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January 14, 2009

Study suggests staffing model supports success for workers, employers

Two new reports from a Mott Foundation-funded, national study of alternative staffing organizations (ASOs) suggest that these unique temporary staffing programs can help low-income workers succeed in the labor market while meeting the needs of local employers.
A Foot in the Door: Using Alternative Staffing Organizations to Open Up Opportunities for Disadvantaged Workers, was released today by Public/Private Ventures (P/PV), a national nonprofit organization focused on research and program development. The Center for Social Policy (CSP) at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies simultaneously issued the report Brokering Up: The Role of Temporary Staffing in Overcoming Labor Market Barriers.
Specifically, the studies found:

  • Low-income workers frequently face barriers -- and often multiple barriers -- to employment. ASOs, by linking employment and supportive services, may help offset the negative effects of barriers on job placement, retention and wages.
  • ASOs are uniquely positioned to help their target populations obtain an immediate source of earnings, gain entry into certain companies or occupations, and build an employment track record, while also fulfilling employers’ need for a reliable workforce.
  • Employers served by the participating ASOs reported that the programs offer a solid understanding of local business needs and priorities, and provide them with workers who are better supported and prepared to perform reliably.
Alternative staffing organizations help workers step up on career ladders.
Both studies reflect findings from the second phase of the Alternative Staffing Demonstration (ASD), which was launched by the Mott Foundation in 2003. Mott support for that most recent phase, which ran from 2005 to 2008, totaled nearly $2.5 million.

ASOs, which are frequently operated by community-based agencies, integrate the business goal of mainstream temporary staffing programs -- connecting workers and employers -- with the social mission of helping marginalized members of society find and maintain jobs.

They also offer low-income workers a range of supportive services -- such as access to reliable transportation and child care -- to address barriers to employment.

The ASD is exploring how ASOs can most effectively implement these strategies; grow available job opportunities for clients; improve wages and employment retention rates for placed workers; and strengthen the financial performance of the programs themselves.

Neal Hegarty, program director of Mott’s Flint Area grantmaking, notes that the reports offer new insights into how the ASO model can support the nation’s labor market.

“Alternative staffing, by combining temporary job opportunities with supportive services, seeks to meet the needs of people who have barriers to work, as well as employers,” he said. “These findings offer an important first look at the meaningfulness and effectiveness of that approach.”

The ASOs highlighted in the new reports are EMERGE Staffing, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota; FirstSource Staffing in Brooklyn, New York; Goodwill Staffing Services of Austin, Texas; and Goodwill Staffing Services of Boise and Nampa, Idaho.

“As businesses increasingly use staffing firms to hire entry-level employees, opportunities for disadvantaged job seekers to find work on their own are more limited,” said Sheila Maguire, vice-president for labor market initiatives at P/PV. “ASOs can provide important access to jobs, as well as some of the supports that these job seekers often need. When such services help someone stay on the job longer or work more efficiently, they are also a benefit to businesses, which depend on reliable employees to remain competitive.”

While the alternative staffing model is demonstrating its value in connecting hard-to-place workers with the nation’s labor market, Françoise Carré, research director at CSP, notes that the strategy is most effective when it is part of a comprehensive, high-quality community workforce development system, including skill training.

“Alternative staffing provides an important employment opportunity for many low-income, low-skilled workers,” she said. “But it is only one path for those individuals and their families in the journey out of poverty.”

The ASD’s next phase, now underway and expected to be completed in 2011, will further study the work and earnings outcomes for ASO clients, and compare those results with the performance of low-income workers served by conventional staffing firms.

Additional information about the alternative staffing sector is available from the Alternative Staffing Alliance, a national, member-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting ASO practitioners and promoting alternative staffing as a sustainable workforce development strategy.