Labor conditions in the South Featured

8:00pm EDT July 29, 2006
As the unemployment rate continues to drop in the South, more companies are turning to staffing companies to help find the employees that they need.

“We supply administrative, clerical, customer service, light industrial, human resources, IT, finance and sales and marketing employees,” says Erik Balkan, district director of Spherion, one of the largest staffing suppliers in Atlanta with an average of 16,000 employees working locally each day.

Smart Business spoke with Balkan about the booming job market in Atlanta and how staffing suppliers connect the right employees with the right jobs.

Do staffing suppliers provide more temporary or permanent help?
It’s a solid mix of temporary, temporary-to-hire and direct hire (or permanent) placement. And the mix of clerical to industrial is about 50-50 in Atlanta as well. There are different mixes in different pockets, but it pretty much evens out in the overall picture.

How does the service performed by staffing companies work?
In a typical scenario, an employer would approach us and say, ‘I need X position filled.’ They would provide the specifics of what they are looking for and we would search through a variety of methods, from on-line searches to networking and recruiting from direct competitors of the client.

Candidates that meet the qualifications and requirements would be recommended to the client. There would be extensive training and specific behavioral interviewing, which would include more than just testing the hard skills, such as, ‘How many words can you type?’ Just as important are the soft skills, the personality and character of the candidate. How is the person going to work in the client’s environment? It helps find strong matches for the employers.

What differentiates an excellent from an average staffing service?
The really good companies use unique and proprietary software, including client resource centers and candidate resource centers, where both can log on to a network 24 hours a day from any computer. Candidates can find a lot of good information, and not just the usual, such as what jobs are open and who to contact, but also career and life resources information. They can not only learn how to build a good resume, but also how to handle his or her finances and plan for retirement.

Clients can have access in real time to an internal reporting system specifically as it relates to their accounts. Instead of having to call a branch office to get a replacement for a lost invoice, clients can log on and do it themselves. They can see activity reports on how many people the target company has working in its facilities at any time and who is getting close to overtime for the week. Clients can also place and manage orders online while viewing daily reports.

Do more clients seek candidates or vice versa?
It depends on the market. If you asked me the same question five years ago, the answer would have been a whole lot more candidates coming in looking for jobs. Now the opposite is true because the market is so tight. Unemployment is so low and many of those who are unemployed are basically unemployable. Now, employers are coming to us and asking that we find them great candidates.

The candidates we see now tend to be the passive job-seekers. They are not people that are out of work but might be looking for something different. They don’t need to find a job tomorrow, but would like to find something better down the road than what they already have.

Why is unemployment so low in the South?
Florida’s rate is even lower than Atlanta - less than 4 percent.

Atlanta has always been a hotspot for businesses and education. A lot of big companies are headquartered here - such as Coke, UPS and Home Depot - and even more have come here since the city hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics. Those larger companies have spurred a number of smaller companies that live off the big guys.

There is a lot of opportunity here. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, and has been for a while. Also, there is a lot of new construction here, driving the need for more employees.

ERIK BALKAN is district director of Spherion Staffing Services in Atlanta. Reach him at (404) 250-0009 or