Inside the Staffing World: How One Firm Honors Workplace Trends and Builds Trust
Benefiting from a growth rate of 46 percent so far this year, Vernovis founders Bryan Kaiser and Jason Skidmore stand in their expanded new offices under construction, set to open this fall.
Photography by Tracy Doyle
The Vernovis story also offers a unique case study into the staffing world, a business sector that has been a sort of canary in the coalmine when it comes to employment trends.
In a highly competitive industry, Vernovis has seen revenues rise 26 percent in 2015 and 46 percent so far this year. It has opened an office in Columbus and moved into bigger headquarters in Mason, accommodating a 60 percent increase in internal employees and external contract labor over the past two years.
That success is no accident. Vernovis has a telling narrative about how a service company can set itself apart by developing partnerships aimed at understanding and empathizing with the culture of its clients and supporting and educating its candidates.
Bryan Kaiser and Jason Skidmore are the owners of Vernovis, which was founded in 2009. Both have been veterans of a national staffing company; Skidmore was an expert in the technology field, while Kaiser had the accounting background. Initially, they focused on finance and accounting contract positions and direct-hire opportunities serving small, mid-tier and Fortune 500 companies. They came up with “Vernovis” as a mash-up of three Latin words for “new” “vision” and “trust.”
Yes, Kaiser and Skidmore founded the firm in the middle of the great recession and promptly ignored dire warnings that it was a terrible time to start a staffing agency.
“We never heard the naysayers,” says Kaiser, who is president of the firm. “Because it was the recession, the expectations were low and we could set the bar for how we were going to be different within this industry.”
“When times are tough it does create a need to have a contingent work force in some sectors,” says Skidmore, the CEO. “We were able to find those organizations that we knew were sophisticated buyers of contingent labor.”
Growth was steady and by 2011 Vernovis added IT services. “We got serious about technology since it dovetails with finance,” Skidmore says. “For many smaller companies, IT reports to the CFO. IT has become the heartbeat and strategic advantage of many companies in today’s business climate..”
Significantly, Vernovis was also founded in the middle of one of the most important workplace trends in the last decade – expansion of companies using contract and temporary labor. Contract labor is attractive for candidates and companies by providing opportunities and work schedule flexibility and workplace solutions for businesses.
The staffing industry has grown accordingly; there are now 20,000 firms in the country employing 16 million people a year, contributing $136 billion to the U.S. economy through temporary and contract staffing, recruiting, permanent placement and outsourcing. An industry trade group estimates more than three million temporary and contract employees work for America’s staffing companies during an average week.
The growth has occurred in goods times and bad. During the recession many companies went to contract labor in order to be cautious about long-term hiring strategies. Now, with unemployment decreasing, skilled labor is in demand and in some sectors businesses find that staffing companies can fill much-needed niches. In many ways, the staffing world had not changed its basic business model for decades. Skidmore and Kaiser saw an opportunity to do things differently. They knew their success depended on building lasting relationships by understanding the soul of the companies and candidates they worked with.
“While the game has changed a bit in terms of service and delivery, the concept is still the same – having the ability to identify what makes someone a great fit for a specific position or a company,” Skidmore says. “That’s where a staffing organization comes in. We are focused on being able to put the pieces together and broker the right relationships. We have a fully transparent approach that starts with helping people when they walk into our office looking for a new position; even if it means helping them help themselves find a job that they don’t obtain through us. It was about building relationships with companies as well as our candidates and consultant base.”
Skidmore acknowledges “relationship” is a buzzword in the service business. But he believes historically the staffing industry has been a little slow to produce firms that truly understand a client’s needs and culture.
“Many firms in the staffing industry act like a vendor. There is no real partnership,” says Kaiser. “Because of that, the service you get can be pretty poor. And traditionally there is a high turnover among sales reps and recruiters.”
The trick, according to Kaiser, is to be a value-added partner to candidates and clients. And that comes by truly servicing the needs of both.
“For example, you may call and say, ‘I need a controller.’ Some staffing firms might dump 20 résumés on you. Clients don’t like that,” Kaiser explains. “Instead of sending a bunch of resumes, we may sort through and narrow it down to five because we know our client’s needs and know the people that would be the best fit for the culture of the company and know how this personality will work well within it. We don’t sling résumés around. We put some care and time into it.”
And Vernovis got to know their clients to the point of anticipating their needs.
“We take the time to understand their backgrounds, whether it’s a candidate or what a business is doing. That lets us respond proactively and act more as a true partner,” Skidmore says. “We aren’t necessarily waiting for them to call us and say, ‘I need this. Do you have it?’ Often we are bringing talent to them that they can actually use to further their business initiatives.”
The “relationship” approach has paid off. Skidmore says their net promoter score has been around 80 in an industry that has registered a negative in some periods. “We constantly survey our client base. We do hear common themes that harken back to the core values of our business – people say that we care and we act with integrity.”
In another rarity for the staffing field, Skidmore says Vernovis avoids conflicts that can result when many firms place and recruit out of the same company. “It happens a lot in this business and is a big complaint in our industry. We won’t do it.”
About 85 percent of their staffing in the accounting and finance area is contract labor, the rest permanent positions. Skidmore says finance placements involve everything from mid- to senior-level positions up to controller and CFO, as well as providing audit and tax solutions.
On the IT side, Vernovis is focused primarily on infrastructure and project management roles with a small amount of software development.
Skidmore points out the two worlds meet often, especially when it comes to migration and enterprise resource planning that allows an organization to use a system of integrated applications to manage the business and automate many back-office functions.
“Finance and IT blend a lot and we can help our clients by providing both technical and functional resources.” Skidmore says.
The current economic climate is a good news/bad news story for firms like Vernovis. The accounting and IT fields are thought to be at full employment with an unemployment rate of just 2 to 3 percent.
“Overall, in accounting and IT there is a shortage of labor,” Kaiser says. “The hardest part of what we do is finding and securing the best talent. It becomes hard because in these fields you have nearly full employment.”
But Skidmore says low unemployment presents opportunities as well. “Companies need talent. People are actively looking for new opportunities. And you reach a point where unemployment becomes so low you have firms looking for people interested in making a move.”
In such a climate, why would firms or job candidates need a staffing company? It’s the same reason why anyone uses any service professional.
“Why would someone use a realtor? Many people have the ability to sell a house on their own. But do they have the time, the capacity and the resources?” Kaiser says. “If a company has an opening they need to fill immediately, it can take four-six months, especially in accounting and IT. At a large firm, HR may be busy filling other positions that don’t require the specialized contacts and resources that we have in accounting and IT.”
And for a number of reasons, there are more people in the workforce who simply like the freedom that comes from being a self-employed freelancer with the ability to frequently take on different challenges and not be tied to a specific corporate model or job.
“That has been an employment trend for decades, but what prevented it from really taking off was lack of technological advances,” says Skidmore. “That’s all changed. Technology has allowed that contingent workforce to expand exponentially globally. In many cases you can do the work from wherever you are.”
Skidmore says the recruiting business has changed as well driven by technology.
He points out social platforms more than ever can identify someone who has a skill set. “You can see what their network is and what they bring to the table,” he says.
Of course, Skidmore and Kaiser see technology as a tool, not a replacement itself for the kind of relationship building they take pride in. The Vernovis approach of transparency and intense client-focused service is something not always found in the staffing world. They feel their model of connecting companies with talent through integrity, collaboration and service is just what the times demand and will lead to sustained growth for the firm.
As Skidmore puts it: “We believe that there is a change occurring in the way our clients and candidates prefer to work with staffing providers. The interest in our message shows that people are hungry for a different model, and we believe that being at the forefront of this movement will only enhance our future growth potential throughout the Midwest.”
Job Scene Trends: It’s a Rosy Picture for Professionals in Finance and IT
Along with skilled manufacturing and healthcare, the fields of accounting, finance and IT are most in demand by employers. In fact, those sectors are pretty much at full employment.
For example, U.S. Labor Department statistics show unemployment in most tech-related areas is at around 3 percent and trending lower. It is a similar story for accountants, with the profession at 2.5 percent unemployment.
Vernovis CEO Jason Skidmore says it is a challenging time for businesses trying to fill those positions. “There is a shortage of talented people to do this work. From our point of view, companies like ours are becoming more of a direct conduit for companies to find this type of talent, because we are recruiting these people every day.”
Most in demand in the IT world are those skilled in metadata analytics, information security, project management and Java, according to an industry survey from trade organization Staffing Industry Analysts.
Meanwhile, across the labor spectrum, the most common complaint from U.S. companies is the lack of sufficient talent. That is borne out in numerous studies, both locally and nationally. For example:
The most recent Deloitte Cincinnati USA survey of the region’s top privately held companies called finding qualified workers a challenge, noting that 25,000 jobs –running the gamut of skilled to unskilled – are vacant everyday in the Tri-State.
Other national surveys found U.S. companies list an inadequate supply of qualified and skilled labor as one of the top threats to meeting performance targets.
Education, or lack of, remains a problem. For example, more than 65 percent of Greater Cincinnati residents over age 25 have less than a bachelor’s degree, and almost 40 percent have high school education or less.
Surveys show academic experts and business leaders agree that the best solution to attract and retain talent is to increase wages. However, various surveys show wages for many professions are flat with inflation-adjusted pay barely increasing in the last five years.
There are signs wages are increasing, especially in high-demand fields. For example, wages in healthcare have been rising 5 to 8 percent according to some surveys, and staffing industry surveys indicate finance and IT are also fields that should see hefty increases.
Viewing the Staffing Industry From Both Sides— One Executive’s Story.
Susan Miller has seen both sides of the staffing world. Miller, the vice president of operations for Vernovis, previously worked in an HR department overseeing a talent acquisition team and on-site contractors and another international staffing agency prior to that. It wasn’t always a positive experience.
“While working in an HR department, I was being called on by staffing companies on a daily basis. I began to understand how client companies felt when I had called on then in my previous role with a staffing agency,” Miller says. “And I had become disenchanted with (the staffing business).”
At times, Miller experienced what she says was a lack of integrity. “I found that many sales reps would get a job order and if it wasn’t in their sweet spot, they would not tell the client that the chances of them filling the role were slim or non-existent. I guess they thought leading clients along was better than telling the client company the truth - This makes no sense. Instead, I would have preferred them to be honest with me. It would have saved me a lot of time.”
Indeed, the staffing industry is often perceived as falling into the trap common with many service businesses – trying to be all things to all people.
According to a survey in Staffing Success magazine, 25 percent of staffing customers do not think the industry is good at matching employees to jobs. That’s a troubling figure since that is exactly what the business is supposed to do.
Miller decided to join Vernovis after hearing what founders Jason Skidmore and Bryan Kaiser had in mind. “I got back in for all the right reasons. Instead of just “wanting” to do things differently, they really were making a difference.”
She was impressed the firm was committed to a different business model based on integrity and commitment to “do the right thing.”
“They are honest with clients and candidates,” Miller says. “The fact is when you are honest with both, you are building an excellent relationship. Vernovis is willing to say, ‘No, we can’t do that; it’s not we specialize in.’ We don’t want to waste anyone’s time ”
Taking the long view of building relationships often means helping job candidates, even if Vernovis can’t place them.
“We can pass along helpful market information, assist in resume writing, or participate in mock interviews,” she says. “We help educate people on how to start a job search – where to look, how to track interviews and networking activity to stay on top of things. We go out of our way to help people even when we know we might not be able to place them on an assignment or in a permanent job. In the end, whether you are a candidate or a client, we want to be your career partner for life.”
Miller says that approach shows candidates and HR recruiters that Vernovis has integrity, confidence and expertise that is unique to the industry.
“A corporate HR department may not have the reach and the bandwidth we have with this industry. We have more recruiters on staff and tools in place than a typical HR department has,” she says. “It is getting harder to find candidates in accounting, finance and IT than it was two years ago. It will be even harder next year. But we believe if you give client companies and candidates the best experience possible they are going to come back to us regardless of market conditions.”
In Cincinnati Vernovis is located at 4770 Duke Drive, Suite 180, Mason , Oh. 45040; 513.234.7201. In Columbus, Vernovis is at 169 South Liberty Street, Powell, Oh. 43085; 614-569-5212. Or visit vernovis.com