Member Profile: Goodwill Staffing Group, Austin, Texas

Goodwill Staffing Group_Robyn Householder

Year business began: 1995
Jobseekers placed in 2015: 1,472

Goodwill Staffing Services was founded in 1995 by Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. Until a few years ago, its business came almost entirely from a state set-aside contract for people with documented disabilities. In 2012, the staffing business was renamed Goodwill Staffing Group and implemented an aggressive 10-year plan to grow its private sector sales and job placements. Since then, private business revenues have grown from $50,000 to $2.7 million, and annual placements have risen from 600 to nearly 1,500.

This year the staffing business is poised for further growth. With a new data management system in place and an investment from REDF, Goodwill Staffing Group is expanding into two new geographic markets, Hays County south of Austin and Williamson County to the north, with a goal to increase sales by 18% and place 650 additional job seekers. We spoke with Goodwill of Central Texas’ Vice President of Business Solutions and Goodwill Staffing Group President Robyn Householder to learn more.

How did you get into the alternative staffing business?
I joined Goodwill in March of 2015 after a 21-year career at the Better Business Bureau where I served as their Vice President of Development and Executive Director of their Education Foundation. Goodwill recruited me as a business-centric development person, and my focus is to expand revenue-based opportunities across a range of Goodwill service areas. Our staffing services are the best lead-in to engaging local employers and my approach has been to strategically target key industries and develop a full plate of long-term solutions in response to the needs of businesses within these industries.

What job seeker population does Goodwill Staffing Group recruit and support?
We recruit people with “disadvantaging conditions,” such as a disability, criminal record, homelessness or undereducation. 75% of the individuals we place in state jobs must have a disability.

How are candidates referred to your staffing service?
We attract applicants via word-of-mouth and through our parent Goodwill Central Texas organization. We also recruit to find qualified candidates, then filter for disadvantaging conditions. About 30% of our staffing employees are Goodwill clients and 70% are external candidates.

What training opportunities are available to your workers?
We use a soft skills training curriculum called Essential 8 to position workers for success on-the-job. The 8 modules can be completed over time as workers advance from a “survival” job that generates immediate earnings to more stable, career-focused placements.

Through the Goodwill Career and Technical Academy, we offer diverse occupational training for certification in IT, building maintenance, commercial driving, construction, certified nursing assisting, bookkeeping and office administration. Adults aged 17 to 50 who are enrolled in our charter high school, The Excel Center, can dual-enroll in professional certification courses while they’re earning their high school diploma. Our current year goal is for at least 50 temporary workers to complete hard skills training that leads to certification.

What types of supportive services does Goodwill Staffing Group offer?
Free case management services are available to all of our employees, and about 25% of our temporary workforce use these, mainly for financial or relationship counseling, assistance with life issues, and short-term cash needs. Transportation is a huge barrier to accessing jobs in Hays and Williamson Counties, and the REDF grant includes some money to help us provide transportation supports, including bus passes and Uber rides.

We’re also in the process of updating our temporary employee handbook, which features information about community resources beyond those offered by Goodwill.

What kinds of employers do you serve?
On the government side, we’re one of two staffing contractors to Texas state agencies. We’re the main supplier to about 20 state agencies in Austin, and another entity is the primary supplier to the other 20. We fill about 250 state positions on a steady basis and most are in accounting, clerical and call centers although, we also provide some management and professional level staff and light industrial. The state jobs tend to be “indefinite,” and when the state hires one of our workers, we backfill the position with a new temp worker. Over time, our state business has been very cyclical and right now it’s on fire.

In the private sector, our business is mainly light industrial, including construction, and we’re increasing our admin/call center and event management business. Austin has a steady calendar of large-scale events and is home to over a dozen large corporate call centers, each with hundreds of seats. The staff we supply internally to Goodwill Central Texas accounts for about 5% of our sales volume.

What marketing messages and methods have you found to be most effective with commercial prospects?
In all of our messaging, we’re consciously working to reinforce our identity as a business solutions provider, and we listen closely to understand employers’ needs. One key way we gather market intelligence is through a Business Advisory Council we formed last October. This group consists of executives who represent the 10 most prominent industries in our 15-county market. They meet quarterly to provide input about their industries’ challenges and pain points in recruiting and retaining qualified staff, and we use this information to refine our business and supportive services.

In addition, we use a local company, Reality Based Group, to survey our customers (and temporary workers) monthly to get continuous feedback and in turn improve their overall experience. This process helps us retain customers and also yields testimonials we can use in our marketing to new prospects.

What’s an example of a solution to a customer problem?
Currently there’s high demand for entry-level construction workers in our market. We approached two industry associations and worked with them to create a 3-week curriculum that covers the basics about the framing process, proper use of tools, and drywall and OSHA 10 certification. Besides helping us customize the training content, some of the businesses have donated tools and materials for the training and are participating as trainers.

This is the most recent example of our ongoing approach to consult with businesses in a sector to develop short-term trainings, then recruit trainees based on anticipated employer demand, and use Goodwill Staffing Group as the placement vehicle.

What are the biggest challenges of operating a staffing service in your market?
Austin’s unemployment is very low, under 3%, which has created pipeline issues. Brand awareness is also an opportunity for us. Businesses identify Goodwill with our retail stores, and we work daily to educate them about our staffing and other business services. We’re changing our marketing to push out that message to the private sector in a concerted way.

As a manager, what do you wish you had more time for?
I would love to be able to spend more time out in the market talking with our business customers and prospects.

What about Goodwill Staffing Group makes you most proud?
I’m very proud of our team’s passion to serve people. We’re all in the long game to change people’s lives.

What advice would you offer to someone considering alternative staffing as a strategy in their community?
As a nonprofit, don’t hold yourself back. Constantly ask yourself and others, “why not?” And run the staffing business as a business. Apply sound business principles within the nontraditional setting we operate in.

To learn more, visit Goodwill Staffing Group on the web.


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