Member Profile: Harmon Personnel Services, Greenfield, Massachusetts

Harmon PersonnelEnterprise sponsor: Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire, and North Quabbin Regions
Job seekers employed last year: 336

Harmon Personnel operates in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, a rural region of small, historic downtowns amid prime farmland. Harmon’s parent, Community Action, serves some 27,000 people annually, providing fuel assistance and other essential food and shelter-related supports, along with early childhood education and youth development, including workforce development. Harmon Personnel is Community Action’s main employment services initiative, acquired in 2007 as a going concern.

Pictured: Kristin Peterson and Mark Smith

Community Action has recently hired Mark Smith as Harmon’s new Sales and Operations Manager, and is taking steps to integrate Harmon more closely with Community Action to increase cross-referrals for employment and human services. We recently spoke with Community Action’s Director of Operations, Kristin Peterson, along with Mark Smith, who has relocated from Houston, Texas where he was instrumental in the development and launch of our member Trusted Employment Solutions while at Cenikor.

How did Community Action get into the staffing business?
One of our Board members owned Harmon Personnel and made it possible for us to acquire the company when he retired. Although Harmon was a for-profit business, it was very worker-centered in its practices of taking time to get to know and understand individual candidates and providing generous health and vacation benefits to long-term temps. The culture and reputation of the firm were a good fit with Community Action so we took it over as a wholly-owned subsidiary and converted it to a nonprofit.

What job seeker population does Harmon Personnel recruit and support?
Our target candidates are people living with lower incomes, who by default tend to have diverse barriers to employment.

How are candidates referred to your staffing service?
We receive most of our referrals from our other temporary workers, the Career Center, and word-of-mouth. We also advertise in the local newspaper, as needed.

What types of support services have you found to be most critical to your workers’ success? We take time and care in getting to know individual candidates in order to make job matches that are a good fit for them, and we offer self-directed training resources to enhance their job readiness. That said, the main barriers to our workers’ success are lack of transportation and child care, low literacy rates, and the seasonality of many industries in our region.

What types of employers do you serve?
We serve a variety of manufacturers and food production and food processing businesses, and we supply staff to public and private schools and to retailers. We also provide general office and landscaping and building/grounds maintenance support to a range of companies.

What marketing messages and methods have you found to be most effective in attracting new customers?
Harmon enjoys a good reputation so word-of-mouth is a prime source of customer referrals. We also actively participate with the area Chamber and connect with prospective clients through Community Action’s involvement with various human services and industry coalitions. One example of a very successful collaboration is “Wake Up Wednesdays,” a series of free HR-related workshops Harmon has co-hosted with Greenfield Community College’s Office of Workforce Development, the Franklin Hampshire Career Center, and the Chamber, which promotes the series to local business professionals. A couple of recent workshop topics are Interview Dos and Don’ts, and Compliance with Massachusetts’ New Sick Leave Act.

What are the biggest challenges of operating a staffing service in your market?
Public transportation is difficult or lacking in many areas of this county. Many of the people who apply with us have low incomes and are struggling and cannot afford a vehicle, but without a vehicle they can’t work reliably. This is a Catch 22 that affects workers AND employers.

What are your main future goals for the staffing enterprise?
We want to increase cross-referrals between Harmon and Community Action in order to better support Harmon’s workers and expand employment opportunities to more individuals served through Community Action. With the new WIOA legislation, we anticipate being able to expand our workforce services to more young adult job seekers which is exciting. The new law directs more resources to out-of-school youth and has raised the age of eligibility from 21 to 24. We also want to expand the types of support services that we can offer to Harmon’s workers either directly or through active referrals to local resources. In those ways we plan to strengthen the “alternative” aspects of our staffing service.

What about Harmon Personnel Services makes you most proud?
We love having someone come in to “just say hi” and tell us they are still in the job we placed them in, and learn that they have an apartment and are happy and stable. It’s also great hearing from companies that we haven’t worked with for a while, who say they had a great experience the last time and are contacting us because the worker we sent there five years ago, who they hired, is moving and they need another equally great worker. It’s rewarding to know that we have taken the time with the worker AND the client to know their needs well enough that we find that “perfect person.”

Please, briefly share a success story about one of your workers or customers.
Jacob came to us having not worked in a while due to anxiety and health issues, and his spotty job history held him back whenever he applied for jobs. He was couch-surfing or staying with his parents. We placed him as a temporary worker at the Franklin County Community Development Corporation and he loved it, made a core group of friends there, and his supervisor really took him under her wing. He ended up being one of our go-to workers for them, was given a $1 an hour raise, and eventually was hired there. He now has his own apartment and loves his job. He has more stability in his life than he’s had in many years, and refers people to us for work.

What advice would you offer to someone considering alternative staffing as an enterprise strategy in their community?
Know your market, and customize your plan to this market. Develop strong collaborations in your community; you can’t do it alone. Work with people – both candidates and clients – at their level of readiness. Be welcoming and respectful to all. Finally, stay true to the business and the mission. We think DePaul Industries’ approach of “51% profit, 49% mission” is the right balance to ensure we maintain a viable business while also fulfilling our social purpose.

To learn more, visit Harmon Personnel Services on the web.

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