Hire Power

How the passage of 20 years has affected the staffing business

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

In 1984, when Business Digest of Greater Burlington (now Business People-Vermont) published its first September issue, one of our stories featured Rene LaBerge, area manager for TAD Technical Services, a company that supplied personnel for technical projects.

Rene LaBerge owns the Personnel Department Inc., a placement firm, and the Resume Doctor, a national service for job seekers, both in South Burlington.

LaBerge is still in the personnel business, although he now has his own company, Personnel Department Inc., a South Burlington firm that handles temporary and permanent placement for all kinds of jobs, and the Resume Doctor, a national service for job seekers.

Talking with LaBerge got us to thinking about the staffing business in general and wondering about the changes that have influenced it in the last 20 years.

The increase in the cost of doing business, especially workers' compensation insurance, which is looking at a double-digit increase, has had a tremendous impact on the way companies hire, says LaBerge. "We're spending so much, it's scary," he says. "When I try to compete with people outside the area, I can't compete. We have to start paying attention to these crazy regulations they're making. Businesses pass these costs on; and when the costs can't be passed on anymore, companies either go out of business or find a way to compete.

Ken Ballard, the owner of Spherion professional recruiting and staffing services in South Burlington, echoes LaBerge's sentiments on costs. "We sell ourselves as a cost-effective control," he says, "but in this market, we're experiencing the same cost-drivers as our clients are. With workers' comp, I like to use the term 'claims avoidance' versus 'claims management,'" he quips.

Personnel costs are one of the key drivers of business expense, Ballard continues. "Ways to limit and cap that are to identify positions that can be outsourced to a staffing service where they can realize more or less a cap in their expense while limiting their personnel costs salaries and benefit costs, which can sometimes consume 60 to 65 percent of operating budgets."

The desire, he says, is for clients of companies such as his and LaBerge's to become "more partners for us, because in part it allows us to get a much better skill match to meet their needs so that we know their business cycles, so we're proactive rather than reactive."

Ken Ballard owns Spherion recruiting and staffing services in South Burlington.

Both Ballard and LaBerge say that the mentality of the job seeker has changed dramatically. "I have to believe," says Ballard," that in a tight economy, job seekers view us as an alternative to finding a job in an otherwise scarce job market. We have some jobs with very competitive pay rates that allow people to gain lots of experience. I think the job seekers themselves show us a little bit more respect for what we're trying to accomplish for our client base."

To help job seekers in their efforts to secure temporary and permanent employment, LaBerge launched Resume Doctor about six to seven years ago. "We started seeing so many screwy resumes, we invariably had to rewrite about half of the resumes coming through our department before we could send them to people," says LaBerge. "In the old days, it wasn't quite so important how a resume was formatted, but today, almost all of them are stored electronically, so if it doesn't meet certain criteria, it doesn't store, and you get lost in the shuffle."

Being Internet-friendly is of prime importance one of the top three major mistakes job seekers make when it comes to resumes says Mike Worthington, who runs the Resume Doctor part of LaBerge's business. Resumes must be formatted properly, he says, or they will not post or upload well to job boards; will not post or upload well into tracking systems used by recruiters and human resources departments; and will not read well on a computer screen.

Rene LaBerge's team. From left, seated: Jenna Brown, PDI; LaBerge; Jamie Morrison, PDI; Hyun Ok Min, Resume Doctor. Standing: Ann Everhart, Resume Doctor; Brigit Bamberger, PDI; Annette Medor, PDI; Sue Waters, PDI; Bonnie Blondin Cronan, PDI; Michael Worthington, Resume Doctor.

The proliferation of major job boards, such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder, has made this formatting imperative, says Worthington. "The resume gets you past the gatekeeper. If the resume is not a good marketing piece, if it does not convey to the reader an accurate picture of what the candidate's skills are and the level of expertise and how they specifically match the requirements of the position in five to 10 seconds, the resume has failed the job seeker. It is not uncommon for recruiters to receive 300 to 400 resumes per day, so you can imagine how little time a recruiter will actually spend reading each resume."

"Internet e-mail has dramatically improved our business," says Ballard. "Spherion Corp. is the first of the major staffing industries to go on a fully Internet-enabled front- and back-office situation. I can access my database from anywhere in the world where there's a PC."

Ballard says the Internet has changed his business in several ways. "Obviously, the speed at which we can exchange information is the big one," he says. "I can post a job immediately and I can get a response immediately. From a recruiting perspective, communicating by e-mail to clients certainly has reduced my phone bill. Also, employees are able to respond to us much less obtrusively than if they were communicating at the workplace, so it allows candidates to seek out our job 24/7."

The Internet has certainly made handling resumes easier for the employer and the recruiter. As recently as a few years ago, many companies were scanning resumes to be able to save them digitally. "When the Internet came, scanning resumes became obsolete," says Worthington. "Before, it took 10 to 15 minutes to put a guy into the system; now, it's instant."

Asked about other challenges, Ballard mentions the low unemployment market. "That obviously presents a challenge, because it causes us to really work to find candidates," he says. "We've always considered ourselves a barometer of economic activity. When our industry starts to go down, not long after, the economy slows down. The third quarter of 2002, we noticed we got real busy, and by 2003, it was economic gangbusters."

Originally published in September 2004 Business People-Vermont