure off the client’s frontline managers.”
If your firm can develop the consultative chops to assess the clients’ very specific needs and deliver the talent that can do the job from day one, you’ve got a staffing service offering that can succeed.
Too Small for the Big Guys
Another niche strategy for smaller staffing firms: Pitch specific talent that’s in demand but hard to find in your geographic area.
“Basically the buyers want to know if someone can deliver a certain skill in a certain region,” says Tony Gregoire, senior research analyst at Staffing Industry Analysts in Mountain View, Calif. “Maybe there’s an opportunity for a niche supplier in a certain location that’s too small for bigger staffing firms.”
Finally, remember that more and more employers are no longer willing to engage with agencies that simply put derrieres in chairs.
“Staffing firms are taking a more consultative role than the old transactional model,” says Richard Walquist, president of the American Staffing Association, a trade group in Alexandria, Va. “They look at your demand cycles going in and out of a recession, and optimize your workforce over time.”