Instant Staffing Solutions
The high volume of temporary and seasonal workers that fuel Alaska’s industries make it stand out among other states.
Temporary work opportunities benefit employers and employees
The high volume of temporary and seasonal workers that fuel Alaska’s industries make it stand out among other states. Alaska’s staffing agencies offer a variety of services specific to Alaska to help companies acquire the workforce they need to fill temporary and seasonal positions.
Alaska has the highest number of seasonal workers in the nation, and monthly employment fluctuations indicate the cyclic nature of jobs in Alaska, especially in places like Bristol Bay and Denali National Park. In 2017, for example, total nonfarm employment consistently rose from 310,000 in January to 353,100 in July—a difference of 43,100 jobs, according to the Alaska Department of Labor. Some of the largest employment swings in Alaska happen in the fishing, construction, and tourism industries, all of which depend heavily on seasonal workers.
While the state’s economists can track seasonal employment, it’s not easy to quantify the number of temporary workers in Alaska, says Dan Robinson, chief of research and analysis at the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce and Development. That’s partly because staffing agencies apply varying hiring practices for non-permanent workers. And some individuals who start out as temps may be converted to permanent employees later, making it difficult to accurately enumerate their transition. “It’s hard to isolate it in the standard data sets that are produced from the state/federal statistical agencies,” Robinson says.
Christopher St. John
Seasonal Versus Temporary Workers
Seasonal workers are essentially part of the temporary workforce—but there are subtle distinctions between the two types of employees. Seasonal hiring is usually pre-planned during a specific time period, which, in Alaska, is particularly during summer months, according to Christopher St. John, district manager of Kelly Services. “Businesses typically know how many additional employees and what skill-sets will be needed,” he says.
On the other hand, companies generally hire temporary employees to offset a staffing void—such as vacation time and maternity leave—or to fill a temporary gap within business operations.
A temporary employee can be placed onsite anywhere from two days to six months, says Paula Bradison, president of Alaska Executive Search (AES). While temporary staffing arrangements vary, the client may not have a specific job description for the employee and the work may be outlined later. However, seasonal work is generally more defined. “With seasonal employment, you know when it’s going to begin and end, such as with the fishing season,” she says. “With temp workers, it’s more project-based.”
Companies often request temporary staffing at short notice to gear up for times of high demand, according to Michael Houston, CPC, CTS, chief marketing officer of Opti Staffing Group. “Temporary staffing as a whole is great because it affords businesses the chance to augment staff levels as workflow increases or decreases,” says Houston, who is based in Oregon. “From a candidate perspective, it allows them flexibility in their work schedule and an opportunity to try different roles on to see what fits them.”
Temporary Staffing Options
Staffing agencies offer a range of services for companies that need workers for non-permanent gigs. For example, Opti Staffing Group, which primarily focuses on long-term, full-time placements, provides temporary employees through a “working interview” or temp-to-hire model. The company uses this option to help clients with staff augmentation typically on a contract basis. “Sometimes it’s for a specific project,” Houston says. “For example, we’re working with a firm that’s building oil barracks, and we’ve placed a bunch of people with the trades crafts. That’s temporary in nature, but it’s not the typical temporary situation of needing someone to fill in for a day or for a few hours.”
Left to right: Michael Houston, chief marketing officer; Avonly Lokan-Smith, CEO; and Ron Hansen, chief financial officer of Opti Staffing Group.
Opti Staffing Group works with clients in a broad range of industries, from manufacturing and construction to real estate, accounting, and insurance. Its typical customer is a privately-owned, mid-cap company with 20 to 200 employees. With offices in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, the agency has access to job candidates from various markets. “However, the majority of candidates we place reside in the markets we are serving,” Houston says. “In the case of Alaska, the majority are from Anchorage or surrounding areas and are full-time residents.”
Kelly Services supplies temporary workforce solutions mainly for Alaska clients in the oil and gas, healthcare, law, and telecommunications industries as well as Alaska Native Corporations. Most of these clients rely on the agency to provide qualified candidates on a temporary basis. The specific skill sets required are determined during a customer needs assessment or, in some cases, through an up-to-date job description to match the best candidate to the position. “All Kelly employees are prescreened and interviewed by our highly experienced recruiters,” St. John says.
Other clients in Alaska prefer Kelly Services’ temp-to-hire arrangement, which allows them to “try out” employees prior to hiring them. After an employee has worked a period of time ranging between thirty and ninety days, the customer can evaluate if the employee is a good fit for their company. If both the customer and employee feel they have a good match, the hiring process moves forward.
Of Kelly’s temporary employees, 90 percent working in Alaska are sourced from within the state. However, if a customer is open to relocation provisions, Kelly can recruit candidates across the United States and, in some cases, globally. “It really depends on the client’s needs and willingness to support relocation benefits,” St. John says.
Personnel Plus Employment Agency is a full-service firm that provides temporary staffing services for everything from snow removal to administrative services. The Anchorage agency has been in business since 1989, and it has between 400 and 600 employees, depending on the time of year. “We always say let us do the hiring so you can get back to running your business,” says President Cindy Schebler.
Become an Industry Sponsor
Companies often turn to Personnel Plus when they want to hire temp and have them run on the agency’s payroll. In this case, Personnel Plus will send over the most suitable individual who meets the company’s job description. “They can ‘test drive’ the employee, and if they’re not satisfied during that first four hours, we will replace them,” Schebler says. “Rarely do we have to replace an employee.”
Like most agencies, Personnel Plus offers a temp-to-perm option. If a company is satisfied with a temporary worker, it can convert the individual to its own payroll.
Employers can also opt to convert permanent workers to Personnel Plus. In this case, they would send the individuals to the agency, which would have them complete a W-9 form and place them on their payroll. Then the employees would continue going to their job as usual. “We’re just on paper as the employer, doing their payroll, W-2s, and the rest of the paperwork,” Schebler says. “The employees are still supervised by the same boss they had before.”
For this service, Personnel Plus normally charges 3 percent to 5 percent of the employer’s payroll and carries their workers’ compensation insurance. “If you are paying a bookkeeper $2,500 a month, we can often do it for much less than that,” Schebler says.
AES, which has about sixty employees, focuses on sourcing temporary personnel for medical and IT high-level executive positions. The company has placed engineers, architects, nurses, and even interim CEOs throughout Alaska. The average AES client is a mid-size company that uses the agency to complement its human resource efforts. “We work in unison with HR departments,” Bradison says.
Not surprising, about 90 percent of AES temporary workers come from within Alaska. The remaining 10 percent include people who want to “try out” the state before they commit to a permanent move or employers who bring individuals up to Alaska as temps as a strategic part of the initial hiring process. “We offer them the opportunity to bring an employee in as a temp worker and alleviate the initial cost and time of onboarding,” Bradison says.
The recession in Alaska has encouraged some employers to take a forward-thinking but tentative approach to hiring, Bradison says. “Many people are hiring folks for what they need now while they are transitioning their team for what they need tomorrow,” she says. “Sometimes employers find that the worker is such a good fit that they convert them on to full-time, permanent employment.
How Agencies Work with Clients and Employees
Staffing agencies use diverse approaches when working with clients and temporary employees. At Kelly, customers are offered a comprehensive staffing solution that includes talent sourcing. According to St. John, Kelly has been recruiting qualified candidates for more than seventy years, and it has expertise recruiting and attracting talent. To find job candidates, Kelly uses proven advertising and marketing strategies and posts a client’s job description on every major job board throughout Alaska and the contiguous United States, St. John says. But the agency also goes beyond these traditional tactics. He explains, “Kelly understands that there is an untapped pool of qualified talent that aren’t always actively looking for a new job, so it’s key to use a varied recruiting approach such as social media marketing, local networking events, and community involvement to connect with this segment.”
The agency’s recruiting teams have access to a strong internal network of resources and leadership. “We also look to our existing talent pool for referrals and have a relationship with the Alaska Job Center Network, along with other workforce development partnerships we’ve built throughout the state,” he says.
So how much does Kelly charge to locate temporary employees? It depends, St. John says. Contracts vary from customer to customer, based on the scope of the services needed.
Opti Staffing focuses more on the quality of placements than the quantity, so it delves deep into the marketplace and candidate pool to vet employees, Houston says. As part of its unique process, Opti uses recruiters who double as salespeople: One person is responsible for meeting and getting to know the customer and understanding what they are seeking in terms of the candidate’s skill set. That same individual also does the recruiting and vetting of candidates. “It makes the recruiters truly vested in the outcome,” Houston says. “They have a vested interest in the candidate’s success and the customer’s success.”
Job candidates at Opti get a face-to-face interview that is tailored to the specific position as well as to the candidate. The agency checks the references, previous employment, education, and background of the candidates prior to placement. It administers various tests, including a “Fit Factor” personality assessment to determine if they will work well with a particular organization. Of course, workers can end an assignment at any time if they feel a job doesn’t suit them.
With its temp-to-hire model, Opti Staffing charges an hourly rate and handles the withholding and filing of taxes as well as providing medical and other benefits. The hourly rate, which is determined by the employee’s job and the length of the contract, typically includes a markup of about 90 percent. So if the employees’ salary is $20 per hour, the employer would pay about $38. This rate may be more than what other agencies charge, Houston says, but it reflects the company’s focus on high quality and effectiveness.
Personnel Plus Employment Agency spends an extensive amount of time scrutinizing employees to make sure they’re the best fit for clients. Not only does the agency conduct standard skill assessments, drug testing, and background checks, but it can also ensure workers who handle cash are bondable. The company also sizes up employees in terms of their character, disposition, and behavior. “A lot of the hiring process has to do with finding people with the right personality.”
Personnel Plus’ fee for finding temporary employees varies according to the job. For clerical, the fee is 1.6 percent of whatever the payroll is, while for more injury-prone laborer, it could be as much as 1.85 percent. However, the agency is flexible. “If we have someone who will work with us and who has 200 employees,” Schebler says, “we will give them a 1.4 percent fee.”
In terms of the employee pay scale, Schebler says her agency normally does not work with companies wanting to pay less than $12 an hour.
AES has a different business model when it comes to finding and placing temporary employees. The agency maintains an ongoing and extensive search for qualified candidates. Bradison explains, “We work twelve months out of the year interviewing for a temporary workforce so that, when the phone call comes in from a client, we have an employee to deploy.”
The agency goes through a rigorous screening process with employees. This includes testing to make sure workers have baseline skills as well as competency testing for specific positions such as IT jobs. “We spend a lot more money up front in advance of them being put in front of our client,” Bradison says.
The challenge is to get businesses to look at temp workers differently, Bradison says. Employers should realize that staffing agencies have access to a wide variety of people with different objectives. Some workers are recent college graduates who have zero work experience and are looking for a way to establish a work history. Alaska Executive Search gives them the unique opportunity to work at different places to determine what type of company they would like to work for and, at the same time, have an income and benefits. At the other end of the spectrum, the agency works with people who are approaching the latter part of their career. They’re not ready to retire, but they want more job flexibility.
Employers can benefit from hiring both of these demographics. “We can get really well qualified employees and even over qualified people who may want the flexibility to take several weeks or even months off work,” Bradison says. “Temporary staffing is the best of both worlds.”
AES’ fee is generally a straight percentage of the employee’s salary and depends on the service agreement. However, AES’ published fee is 1.7 times the employee’s hourly pay. So, for example, for a $10-per-hour employee, AES would charge an employer $15 per hour.
Benefits of Staffing
Staffing agencies cite a multitude of benefits to utilizing temporary employment. For employers, a key upside is that the agency typically handles payroll and all the required paperwork. “We do the W-2s and the end-of-year reporting/tax filing,” Schebler says. “And if employees are laid off, it’s on our dime. It’s really a stress-free bookkeeping situation for employers because they don’t have to do the taxes.”
Temporary staffing also gives companies the advantages of using a temporary workforce, even if they’re located remotely. “We have a school district out in the Bush,” Schebler says. “We have never met the employer or employees, but we do direct deposit so it works.”
Using temporary workers can also be an effective way to cut expenses associated with employing full-time workers. This is especially true for small or new businesses that may not be able to afford to hire permanent employees. “If they use temporary help, they will not have to put them on their payroll,” Schebler says.
Staffing agencies can also provide a wide range of other benefits for companies and employees. Kelly, for instance, goes beyond the basics of providing management and payroll services by paying workers’ compensation insurance to the state on behalf of the employer. The company also provides healthcare benefits, unemployment insurance, ACA-compliance, and tax coordination. Kelly employees have access to an ADA-compliant healthcare benefit package through a partner healthcare company. They also receive bonuses, paid vacation, and corporate perks with more than a dozen big-brand partners, including discounts at AT&T, Best Buy, and Staples. Kelly also provides career training and professional development courses to help employees enhance their skills.
AES provides many of the standard benefits for employers as well as nice perks for its temporary workforce. Once temporary workers meet the ninety-day employment requirement, they can receive health or dental coverage, with 75 percent of the premium paid by AES. “We take good care of our AES employees, and we offer benefits as if they are working for us,” Bradison says.
As another positive side to using temporary staff, companies can receive an immediate fix without the commitment of hiring a particular employee. “This gives employers and the employee an opportunity to get to know each other and make sure it’s a good fit—without having to go throughout the whole HR process,” Bradison says.
Having an instant employment solution can be especially beneficial for businesses during peak season when they need to ramp up quickly. It can also be advantageous to have a worker available to step in during the absence of permanent employees and at least cover their baseline duties. “It’s a benefit for the employee to not come back to piles of work,” Bradison says. “It also benefits the companies’ customers to have someone fill the position while the regular employee is away so that customer service is not negatively impacted.”
From an employee perspective, temporary staffing can be a viable way for applicants to get their foot in the door with an organization. It can also facilitate an employee’s relocation to a new area or potential career transition.
While temporary employment arrangements offer flexibility for companies as well as employees, it can be a double-edged sword. As one of the downside, the company might not be able to get that same workers back next year, and sometimes there is a learning curve. And one potentially negative aspect for temporary workers is that they only get paid if they’re deployed and actively working.
Regardless of the pros and cons, if all parties in the temporary staffing equation fulfill their respective responsibilities, temporary staffing is a viable arrangement. Bradison explains: “Temporary workers at AES are obligated to meet the employer’s standard of operation. Our job is to understand what that is, including core values and professional acumen. The employer’s job is to provide a safe and healthy work environment.”
Tracy Barbour has been an Alaska Business contributor since 1999. As a former Alaskan, she is uniquely positioned to offer in-depth insight and enjoys writing about a variety of topics.
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