Why Staffing Firms are Critical
We all need to staff our departments, be it full time, on a project, temporary or contingent basis. Without the proper personnel, IT departments wouldn't be able to function efficiently and provide their services to support the businesses they are meant to serve. If Staffing (in all of its forms) is so important to our business, then why at times does it seem to get such a bad rap, and not seem important? That's what I want to discuss in the post.
Staffing firms have been around for a very long time and can provide resources in a variety of ways, which include Permanent Placements (fulltime hires), Consulting (hourly) or Consult to Per (try and buy scenario). This is especially true within the IT world where resources are needed very quickly to support IT organization growth, projects, short term support needs, adopting new technologies, and just general overflow of help when needed. IT Staffing continues to grow year over year and is predicted to grow in the 10%-20% range yearly within IT specialties (including niche applications, development and programming) and a smaller rate of around 4-5% within the traditional IT roles, such as storage, Microsoft, virtualization and network support. The bottom line is that more organizations are using outside Staffing firms for their IT resources needs than ever before and it appears that this trend will continue.
So why does Staffing often get a "meh" response when in fact it's so important? Here's my take. The first is that there are a lot of Staffing companies out there. And because there are a lot of them out there—and they all seem to be calling on the same customers, so the competition is fierce—customers tend to feel that Staffing firms and the services that they provide are commoditized. I think it's a wrong perception and not necessarily fair, but that is the perception, nonetheless. Because many of these Staffing companies do not necessarily have deep expertise within the areas in which they provide resources (many provide lots of different skills, not just IT), they tend to get perceived as generalists, which foments the commoditization perception.
Vicom, our firm as an example, is an IT services firm that happens to have a Staffing division. We focus only within IT and the areas in which we are strong overall as a company. Since our overall firm is built upon IT services and products, it makes it very easy to qualify, tech out and provide very strong IT resources to our customers. We have dozens of on bench resources that can interview our technical candidates before presenting them to our customers—we do this every day. It might not seem like a big differentiator but it is. We believe a big one.
We see many firms just pull resumes off of job boards (Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, etc.) and present them to customer without doing technical background checks and technical interviews. It's much more work in how we approach it in doing these checks, but we believe the quality stands out. And the pulling of resumes and sending off without technical vetting is where part of that stigma of that perception around Staffing firms. I can't tell you how many times we are in front of customers to talk about Staffing, and I can see in the look on their face, "great, another body shop", or someone who just pulls resumes off of the boards and gives them to me. And I've had customers say specifically that to me, many times. So is that perception justified? Sometimes yes, and sometimes it's a bit underserved. But that is the industry.
Another areas where we feel Staffing firms get a bad rap is within the HR departments in the mid-sized firms with which we work. In many cases the HR department is tasked with providing the resources (especially Perm or Consult to Perm position) that the IT department needs. And by the time a job request finds its way out to Staffing firms from HR, it's because the internal HR department has trouble in filling the job. And the trouble is usually around something difficult around the job, so not necessarily HR’s fault. The pay, rate, specialized skills, etc. This makes the Staffing firms become a necessarily evil for HR departments. If HR could find that difficult position, they wouldn't have to reach outside. But in reaching outside it doesn't mean the job is easier to fill. The Staffing firms working on the job will generally encounter the same issues that HR came across in their search. There’s just more people working on the job.
Another area we see is where customers just can't agree upon the right person for the job. We had one customer that told us that they talked to 63 candidates and another talked to 104 people but not of them were right for the job. Seriously? That many people and not one was a good enough candidate? That's what we call a "purple squirrel", or that thing that can never be found. If an HR department comes to us (or any other Staffing firm) and asked us to find them someone after they've spoken to 63 and 104 candidates, how confident do we feel we will able to find them the right person? It happens, but falls anywhere from extremely difficult to unlikely. Perhaps their expectations are set just a bit too high in what they need? And to be clear these expectations can be driven by either HR or the IT hiring managers that need the position. But if they have to go through that many people, will they ever find one that can be acceptable? Probably not.
So my point here is that Staffing firms can be a very strategic and important within the IT world. Customers should be a bit more understanding and not take for granted the value that their Staffing firms can bring. But conversely, Staffing firms need to understand that they need to provide value above and beyond just providing "bodies" so that customers understand the value that they bring above and beyond just providing resumes, as the resume is only the start.
So treat your Staffing firms well and continue to have high expectations from them. I recommend having a small set of Staffing firms that you trust and can rely upon when you need versus a large ecosystem with lots of partners. This will give you the value and resources you need and continue to foster partnership, which is what this is all about. And Staffing firms need to step up and give you the value that you need. That becomes a win-win for everyone and will help firms recognize how valuable their Staffing partners are and help to change that perception of commoditization to one of a partnership.
What are your thoughts around the Staffing firms that you use? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org