From Manufacturing to Staffing: Lessons Learned

openLike a lot of staffing executives I know, I never thought I’d be in the staffing industry. But then a funny thing happened. Let me share our story.

Back in the 1990s, my husband and I owned a national lighted sign manufacturing company called “Signs of Distinction.” We fabricated signs of all sizes and styles for clients around the U.S. In order to provide the best possible service to our clients, we maintained in-house departments for sales and marketing, accounting, customer service, engineering, purchasing, graphics, metal fabricating, welding, electrical, plastic injection, painting, woodworking, neon fabrication, shipping and receiving, warehousing, and delivery and installation.

As you might expect, our business had a lot of peaks and valleys in the workload, and we regularly used temps as a way to meet demand (we were one of those dream middle market clients who regularly use staffing services). But I have to tell you that we were rarely happy with the staffing vendors we used. Too often, we felt as if we were being sent little more than a warm body whose sole skills were the ability to breathe and walk upright. Even worse, when we did get that star employee, he or she would mysteriously be pulled away to another client any time we got near the point where we could convert the person to our payroll at no cost. Despite being a potentially great client for staffing firms in our area, we were never happy clients of the staffing industry.

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In 2000, we sold our sign business. After brief period of semi-retirement, the entrepreneurial bug bit us again, and my husband and I decided to start a new company. And you guessed it, we thought staffing would be a perfect industry for us. We believed (and we still do) that the lessons of manufacturing apply exceptionally well to staffing. At our sign company, everything we did was based around structured operating procedures. We had strong quality initiatives in place to ensure that we consistently delivered the products and services our clients demanded. And we developed the internal skills and departments to effectively and efficiently service our clients, which gave us a significant competitive advantage over other firms with more limited capabilities.

In our staffing business, we’ve tried to apply these lessons. We put quality first. We created standard operating procedures that enable us to consistently deliver quality workers. We also made client needs paramount. We recognized that many manufacturers use staffing services as a pipeline for future hires, so rather than yank our temps away when they near their conversion hours, we encourage our clients to work with us to build temp-to-hire talent pipelines. We also work with our clients to find ways to reduce labor costs and drive productivity by managing their staffing function more intelligently. At our firm, the definition of success is when the client hires our employee. There’s no surer sign that we made the right placement. And last, and most important, we run our firm based on our strong personal morals, values and business ethics.

Now you might say that the things we’ve done at WorkSource Staffing are not very unique. There are lots of staffing firms that value quality, put clients first, and live by strong values. However, if you ask our clients, they’ll tell you that in light industrial staffing there are too many firms that don’t live up to these simple standards. And it’s those firms that give staffing a bad rap, cause our services to be commoditized, and have led (at least in part) to the excessive pressure on margins.

Maybe if more staffing firm owners would spend time working in manufacturing, and studying how our clients’ businesses operate, we could further elevate the perception of our industry, the value we deliver, and the success of our firms.

 

 

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