In this interview, we talk to Forrest Wagner, CIO of Staffmark Group, about giving candidates the choices they need, remaining calm during periods of rapid growth and downturn alike, and empowering your team with your tech stack.

StaffingHub: Welcome to the Staffing Show. We’re here today with Forrest Wagner, Chief Information Officer of Staffmark. Thanks for joining us today Forrest.

Wagner: Glad to be here.

StaffingHub: So Staffmark is regularly named one of the best staffing firms to work for in the industry. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what sets your culture apart from other staffing firms.

Wagner: I think you really just said it. It’s culture. I think we have a lot of vested interest in what we do. As a staffing company, of course our job is to, at the root level, find people jobs, right? And employment. But, we really take that mission to heart and really look at it as changing people’s lives. We’ve done a lot of reaching out.

We ran into an individual who was from Jamaica, and he was looking to go to the States, and we ended up working with him to try to get him over here, under a visa and find a job so that he could start living his dream, so to speak.

So, we really take that to heart, and yes, ultimately it is about finding people jobs that they want, but we look at that as leading to the beginning to changing their lives.

StaffingHub: That’s a great story. I’m going to zoom out a little bit. An industry that grows as quickly as ours is bound to go through some growing pains. And I think the industry is going through some of those right now. So, in your experience, what does the industry need to do to keep up with that change?

Wagner: So traditional staffing is obviously not technology, it’s not a technology company that’s not our job, so to speak, or what we do. However, I’d argue that any company that’s going to remain in business or continue to grow is really a technology company.

Whether that’s their main business or not, technology is critical to success of any business and any industry, whether it’s manufacturing, medical banking, financial, it doesn’t matter.

So, in terms of staying relevant I think is probably the most critical thing.

Technology is one of those things that helps us remain relevant. We make sure that we are constantly looking at new technology and asking: does it fit our business model? Does it fit our values? And ultimately will it drive revenue?

So we’re constantly on the outlook for new things. But you got to be careful, anytime you implement change within an organization, and as you put it, we’ve done a lot of growing over the past 15 to 18 years and change has kind of become, fortunately, but unfortunately I guess, it depends on who you ask, but change has become part of the culture.

And again, going back to the technology piece, I think change is just as important as being able to remain relevant, requires change. And organizations, whether staffing, industry or others, I think have to develop or adapt to that mindset that change becomes a normal part of doing business and not something that’s unique or infrequent.

StaffingHub: Or something to be resistant to.

Wagner: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

StaffingHub: You mentioned something that I find really interesting. You said that you strive to choose tech choices that align with your values. Can you talk a little bit about how you do that or how you think about tech aligning with your values?

Wagner: Sure. So I mean in general, I guess you could, I mean, if you look at, for example, our core values are empowerment, accountability, integrity, and passionate performance, those are our four core values.

For example, from the empowerment standpoint, we want to invest in or implement technology that allows both, ideally all of the groups, whether it’s a customer, a candidate, a current employee, or an internal employee even to do their job autonomously as much as possible without as much oversight. And I think that that kind of plays into that empowerment value.

So some of this stuff, I don’t think, is technology-based. Integrity, I think, is a human trait more than it is a computer one or technology. But the things that help us have those checks and balances are technology-based, and they ensure that what we think is the right thing to do is the right thing to do. Whether it’s an auditing process of our financial systems or a cyber security review or whatever.

So, I think investing in those technologies that drive those core values is important. It doesn’t mean that’s the only technology that we look at and that every single one of them have to line up with a value. But oftentimes, even in a roundabout way, sometimes they end up actually supporting those values. And then definitely, our mission. So.

StaffingHub: And what in your experience, what tools, or tech solutions have had the biggest wow factor, the biggest impact for your team on the ground?

Wagner: I think that’s going to be different depending on who you ask. Because we try to implement tools that have the greatest impact on the organization. And obviously, that means that if we can implement something that impacts internal employees, our temporary employees, our customers and our candidates who haven’t even applied with us yet necessarily, or the to be candidates, obviously, those are the most ideal.

But, if you’re looking at recruiting and sales, TextUs has been a very useful tool for getting out our message on jobs or new positions or new shifts that are available. That’s a good example of where it’s used in multiple places, or within multiple roles within our organization.

So, customers get the benefit of it, but ultimately employees can use it and it can be used as a sales or recruiting tool as well. And it can do that autonomously or manual and gets the message out there to a large population and it’s a consistent message. So, you don’t have to worry about different messages going out to the same group. And it does it in a very timely and quick fashion.

So, I mean that’s one example of technology that we’ve adapted that had a bigger impact than just specifically a certain department or a certain group within our organization.

StaffingHub: Yeah. And that’s interesting that those seemingly small tech choices can have impact across an organization. That I think some people think of technology solutions as either really having a really small or constrained impact or being like a massive solution like a CRM or something. But that’s a good example of just a simple tool that can change things across the organization.

Wagner: Yeah. It can have a significant impact even though it may be small in the groups that it impacts, it’s still going to have an overall positive impact to the entire organization, even if it’s just certain groups. So.

StaffingHub: So I hear a lot from the staffing execs that I talk to and we hear that all the conferences that we go to, that the war for talent is getting tighter and tighter. And I think a lot of times people point to the same sort of tired sourcing platforms that everyone has been using for a decade and are getting sort of flooded with staffing firms. Are there any alternative sourcing models or even alternative ways of thinking about sourcing that you’re really excited about?

Wagner: Well, in my opinion it all comes down to choice. Today’s potential worker or employee is looking, I think, for more choices than maybe I was when I started my career. And so I think letting the employee decide how they want to be contacted, how they want to apply for a job, how they want to schedule their shifts, how much human contact, or one-on-one conversations, or in-person meetings.

You can talk about interviews through technology like Skype or Microsoft Teams or HarQen or all sorts of these other technologies that exist out there to do some type of interview. But, I may be of the type of candidate that likes to do that face-to-face, not through a computer or over a video camera or an audio recording.

But, allowing them to make that choice I think can be a differentiator between getting that candidate to be your employee versus a competitors’. So I don’t think it’s just one thing, but ultimately I think it’s a bunch of things that lead up to or result in choice and letting the individual choose what they want and the experiences that they want. Do they want, again, a chatbot, another big technology that gets used a lot in the industry and it’s really getting some momentum.

I may prefer just to pick up the phone and call somebody, but every now and then, maybe I don’t want to talk to somebody. Maybe I’m in the doctor’s office waiting to go in the waiting room and I can just do the chatbot and get the information I want. So, it could be situational too.

I think it’s all about allowing choice, giving as much choice as you can, whether that’s in the form of technology or environment or culture that the company offers, I think it’s all about choice.

StaffingHub: That’s a great point. And how do you see the industry evolving in the next few years?

Wagner: Well, hopefully it continues to grow. We all need that. Recession is something that’s on everybody’s mind. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, and it’s always something that gets discussed and looked at and you never know.

So you’ve kind of, there’s indicators, and markers that they put out and suggest that, oh, we may get a recession then or in six months or maybe it’s a year. And so you’ve constantly got to be looking at those and planning for them. But I would argue that you almost always should be doing that. That way before it hits, when it hits, if it hits, you’re already setting up your position up to be successful through those. So to your question, I think traditional staffing is always going to have a place in it.

Traditional staffing is always going to be around, I don’t see it getting replaced 100% by technology.

There are a lot of companies out there that have part of staffing, maybe they do a search and match or maybe they do shift scheduling for employees or some part of the process. And, I think it’s important that, again, going back to this whole choice point, is making sure that we’re building solutions and providing solutions that offer the most choice to the individuals. Not just in the technology they use, but the jobs that we can offer. And I think if we continue to do that, then the future’s bright.

StaffingHub: That’s great. So this is sort of shifting gears, but I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and how execs can sort of steer their companies through, hopefully not, but the dark times of recessions or rapid growth, too. But do you have any sort of leadership advice that you’ve picked up throughout your career that you regularly draw on, whether it’s in times of growth or times of stagnancy?

Wagner: So, in my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the staffing industry with the same company.

I’ve seen our company grow from a $300 million company when I joined, to a $2 billion company. So I’ve seen both. I’ve obviously seen that rapid growth, and I’ve also seen some bad times when we’ve had recession. Don’t panic. That’s one thing that probably applies to both.

And I’m in the technology end of the business, but that’s my expertise. But, I have to think just as much about the business, if not more, than the technology. Because ultimately, the technology needs to drive the business forward, right?

So, I think that I would say, change is inevitable. Don’t fear it and don’t panic when things aren’t going your way. Or maybe I should say don’t go exactly how you perceived they would or predicted they would happen or wanted them to happen.

Stay calm, stay steady, kind of steer the ship, keep it on course. And I think that’s all you can do.

And 9 times out of 10, if you do those things and you’re planning for those things in advance and that you’re looking to implement new business processes, new technology, whatever the case may be, consistently adapting to the industry and the changing needs, then you’re going to get through it. Stay steady. I mean, I’m not suggesting keep doing what you’re doing because change is part of what you should be doing.

That’s my advice: don’t panic, stay the course, as it were, and make sure that you are doing those things in advance so that when a recession or a downturn in the economy happens, you’re not finding yourself on the short end of the stick.

StaffingHub: That’s great. I think, yeah. And so what changes are on the horizon for Staffmark?

Wagner: You mean that I can talk about?

StaffingHub: Only what you want to share.

Wagner: Yes, yes. I don’t want to get in trouble. We have, as I said, maybe you could call it forced, but we’ve had to get very used to adapting to change within our organization. Whether it was because of growth, acquisition or a merger, or because new technology. We needed to just shift gears and do something different. So, what I can say is that everything I mentioned before about offering choice to our customers, our talent, both internal and external, that we are investing a lot of time and a lot of money into making sure that we remain relevant and as both a traditional staffing company, but also making sure that we have the technology to offer other solutions, without saying too much, to that pool.

I think that’s about all I can say about that for now. But there’s definitely stuff in the works and we’ve implemented a lot of stuff this year and I think the next Q1, Q2 of next year are going to be big for us in terms of that, hopefully. So we’ll see. We’ll see.

StaffingHub: Well, that sounds exciting.

Wagner: Yeah. I hope so. I hope it works out that way.

StaffingHub: Well, thank you so much for joining us on the show and for your insight. I really appreciate it.

Wagner: Oh, thank you for having me. It’s my pleasure.

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