Annoying cold calls and other complaints

HR professionals share their thoughts on staffing and temp agencies
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/20/2007

It’s an ongoing battle.” That’s how Nancy Elson, recruiting lead at Siemens Canada, described the endless effort she has to make to keep temp and staffing agencies at bay.

“I get three or four calls a day. And they’ll show up at the front desk, try to use connections to get through,” she said. “They’re trying to get business, but they don’t understand our business.”

When she joined Siemens three years ago, there was no control over which manager was hiring through which agency. At Siemens, an engineering services firm employing just under 8,000 employees at 17 locations across Canada, employees hired through temporary and staffing firms represent only about 10 per cent of the overall recruiting activity at any given time.

Now a centralized recruiting team of four people handles all the hiring and all agency hirings are done through a small number of agencies on a master vendors list. Having such a list allows Siemens to set out structured rates and structured commitments “so I don’t pay any agency differently from any other, and there’s no competition between vendors on the list.”

Plus, having a master vendors list means the company can more easily monitor whether a candidate has already applied, “because we’re not going to pay an agency a fee if the person is in our database.”

But such a list doesn’t necessarily deter other vendors from trying to get business from the company. In Elson’s view, the cold calls managers get add up to a major hassle.

“The agency may be saying, ‘I have a top-notch guy working for one of your competitors. He has this and that skill set and he’s a must-see because he won’t be on the market long.’ And the manager may say, ‘We have to have that guy,’” said Elson. “It all spins out of control because then they see the resumé and it’s not coming through me and if the person’s already in our database, there’s a clean up on my part.”

Keeping the number of vendors to a manageable number allows companies to spend time working on the vendors’ understanding of the business. Zania Holmes, senior manager of temp staffing at CIBC in Toronto, said the bank only uses one primary vendor and two secondary vendors. The tight control betters the bank’s chance of getting a good price for vendors’ services, and “if we’ve done a good job at selecting vendors, then we shouldn’t need 10 different vendors,” said Holmes.

The bank provides each of the three vendors with comprehensive information on the various unique working environments and business requirements.

“In some cases, our vendors have assigned specific recruiters to work with high volume or difficult-to-fill areas of our organization. This has proven to be highly effective,” Holmes said.

As a dedicated relationship manager, Holmes’ job is both to ensure consistency around the staffing process across all business units, as well as to communicate to vendors the distinct needs different business units may have. She also handles problems that may arise, whether at the business unit or at the organizational level.

Before her role was created, each business function and each region would handle issues that came up with temporary and staffing agencies. The problem with that was managers often don’t have the time.

“They just want someone to walk in through the door. They don’t see a benefit in sitting down with a vendor and building that relationship. If you want to make sure that you get the right people, you have to make the time at the front end,” said Holmes.

In helping facilitate the communication between hiring managers and vendors, Holmes said she often finds managers are more willing to articulate their problems with someone on the inside.

Understanding a company’s unique needs is clearly a must for vendors, but some aren’t taking the time to do so.

At The Municipal Group of Companies, a Bedford, N.S.-based heavy civil construction company employing 1,200 people, recruiting and development co-ordinator Shalini Richards said she uses staffing agencies both for professional as well as hourly positions.

And perhaps due to the high volume, the agency handling hourly hires has a much better handle on what the company needs. It’s the agency doing professional hires, which Richards uses once or twice a year, that has a poor grasp of the company’s culture. She said she’s tried to improve the relationship by asking agency staff to come visit the company.

“Some of them come, but others take a bit of prodding. And when they do come, it’s more to find out where are the opportunities for them. The purpose is to make a sale. It’s, ‘Oh, you have an accounting department; we could fill accounting positions for you,’” said Richards. “And my response is, ‘I don’t care. The reason I invited you is to have an appreciation for what we do, who we are, what kind of people we hire. And to see our site.’”

The result should be that when an agency employee courts a candidate, he should be able to describe first hand everything about the business and the work environment that awaits.

“That’s huge. Especially in this day and age when there’s such a talent war. We’ve got to have that competitive edge. Candidates out there can pick and choose whom to work for. I have to sell my position over another company’s position. So I really look to (the agency) to do that for me.”

Responding to these comments, Amanda Curtis, executive director of the The Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, said in an email: “It’s a very competitive marketplace, but agencies that make an effort to understand their clients’ business have an advantage. Agencies that forge strong, long-term relationships with their clients are more likely to enjoy success and longevity.”

She also stated that education and training are also important. Firms that invest in quality training ensure a higher standard of professional conduct by developing staff that are capable of understanding the nuances of their clients’ business in a more sophisticated way. “ACSESS members, by pledging their support for the code of conduct, are committed to the principles of good business practice.”

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