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The Temp Match Game

October 3, 2003
Related Topics: Contingent Staffing, Recruitment
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Linda Zumstein still remembers the anger on a former client’s face. As branch manager of a staffing agency, Zumstein had been asked to fill an order for five temporary workers. The job entailed little more than photocopying legal documents for a local company. But what began as an easy enough assignment ended in absolute disaster. "Every day I walked in there, the client was in my face screaming," Zumstein recalls. "It was getting worse by the minute."

    What went so horribly wrong? Zumstein says that she made the honest mistake of providing her client with contingent workers who simply couldn’t do the job. That was 20 years ago. Now she runs her own training and testing firm, L. Zumstein & Company, but the effects of the mismatch long ago still reverberate.

    "We were kicked out, and I could never get back into that client’s company," Zumstein says. "None of my sales reps could ever get past the lobby. It was awful."

    To this day, she doubts that her former employer has been able to win back that company’s business, and the experience taught her this: No organization can afford to take any chances on the quality of its contingent workforce. The right temps can help increase revenues, whittle down labor costs, enhance productivity and improve employee morale. Failure to match a candidate’s qualifications with a position’s demands, however, can result in ruin.

    Marc Pramuk, program manager for human resources management and staffing services at IDC, says, "Depending on their role, temps can touch a lot of things that really impact a company’s brand, reputation in the marketplace and customer experiences." Poorly trained customer-support representatives can chase consumers into the arms of competitors. Temps who don’t quite fit in with a company’s corporate culture can anger and frustrate full-time employees. And disgruntled temps can lead to high turnover rates.

    Laura Sarna, president of Dallas Training and Consulting Services Inc., says that a high turnover of temps necessitates the constant training and initiating of new temps, all of which can result in a long-term drain on productivity.

Good temps save big bucks 
    Despite the problems inherent in hiring temps, the demand for contingent workers shows no sign of waning. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 122,000 new temporary jobs have been created since April. There were 42,000 new temp jobs in July alone. Using the year 2000 as a benchmark, the agency predicts that the contingent workforce will double by 2010, compared to a 15 percent increase in full-time workers during the same decade. Yet questions remain about how to get the most out of contingent workers. Who should be responsible for ensuring that a temp is really right for the position? Is it the staffing agency or a hiring manager? How can you quantify the impact of using temps?

    Julie Sorci has some answers. Sorci, manager of staffing at MidAmerican Energy Holdings, says the Iowa-based company made every mistake in the book when it came to finding suitable candidates for its call center. An antiquated pen-and-paper test was used to assess most temporary workers. For every 15 hires, 40 candidates were tested at an administrative cost of $150 each, a total of $6,000. The company’s hiring managers relied on as many as 25 different staffing agencies, thereby failing to ensure consistency in quality-of-hire and hourly wages. And temps that were fed up with MidAmerican Energy’s disorganized recruitment process accounted for a turnover rate of 25 percent.

    "It was a nightmare," Sorci recalls. The situation markedly improved when MidAmerican Energy teamed up with Manpower Inc. in 1998. Today, Manpower administers a series of tests to assess a candidate’s skills in areas such as typing, customer service and problem solving. The staffing agency then issues a report outlining each candidate’s job suitability according to standards set by MidAmerican Energy itself. The process has enabled the company to dramatically reduce its turnover rate from 25 to 7 percent.


"There are many organizations out there that are great at filling the job quickly, but they’re just getting a
warm body in the chair for you. They’re great at time-to-fill but
poor on getting the right fit."


    "The turnover rate is critical," Sorci says. "There are many organizations out there that are great at filling the job quickly, but they’re just getting a warm body in the chair for you. They’re great at time-to-fill but poor on getting the right fit." Manpower not only promises Mid-American Energy a good match, but it also pays for pre-employment testing. This partnership has resulted in huge cost savings. Sorci estimates that for every 15 temps Manpower places, the company saves $6,000 in testing, $29,000 in such costs as Social Security and benefits, $1,200 in in-house recruiting costs such as having to pay administrators to sift through résumés, and $4,000 in advertising expenses--a total savings of $40,200.

    Finding the right fit for a temporary position requires looking beyond technical prowess, says Julie Ward, branch manager of Abigail Abbott in Santa Ana, California. She says that it’s a staffing agency’s responsibility to select candidates who not only have the necessary technical skills but also can mesh with a client’s corporate culture. Abigail Abbott accomplishes this by hiring customer-service representatives whose sole responsibility is to visit clients once a month. These customer-service representatives assess temporary workers’ productivity, meet with supervisors and human resources administrators, and familiarize themselves with the company’s corporate environment.

    "Having our staff supervisors filling orders out there, working with a customer one-on-one, allows us to make a better match," Ward says. "Having clients trying to communicate their corporate culture over the phone is difficult."

Determining intentions
    Assessing corporate culture is only one part of the puzzle when searching for suitable temps. Stan Redman, senior human resources manager at American Suzuki, says that it’s important to ascertain a temporary worker’s long-term employment goals. For example, is a temp willing to maintain a flexible work arrangement or does he view a part-time assignment as a possible bridge to full-time employment?

    Given American Suzuki’s seasonal business model, it’s easy to understand why temporary workers’ intentions are important to Redman. His company has long relied on Abigail Abbott to find temporary workers for its call center. Suzuki specializes in the sale of motorcycles, and its call-center demands are strictly seasonal. Because of these temporal constraints, Redman says, it’s not uncommon for call-center workers to seek full-time, year-round employment within the company. It’s a never-ending source of frustration for Suzuki’s call-center manager, who provides temps with 30 days of intense training and then often finds himself back at the drawing board as temporary workers make their way onto the company payroll.

    So how can a recruiter learn what a temp’s intentions are? There is no easy answer, Redman says. But he will say that hiring managers, staffing agencies and contingent workers must all learn to be as precise as possible when communicating temporary workers’ long-term goals, companies’ expectations and skills requirements. Melanie Holmes, senior vice president of assessment and development at Manpower, agrees that communication is integral to the matchmaking process. She says that companies play a significant role in the placement of temporary workers. Finding the perfect fit means that they must provide a staffing agency with sufficient information about a particular job.

    "One of the challenges we have is getting customers to take enough time to really give us detailed job descriptions and information about the work the temporary employee is going to do," Holmes says. "If a customer doesn’t give us that information, it’s very difficult for us to make a good match."

    Finding the right candidate often entails partnering with the right staffing agency. Denny Clark, senior vice president and director of recruiting solutions at Wachovia Corporation, recalls a time when the financial services company relied on literally hundreds of vendors for its contingent workers. "We had so many vendors who were out there doing business with us, we couldn’t get our arms around what they were charging us and what kind of quality they were bringing to us," Clark says. Desperate to whittle down the company’s roster of vendors and to gain control of costs, Clark turned to White Amber’s workforce-management software.

    This Web-based tool enables companies to streamline their staffing-agency process, from gathering bids to negotiating prices. By providing increased visibility into the procurement process, it helps companies identify those staffing agencies that provide the best workers. White Amber’s customers typically save 12 to 20 percent annually by ensuring that each position is filled with the right person at the most cost-effective rate.

    Since implementing the software last year, Wachovia has seen significant benefits, including cost savings, reduced turnover rates and higher-caliber contingent workers. The company now depends on about half the vendors it once used for its nearly 7,000 temps and has greatly simplified its staffing-agency sourcing process.

    There are those, however, who argue that technology cannot measure up to a long-nurtured relationship between a staffing agency and its clients. "We’re not trying to replace the human element," says Michael Cruz, executive vice president, client services, at White Amber. Technology cannot determine a great cultural fit, Clark adds. "What it does do, though, is give you the ability to take the data that you’re gathering about performance and analyze that data so that you can then assess the companies that are giving you great talent."

Workforce Management, October 2003, pp. 49-51 -- Subscribe Now!

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