Staffing Agencies Plug In the New Millennial Worker

Graphic by | Joan McGuire


Gig economy and young workers force changes in staffing industry.

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Rebecca Morrison-Stoney has run an employment agency in Medford for the past 15 years.

The company, Confident Staffing, represents employers seeking to fill mostly traditional 9-to-5 jobs in the skilled trades, manufacturing, administration and other sectors. Demand is high for workers in Oregon, where the unemployment rate is at a record low.

But Morrison-Stoney faces a conundrum: Half the job seekers on her books are millennials, and many of them don’t want regular, full-time work.

Instead, these young professionals want freedom from the traditional work schedule, preferring part-time, temporary jobs that give them flexibility for other pursuits. They also expect good pay and benefits, such as generous paid time off.

“What millennials value more than anything is PTO without the threat of losing their job,” says Morrison-Stoney.

The new millennial worker wants it all. Many of these tech-savvy candidates have multiple streams of income from so-called gigging — temporary, project-based work where they can set their own hours and often compensation. Apps like TaskRabbit and Uber have spawned this new generation of giggers who set their own work schedules and value, above all else, flexibility.

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Staffing firms are having to negotiate this new job market where the needs of employers are often at odds with the younger workforce.

“There is a disconnect,” says Morrison-Stoney. “Employers have concrete job descriptions that have been the same for decades. They want someone to fit into that. To young people, it is a foreign language.”

Staffing firms can benefit from the gig economy by helping young workers find part-time, temporary jobs. But it is also forcing them to play more of a consultative role with employers to encourage them to change their hiring habits.

To suit millennial workers’ preferences for part-time and flexible hours, Morrison-Stoney advises employers to consider splitting an eight-hour-a-day job into two four-hour-a-day positions.

Employers also need to realize that gigging is not the kind of low wage work that many perceive it to be. It is often well paid. Giggers are used to setting their own compensation on online job sites.

“If you need to attract the gigging economy worker, you need to pay more. Minimum wage will never satisfy the millennial workforce,” says Morrison-Stoney.

Chris Giroux, branch manager for Accountemps, a division of Robert Half, oversees placements in accounting and finance, which tend to require more traditional work schedules. He says he encourages employers to be flexible, whether this is doing away with a 9-to-5 schedule or allowing employees to telecommute.

“We have to educate clients,” says Giroux.

Clients are paying attention.

“We are seeing a lot of companies offering a package that is based on work-life balance,” Giroux says.

A trend he is seeing in Portland is a preference for working flexible hours to avoid commuter traffic, which has worsened in the past few years.

“The traffic and commuting is an issue for candidates. They are asking if they can work 7 to 3,” to avoid rush hour, says Giroux. In the creative sector, freelance, temporary jobs have been around for a long time.

“A project-based economy does allow for a lot of flexibility for all involved,” says Chris Poe, Portland city manager for Creative Circle, a staffing firm focused on placements in the digital, creative and marketing sectors.

A client can get a talented person and not need to bring them on full time, Poe says. Work-life balance and company culture are more important than ever before.

To make sure candidates are a good fit, agency staff visit employers to get an idea of the work environment and see which companies are more corporate and which are more laid back.

Despite the perception that millennial giggers are not that bothered about benefits, Poe says many of his clients do value coverage for things like health insurance.

Because freelance work generally does not provide benefits, Creative Circle offers a limited package to freelancers.

The popularity of gigging has some wondering whether the majority of the workforce will become part-time freelancers in future. But Morrison-Stoney thinks gigging still remains a way for many to transition to more long-term permanent jobs.

“It is a stepping stone. I don’t see it as a replacement for a career,” she says.

What is certain is that employers’ willingness to be flexible with their hiring practices and work schedules is now essential to employing millennial workers. And with the unemployment rate so low, employers have little choice but to compromise.

Staffing firms are also adapting as traditional revenue streams from old-school hiring practices, such as temp-to-hire placements, wane. Robert Half, for example, encourages clients to take on direct-hire placements rather than temp-to-hire because of the low unemployment rate.

“You will only get unemployed to do temp-to-hire,” says Giroux. “Nobody who is employed will leave benefits on the table like that.”

Catering to millennial-worker habits may take some adjusting for traditional employers. But it is a critical step for companies that want the benefits of employing a multigenerational workforce.

“If employers are flexible and react to what millennials want, they will be more competitive,” Morrison-Stoney says.