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Imagine a store trying to sell wool underwear and winter coats in the middle of July at noon in the Mojave dessert. Do you think this is a ridiculous way to do business? Do you think they need to adjust their product line to be relevant to their customers? This is an analogy for workforce development business services in the recession. Our primary product is hiring in a market where the vast majority of businesses aren’t hiring. We keep selling that service because we can’t think out of the box. We need to change our product line to include things we can offer businesses when they aren’t hiring. If they use our non-hiring services and it helps their business we will be at the front of the line when they need personnel. Our non-hiring services position us to be the resource of choice when businesses hire. If we can figure out how to serve the non-hiring business, we can engage every business.
To be successful with business services in today’s economy you need a full service line of four business products. One product line is your traditional hiring services. Another is helping businesses connect to layoff and closure aversion assistance. The third product line is being able to facilitate connections to economic development and business growth resources. The fourth product line is offering a complete line of non-hiring services that will add to the profit margin of a business. With this full menu of services you will be able to serve every business and add to their bottom line.
For example, when a business services representative with only the hiring product line to sell goes into a business and finds out they aren’t hiring they leave and lose this customer. The business services person from the community college goes to the same business and sets up an internship program. A representative from a well networked workforce program will perform a non-hiring service by connecting this business to economic development resources. These resources will help them gain access to low cost loans, teach them how to sell on the Internet, and provide management consulting and other services that can help the business become more profitable so they can begin hiring. A One-Stop business services representative that is savvy about incumbent worker training would offer these non-hiring business skills upgraded services for their existing workforce to help make them more profitable. Once those employees move into new, higher skilled positions the One-Stop can fill their original positions with people from the program. A business services representative from an agency with usable meeting space may offer the business free space at their program for staff training, meetings, new client events, and product demonstrations.
The non-hiring product line helps you access another business customer that has never been served by the workforce system. That customer is the sole proprietor or business without employees. The workforce system has over looked this customer even though it is actually the fastest growing form of business in America. We’ve overlooked them because of our exclusive focus on hiring as our only product. You will notice our short sighted perspective on the business community by the way people in workforce use the word employer to describe all businesses. There are more than thirty-five million sole proprietors in the country and not one of them is an employer! Overlooking sole proprietors is a huge mistake. The majority of sole proprietors have clients that are businesses with employees. If your non-hiring services serve the sole proprietor they can then introduce you to these businesses with employees. In my experience working with sole proprietors, about seventy percent of them would like to grow their profit margin enough to have employees, while the other thirty percent want to stay sole proprietors. If you serve the ones that want to grow you can be right there with your hiring services when they start to add employees. Remember most sole proprietors, growth oriented or not, can introduce you to businesses with employees.
How do you find out about sole proprietors? Look them up under non-hiring or no employee businesses in your local labor market information to find out what kind are in your area. You’ll find graphic designers, event planners, architects, computer systems designers, public relations people, web site designers, accountants, lawyers, and many other types of businesses. They often belong to business associations to help them find customers so check out your local business associations and find their sole proprietor members. Your non-hiring services product line is ideal for the sole proprietor! Start serving them now! How do you get started developing a menu of non-hiring services? Convene a broad based group of partners and conduct a mapping process to develop a menu of non-hiring services that can be provided to businesses. If you use your imagination and all the resources of the workforce, education, training, and economic development fields you will come up with a long list of services that aren’t based on filling an existing job opening. Some even involve profit-making, innovative job!
Do you know about job carving, which has been done in the disability employment field for many years? Talk with your disability service providers to find out about this innovative way to create jobs and increase profits at the same time in almost every business with employees. Once you start looking you will be amazed at the breath and depth of the non-hiring services that can be provided to businesses.
In my experience working with over one thousand workforce organizations, I’ve never met anyone that knew about all of services that we as a system can offer businesses. We frequently don’t know about all the existing services and, because of a lack of broad collaboration, we also don’t hear about new ones as they get developed. Even with forty-five years in the workforce development field I don’t know all the services in the bigger system because they keep growing. We are still segregated by funding sources, turf, and history, and this keeps us from offering businesses a full menu of services that don’t always involve filling a job opening. If you provide a business with a non-hiring service that makes them more profitable, they will never forget you. When they start to hire you will already be engaged with them and have the first shot at the opening. Develop your non-hiring services menu so you can serve every business. Stop selling wool underwear in July!
Larry Robbin, Executive Director of Robbin and Associates, has over forty-five years of national experience helping workforce organizations move from placement to partnership with businesses using creative state-of-the-art strategies that appeal to the private sector mind set. He can be reached by clicking here.