Staffing Challenge

A conversation with Greg Lambert, president of Mid Oregon Personnel Services

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Greg Lambert is founder and president of Mid Oregon Personnel Services, a central Oregon staffing firm specializing in light industrial, clerical and administrative services. Lambert talked to Oregon Business about regional employment trends, government mandates and why technology education is no substitute for old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic.

Has the job market in Central Oregon improved since the recession?

Things are really quite active. Finding people who really want to work is becoming increasingly difficult. It depends on what kind of work the employer is trying to fill. Clerical positions are much easier to fill than light industrial. Central Oregon has historically had an industrially dominated employment scene. One would think there would be a surplus of those kinds of workers, but there aren’t.

Is a skills gap making it hard to fill those positions?

For the trades, such as welders, electricians and plumbers, yes. But most manufacturing facilities are not requiring people to read prints and work different machines. They are looking for people that come to work every day and work hard.

Most rapidly growing sector?

Tech is really taking off. The manufacturing sector is growing quite a bit, too.

Are hiring strategies in the manufacturing sector changing?

Yes. One of the largest manufacturers in Central Oregon used to have 600 employees. Now they are at maybe 40% or 35% of that. The jobs that pay now require people to be able to think and react and solve problems much more than the jobs required before. There are some jobs that require stacking from a machine or feeding a machine, but most of those jobs have gone by the wayside. Now they are looking for people who have basic math skills, literacy skills and can work more than one job as the jobs change throughout the day. There is a lot more job rotation going on for safety reasons.

New developments in the tech sector?

There is a lot of computer work and programming work and things of that nature. Bend and Redmond have a significant increase in those kinds of businesses.

Are those positions difficult to fill?

Yes. There is competition all over the world for those kinds of people.  We don’t have the critical mass of San Jose or the rest of Silicon Valley. Although there are more and more people from that part of California moving up here or at least starting businesses here and flying back to Portland.

What increases to the cost of hiring are affecting employers?

Mandated medical care and mandated increases in minimum wage, which affects all types of pay rates, not just minimum wage. When these kinds of outside factors are put into your business mix, it eliminates entry-level work for a lot of people because businesses just can’t afford it. Those positions now cost more than the position produces. At the Redmond Economic Development annual luncheon last week, one of the people in the room addressed that. His wife started a business with [about] 150 employees. If the $15 minimum wage comes through, his wife would eliminate over 100 positions because the positions do not generate the cash flow to cover that pay rate. There are also payroll taxes, workers’ compensation and mandated medical care. When you add all those things together, there are a lot of jobs that are going to be going away.

Rural Oregon is often described as a region where poverty persists and there is a striking divide between urban and rural. Can employers bridge this divide?

Employers cannot pay more than their businesses make. I don’t think this should be just up to employers.

Should there be more job training?

I don’t think there is a lack of job training. I grew up in a family of educators and went to Oregon State to study business education. I have had this business for 31 years plus. When you have people coming in who can’t communicate in writing or can’t communicate well in English and cannot do basic math, that is not a training problem; that is a priority problem with schools. Cell phone calculators and so forth are irrelevant. When you are on the job, doing inventory and so forth, businesses want you to not have to go to a calculator. Basic math skills have been minimized in favor of technology, and that is a real problem.

Changes to staffing firms industry?

When I started my business 31 years ago, this kind of industry was new in Central Oregon. People are more aware of staffing companies and the different types of services they can provide. Back in 1984, I didn’t rely on a computer much. I didn’t do the payroll. I had other people doing that. We do a lot more with technology now. We have a website now. But the basic, fundamental ways we do business have not changed much.

What are the fundamental ways you do business?

I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know I did the best I could for whoever I touched that day. Some of our clients prefer to be at arm’s length through emails and phones. But almost every pay period, we are in face-to-face contact with our clients. We don’t have an interview group of people, who give candidates to salespeople. The people who are doing the interviews are the people who are in daily contact with the clients. They know what kind of atmosphere the client has in their facility, what kind of work is necessary, what kind of people tend to succeed in that facility. That is something we emphasize a great deal.