Member Profile: DePaul Industries, Portland, Oregon

DePaul Industries_Bart BerryYear program began: 1990
Jobseekers employed last year: 2,400, DePaul Staffing

DePaul Industries is a $40 million social enterprise based in Portland, Oregon that creates employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers. Its Staffing Services division is the largest of three complementary business lines that include Food and Consumer Goods Packaging and Security Services. With multiple branch offices in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Arizona, and Maryland, DePaul serves a variety of manufacturers and is a leading staffing supplier to the Northwest food processing industry, which has high seasonal demands for labor.

DePaul originally opened in 1971 as a job shop in Portland, Oregon for people with developmental disabilities. Although it earned a portion of its revenues from contract production, government grants were its main source of income. A decade or so later, with sharp cuts in public funding, DePaul shifted from a sheltered workshop to an affirmative business model, initially focused on manufacturing services. Over time, DePaul developed a manufacturing specialty in food packaging, ultimately expanding to a 100,000 sq. ft. plant in 2008. Meanwhile, DePaul launched its temporary staffing service in 1990 and added Security Services later that decade.

In addition to its commercial customers, DePaul contracts with the federal government as one of over 500 AbilityOne suppliers throughout the country that employ veterans and people with disabilities. Federal government contracting opportunities are coordinated through a national intermediary, SourceAmerica. DePaul currently services AbilityOne contracts in southern Arizona, Baltimore and Washington, DC, in addition to Oregon and Washington state.

Today, staffing is DePaul’s fastest growing division and generates upwards of $24 million in annual sales. DePaul continues to scale its employment of people with disabilities and job seekers with other barriers. We spoke with Bart Berry, General Manager of DePaul’s Staffing Service division to learn more.

First, what is your background and how did you get into the alternative staffing business?
I began my career in the staffing industry in 1998 as a recruiter at Aerotek, and discovered I truly enjoy this business. From there I worked at Accountants on Call and Ajilon, both of which specialize in accounting and financial services placements. Most recently I was with Adecco. I knew DePaul by reputation and pursued a branch manager opening here a couple years ago. Once I met the team and learned more about the mission, I was eager to be part of it. As of this past fall, I’ve begun managing the Staffing Service division and it’s a privilege to work with our branches throughout the US.

What is your sales mix of government staffing contracts and commercial staffing services, and how do these clients differ?
About a third of our staffing revenues are from government clients and two-thirds are from our commercial accounts. Both expect quality services. The main difference is the level of urgency and volatility of demand. Our commercial customers call us and need people “yesterday,” where the staffing needs of our government clients are more predictable.

How are candidates referred to DePaul’s staffing service?
We are constantly recruiting and we have relationships with a variety of community partners that serve veterans, people with disabilities, people transitioning from homelessness, and immigrants and refugees. Some of our referral partners are MCVET in Maryland, Easter Seals in Boise, Idaho, and Central City Concern and Goodwill’s Job Connection here in Portland.

What types of support services do you deliver to your workers?
We help candidates prepare for interviews, and to ensure good job matches, we do pre-hire tours of our client work settings. In some cases we let candidates practice a production-related task in-house to gauge their interest and capability. A lot of our staffing business in the northwest is in the food processing industry, and we train workers in the basics of entry-level food production, including certification in workplace safety, food safety and food handling.

What percentage of your staffing workers convert to external employment?
I would estimate that about half of our staffing workers ultimately transition to external employment. About 10% convert through temp-to-hire opportunities with our customers, and the rest secure outside employment on their own.

What marketing messages and methods have you found to be most effective in attracting new commercial customers?
We are very strategic in our approach to the market. We target a combination of clerical and light industrial customers, and we receive a lot of referrals from our existing customer base. In our messaging, we emphasize that we’re local and that we excel at customer service. If something goes wrong, we will fix it, and we constantly work to understand our customers’ needs and develop solutions.

What are the biggest challenges of operating a multi-state staffing service and how do you address these?
Each market is unique in its business mix and opportunities, and all the partners and players needed to accomplish what we do. We work hard to understand the nuances of each market and adapt to these, and we provide continuous coaching and peer learning among our team.

As a manager, what do you wish you had more time for?
We have good systems for virtual communication between our branch offices, but I wish there were more opportunities to get our team together in person.

What about DePaul Industries makes you most proud?
I’m proud of all the people I work with on a daily basis and of the mission we’re all working to achieve.

What are your main future goals for the Staffing Services division?
We’re looking to grow sales and placements at our existing branches and also to expand to new markets.

What advice would you offer to someone considering alternative staffing as an enterprise strategy in their community?
Know your market, both its staffing business demand and the supply and abilities of the talent you can engage. Every city is unique, and employer demand and the skills they need are constantly shifting and changing. This business is a roller coaster ride. That said, I feel blessed to be here!

To learn more, visit DePaul Industries on the web.

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