Some Temp Hiring Has Begun Picking Up

August 26, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — It seems employers are getting pickier when it comes to filling temporary and project-based positions.

The market demands that temporary workers be more specialized today, said Byran Blackburn, branch manager of consulting services for Robert Half Technology, a division of Robert Half International that places information technology professionals.

“The reason for that is the fact that companies that need to go outside for additional help are really going outside for expertise, and that would include anything from information technology consulting to finance and accounting,” he said.

Robert Half has six divisions that cater to different niches.

In addition to Robert Half Technology, a division known as Robert Half Finance & Accounting specializes in direct placements in those fields; Office Team specializes in temporary administrative support; Robert Half Management Resources focuses on senior level accounting and finance placements on a project basis; the Creative Group covers advertising, marketing, graphic and Web design professionals; and Accountemps places temporary accounting professionals.

“The advantage to that is that we are specialists in the fields that we specialize in,” Blackburn said.

“Companies in the West Michigan area really have a need for top talent in information technology and that’s why they come to us. Our area really has a niche in information technology and people within the state really do look to West Michigan for some of the top talent.”

Some economists use the temporary employment market as an economic indicator; temps are often the first to be hired in an upturn and first to be let go in a downturn.

In his experience, Blackburn has found that to be true.

“I definitely see a uptick in business over last year at this time. And we’ve seen quite a bit of growth here in West Michigan just in the past several months.

“We’re getting a lot of calls for networking positions as well as application development positions.”

Grand Rapids tends to be a fairly healthy market for temporary employment, the reason being that in many cases it’s more cost-effective to have an information technology person, for instance, on a consultant basis as opposed to permanently on staff, he said.

“We can see that the economy must be coming out of the downturn that we’ve had over the past 18 months or so just because of the fact that our business is picking up and it’s picking up very rapidly.”

As Matthew Peal, Kforce Inc. market manager for Grand Rapids, sees it, employers are looking for people that have not only specific technical skills, but also functional skills.

“Because the labor pool itself is larger today than it was 18 months ago, client companies are being more specific as to technical experience as well as functional experience,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest differentiator right now.”

Kforce specializes in executive and permanent placement of accounting, finance IT and engineering professionals. The company also does consulting and outsourcing in the engineering, finance and IT sectors.

Today’s employers are looking for temps with more experience and skills to bring to the table, said Susan Miller, president of AmeriTemps Staffing, which she founded seven years ago.

“They want more than just a file clerk today. They have to have more skills than that.”

AmeriTemps is a full-service employment agency serving the Grand Rapids market with both temporary and permanent placements in clerical, professional and light industrial positions.

That kind of encompasses everything, Smith said

“Catering to employers in a number of job sectors is important to an employment agency right now because of the economy and the fact that most businesses are down,” she said.

“So I think it’s important to us to be a full service agency. I’d hate to have all my eggs in one basket. My client base is also very broad.”

Smith thinks the temporary job market actually lags behind the economy a bit. She hasn’t seen a significant increase in calls for temps as yet.

And she doesn’t anticipate a significant increase until after the first of the year.

“My business is holding its own, but I haven’t seen it jump ahead.”

According to the employer associations she belongs to, business is down all over the country, like most of the economy, she said.

Smith added that in more stable economic times the Grand Rapids market is a healthy one for temporary workers.

“Regardless of what the market is like, with temps, one of the big advantages is that employers can try before they buy,” Smith said. “If the person doesn’t work out, they can just say goodbye.”

West Michigan is home to a lot of wonderful industries, from furniture to automotive to retail and wholesale and distribution, Peal said.

“These folks are looking more for that industry knowledge coupled with a technical skill set, whether it be accounting, finance, engineering or IT,” he said.

“Particularly in economic times like this, when most companies are reducing headcounts, there are still significant projects on the docket that have positive dollars attached to them, meaning the projects will pay for themselves and help save the company some money.”

At Kforce, IT and engineering services are the two groups in most demand right now.

“In the space that we play in, typically in difficult times our consulting side, or in this case our temporary workforce, actually goes up because projects still need to be done and certainly there’s ROI (return on investment) attached to it,” Peal said.

While some formidable competitors have been lost in the economic turbulence, he said that, overall, Kforce has fared better than most and has even increased its headcount and revenues.

Peal attributes some of that staying power to Kforce’s specialized sectors of staffing, the company’s diversification and “a pretty talented group of folks internally.”           

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