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December 15, 2011

Study charts alternative staffing successes


In mid-2010, a jobless DaRell Moore was selling his own blood plasma just to survive when a friend told him that Emerge Staffing, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, was looking for workers.

He walked into the agency, which helps place hard-to-employ adults in temporary and temp-to-perm jobs, the next morning.

Alternative staffing jobs modelAlternative staffing seeks to meet the needs of both workers and employers.
“I was working that same day, and I’ve been working ever since,” said Moore, 28. He is now a permanent, full-time employee at Synovis Surgical Innovations Inc. of St. Paul, Minnesota, where he recently passed the one-year mark as a production assembler. He had worked several temporary jobs through Emerge before he started at Synovis in November 2010.

Moore’s experience is not unlike that of many former alternative-staffing workers contacted in a follow-up study for the Alternative Staffing Demonstration (ASD). The Mott Foundation has given $8.9 million in support of the demonstration since its launch in 2003.

Almost half — or 49 percent — of 855 workers contacted through the study still were employed six to eight months after landing a job through an alternative-staffing organization (ASO), according to a new report, “Finding the Right Fit: How Alternative Staffing Affects Worker Outcomes,” on the demonstration.

Of those participants who maintained employment, the study found that 48 percent to 86 percent — depending upon the ASO studied and local labor market conditions — held full-time positions. In addition, 42 percent to 74 percent reported receiving some type of employer-sponsored benefit coverage, such as health insurance and paid time off.

Out of more than 50 ASOs nationwide, researchers at the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts-Boston worked with four sites for the demonstration to find out what happens to these workers over time. [Read related press release.]

“We really didn’t know what to expect, partly because of the recession and partly because this is a population that has difficulty with employment,” said Françoise Carré, the center’s research director.

The study found that, while workers’ hourly wage rates don’t change much when they move from temporary to more permanent jobs, they still take home more in their paychecks because they work mostly full time and have steadier work hours. About half were able to “roll over” a temporary job assignment into a permanent position, notes the report.

Importantly, says Carré, many workers saw these improvements despite facing multiple barriers to employment, such as lack of a high school diploma or driver’s license, a disability, or a prior criminal conviction.

Other potential barriers to employment are being the recipient of some form of public assistance, such as welfare, food stamps or Medicaid — all of which can be used as markers of poverty — and, where child care is scarce, having to deal with daily parenting responsibilities.

Once job candidates are assessed and screened at an ASO, they may be referred to various community resources for help with particular needs, whether it’s housing, transportation, child care or completing high school.

Many of the workers are placed in entry-level jobs, ranging from clerical work, building services, maintenance and landscaping to assembly work. The fees the ASOs earn for placing workers are plowed back into helping prepare even more workers for job placement.

“These workers need a ‘broker.’ They need somebody to convey what they’re good at,” said Carré, noting it’s easy to get knocked out of the applicant pool in today’s online job application systems.

If ASOs are part of an effective anti-poverty strategy by connecting people to jobs, the report also confirms that they help fulfill the social missions of businesses that want to make a difference in their communities while meeting their business needs.

Kevin Johnson, a Synovis production manager, said it wasn’t difficult to choose Emerge over a for-profit conventional staffing agency, whose corporate headquarters are out of state.

What gave Emerge an edge was “the fact that it was nonprofit, community-based and trying to take hard-to-employ people and trying to help get them a job,” Johnson said.

Each ASO adapts the alternative-staffing model to serve its own mix of hard-to-employ adults. This helps them better prepare workers for assignments in advance of their first day on the job. Carré says that many business customers indicate that they use ASOs because they know the programs will send somebody who has been properly screened.

“There is some level of support and some level of follow-up,” she said.

Synovis has taken on eight workers through Emerge. They started as temporary and after six months to a year, as business expands, they are given full-time status.

“There are some that just need a break,” Johnson said. “DaRell is a perfect example of that.”

Moore typically works 80 hours in a two-week pay period, but sometimes clocks even more hours with overtime. Recently, he became eligible for full medical benefits.

His work history includes a variety of jobs, such as janitor and check sorter for a bank. When the economy soured, he picked up odd jobs cutting grass, detailing cars and cleaning gutters.

He made it into a second year of classes at a local community college, but left when he couldn’t pay tuition any longer. He hasn’t abandoned his college dreams. But now he has his own apartment with his girlfriend, and he will become a first-time father in January.

“It was a very stressful two years without a job and losing school at the same time,” said Moore, who now feels a “weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”

ASOs participating in the Mott-funded national demonstration are Emerge; FirstSource Staffing of Brooklyn, New York; Goodwill Staffing Services of Austin, Texas; and Suncoast Business Solutions/Goodwill Temporary Staffing of St. Petersburg, Florida.