Filling those niche roles

Specialized staffing firms can help with hard-to-find skills
By Amanda Curtis
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/24/2011

Despite the slow and steady economic recovery, far surpassing that of our neighbours south of the border, there remains a sense of uncertainty among employers that, no doubt, carries over into staffing decisions.

It is at this point many employers consider temporary staffing as a sound business solution. The use of staffing firms enables Canadian businesses to remain competitive while responding to economic changes, meeting increasing demands and addressing the need for changing skills.

The Canadian staffing industry has been growing faster than the overall economy largely because of flexibility — workers want it, businesses need it and staffing firms provide it. By working with these firms, HR professionals can quickly find individuals with unique skill sets or hard-to-find work experience because staffing firms have access to a wide range of workers.

“HR executives will often seek to partner with firms who have a demonstrated and proven ability to identify and select some of the more sought-after niche skills. This is primarily due to the staffing firm’s ability to network and source individuals with very specific experience and expertise,” said Bryan Toffey, national president of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services.

The demand for specialization is growing in companies of all sizes and this is reflected in staffing assignments, with a shift toward occupations that require higher levels of skills and training. These niche jobs can vary by industry or geography but some of the hot jobs these days are in the oil and gas, mining, information technology, financial services, engineering consulting and manufacturing sectors.

Niche skill sets tend to vary widely by province. However, some common in-demand skill sets include:

• civil engineers with roads, highways or bridge experience (across Canada)

• reservoir engineers (Alberta)

• architects and building services engineers with experience in achieving LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications (across Canada)

• stress engineers in the aerospace sector (Ontario and Quebec).

To reach out to candidates who can fill niche roles, there are niche staffing firms — with proven experience in a particular skill set — that are very focused on specific technologies, geographies, industries and job roles.

For instance, the federal government needs a lot of niche suppliers in Ottawa that have an intimate understanding of government procurement processes. The same is true in the automotive and banking industries.

In addition, many larger staffing organizations operate in broad categories but have niche divisions with the same kind of focus, such as IT, accounting, finance or engineering. There are also a number of firms with strong expertise in a particular skill set such as enterprise resource planning in IT or civil/structural in engineering.

Niche firms tend to attract better candidates simply because they have recruiters who are networked within that particular industry. These recruiters become subject matter experts of these niche skill sets and can speak intelligently about the labour supply of the particular skill set, along with issues such as salary ranges for the sector.

Without the services of staffing firms, many organizations are challenged with staffing for short-term projects or temporary replacements for employees who are sick or on vacation. The red tape alone makes it extremely difficult and access to a ready pool of workers is a continual challenge.

Companies in the staffing industry are committed employers and act as true business partners in providing many value-added services other than staffing. With expectations and professional obligations relating to competency, integrity, legal compliance and safety initiatives, staffing firms are an excellent choice when filling niche roles at every level.

Amanda Curtis is the executive director of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, which promotes best practices and ethical standards for the recruitment, employment and staffing services industry in Canada.

Tips for employers

Benefits to using specialty recruitment firms

Employers are increasingly turning to niche-based executive staffing firms to fill key positions. A niche staffing firm specializes in locating highly skilled individuals across a few industries or job types and offers many advantages for employers:

Experience: Niche firms have experience placing individuals within their particular job function on a regular basis. They are more knowledgeable of what traits an ideal candidate must possess for a job vacancy. In short, the specialized recruiter knows what questions to ask to obtain objective information and uncover the best candidate.

Referrals: Niche firms often have exclusive referral contracts. They are already submerged in an industry or skill set and have a firm network of professional contacts.

Quality applicants: Quality applicants are more likely to apply to a niche firm that deals with their area of expertise while passive candidates are more willing to reach out to niche firms and trust them with their career search. Passive candidates are highly desirable — they do not search on their own — while active candidates have a lot of questions that need to be answered.

Understanding: Niche recruiters better understand the needs of candidates. A niche firm speaks their language and deals with companies that would like to hire them.

Insight: A niche firm can offer valuable input around its particular niche, input an employer most likely will not think of on its own. The result is a better candidate all-round.

Source: Personnel Options

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