Member Profile: Jay “JD” Wallace, GoodTemps Temporary Staffing Services, Muskegon, MI

GoodTemps_JD-Wallace2Year program began: 1998
Program sponsor: Goodwill Industries of West Michigan
Jobseekers placed last year: 629

Good Temps is an alternative staffing service operating in the southwest lakeshore city of Muskegon, Michigan, one of several business-to-business enterprises of Goodwill Industries of West Michigan. Although Muskegon’s economy was hard hit by the recession, the region’s manufacturing sector began to rebound last year, and GoodTemps has worked aggressively to ensure its jobseekers are part of this recovery. We spoke with GoodTemps’ manager Jay “JD” Wallace to learn more about their success serving local businesses and placing individuals with barriers to employment in a very competitive job market.

First, how did you get into the alternative staffing business?
I enjoyed a long career with the local newspaper, including six years as their marketing and promotions person and 15 years running the circulation department. After 31 years in the business, as the news industry changed, I accepted a buyout offer from the paper but wasn’t yet ready to retire. I learned about the manager opening at GoodTemps through Goodwill’s CEO, and was hired for the position after a very thorough interview process. I began at GoodTemps in July 2009, just a couple days after leaving the paper and spent two weeks with my predecessor who had launched the staffing entity 11 years prior. Although I brought strong sales and management experience to the job, the staffing business and nonprofit culture were totally new to me, and I still learn something new every week!

What population does GoodTemps mainly work with?
We serve people with barriers to employment and we define barriers broadly. Long-term unemployment, lack of a car or driver’s license, a physical or mental disability, a criminal record all qualify as barriers. Our goal is for at least 75% of the people we register as candidates and 75% of the registrants we place to meet this standard, and we consistently exceed it.

How many jobseekers do you serve annually?
In 2010, we registered close to 2,000 people and placed 629 on assignment. Of those, 135 individuals converted to permanent hires. This is over twice the number of people placed the previous year (266), and three times our prior year’s temp-to-hire conversions (46).

How are participants referred to GoodTemps?
Our Goodwill parent organization operates a One-Stop Career Center (as a partner with Orchard View School District), and we are co-located in the center so most of our candidates are walk-ins. The case managers there refer individuals to us, and we also utilize the Michigan Talent Bank, an online database run by Michigan Works, the entity that manages the state workforce system.

What types of employers does GoodTemps serve?
80% are industrial firms, and the jobs we fill range from general labor for assembly and packing to high skilled positions such as CNC operators (computer-controlled precision drilling and cutting in auto parts manufacturing, for example). We also provide clerical, customer service and maintenance staff for medical offices, marinas, public housing properties and county government.

Customer concentration is an issue for many ASOs. What has your experience been?
We’ve been very diligent and deliberate about diversifying our customer portfolio. When I started here in 2009, we had five active customers and today we have 33. In growing our total sales, the proportion of revenue generated by our largest customer has declined from 60% to 40%, even as our billings to this account have gradually increased. Our goal is to reduce that percentage to 25% through further expansion of our customer base.

What types of support services have you found to be most critical to your workers’ success?
Our case manager Amanda Whitmore assists workers with a wide range of issues, from coaching to resolve conflicts on-the-job, to referrals for supports related to life challenges such as divorce and single parenthood. In addition, Amanda has developed two voluntary trainings and a matched savings program that have been valuable in helping our workers succeed and advance.

The first is a 10-hour retention workshop, and candidates who complete this training receive priority for job placement so there’s an incentive for them to enroll. The retention workshop is offered six times a year, and is held over four days, two-and-a-half hours per day, plus some self-study at home. The course covers everything from attendance back-up plans and workplace communications to social media “boundaries,” personal health and lifestyle, and education and career planning. The pace and content are fairly rigorous and of the 24 people who typically start the course, about half complete it. Participants perform a self-evaluation and receive both a peer and instructor evaluation in order to earn their certificate.

The second training is a financial literacy workshop which uses the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University video series. This workshop is held weekly for 13 weeks, at two separate times to accommodate both day and night shift workers. Amanda also meets with each participant every other week for one-on-one coaching. During the course, we offer a savings match up to $300 during the first six weeks ($50 per week) and up to $200 more during the following six weeks. The savings match is financed as part of a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and loosely modeled after a similar program at Goodwill Staffing Services in Austin, Texas. We offer the financial literacy training twice a year, and 20 to 25 people complete each cycle and qualify for the matches. We’ve seen some amazing results in people taking control of their finances, paying off debt and setting new goals for themselves.

What marketing methods or messages have you found to be most effective in attracting new customers?
A robust, dynamic website is essential. Early last year we launched our own site, separate from our Goodwill parent’s site, to make it easier for employers to find us and to strengthen our identity in the market. We followed up in the fall with a two-month media blitz to generally raise awareness and reinforce our name. Our campaign included a couple billboard rentals, ads in the newspaper and local business magazine, and a week of radio spots. Now our focus is on making appointments with employers and spreading the word face-to-face. From my years at the newspaper and as a lifelong resident of this community, I’m pretty well-known, and that’s been helpful in opening doors with prospective customers.

In terms of message, we try to communicate ways employers will benefit from using us. One key service we can provide is screening applicants. With the high rate of unemployment here, whenever a business advertises a position they easily get 500 applicants, many of whom are unqualified. We can save them the time it takes to dig through a big stack of resumes, and instead provide them a short list of qualified candidates or assign a worker who’s well-matched to the requirements of the position. Another competitive advantage we offer is our policy of no minimum hours and no fees to convert a temporary worker to the customer’s payroll.

What are the biggest challenges of operating a staffing service program in your market?
Like other ASOs, we don’t have the resources of a Manpower or a Kelly, so that’s a challenge. The grant we got from the Mott Foundation enabled us to develop the web site and add staff to increase our capacity, so that has been a huge help. Another challenge is finding talent for jobs that require higher skills. So many people left the state when the economy was at its worst, so we’re competing for scarce talent as well as for employers. And in general, we’ve found it’s hard to get people to change staffing vendors if they’re happy with their current supplier.

As a manager, what do you wish you had more time for?
The main thing is strategic planning. Right now I’m wearing our business developer hat in addition to my other responsibilities. I find that when I’m in the office, I feel pressed to be out, and when I’m out I feel I should be back in. It’s hard to strike the right balance.

What about GoodTemps makes you most proud?
I’m proud of the progress we’ve achieved in the last year, and I’m proud of our staff.

Please, briefly share a success story about one of your workers or customers.
We see success stories every week. One worker who comes to mind is a woman who enrolled in our financial literacy class and at the time had a considerable balance of debt. Over time, with continued employment, she paid off her debt and then saved enough money to make a down payment on a house … quite a turnaround. Another of our success stories is an ex-felon who had served an 18-year sentence and came to us after a year-and-a-half without work. We placed him in a temporary job that led to his hire and he continues to do well. Each person is unique, and it’s amazing the transformation that’s possible when you match individuals to a job where they can shine and connect them with the right support services.

Please tell us about your role in helping other Michigan Goodwill affiliates develop alternative staffing services.
Randall Slikkers heads the Goodwill Association of Michigan and has taken the lead to promote alternative staffing to other affiliates throughout the state. We serve as an advisor to Goodwill Industries of Mid-Michigan in Flint and have had several meetings with them as they work to develop their alternative staffing business. Goodwill of Central Michigan’s Heartland in Jackson is also considering the model.

What are GoodTemps’ main goals for the future?
We are currently evaluating options to upgrade our data systems for customer relations management and job matching. Strategically, our goals are to be self-supporting, generate a modest surplus and enhance our services to our candidates.

What advice would you offer to someone considering alternative staffing as a strategy in their community?
Do your homework, engage people with a staffing background, establish customer relationships quickly, and budget sufficient dollars for advertising and promotion to get your name out.

Please visit GoodTemps on the web to learn more about their alternative staffing enterprise.

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