Best PracticesVMS and MSP are acronyms that have changed the staffing industry landscape significantly over the past decade and, for better or worse, they are here to stay. I say “better or worse” because my own experiences have sometimes been mixed and I believe, based on anecdotal evidence and published industry analysis, that this is the case for other firms and our clients as well. Good software and well run programs that are embraced by hiring managers can improve efficiency and results while reducing costs. Bad programs range from ineffective to costly; if your systems are complex and cumbersome and your processes are too restrictive and inflexible, managers may grudgingly comply until they find ways around it. Efficiencies will be ephemeral and cost savings short-lived.

The good news is that there is advice and guidance available for those who are planning to implement or redesign a CW program. Several years ago, the American Staffing Association organized an Industry Best Practices committee for Managed Service Programs and Vendor Management Systems, and published the results to ASA members in March 2008. It provides information on a range of topics including implementation, order and requisition management, candidate submittal, financial management and engaging staffing firms. Staffing Industry Analysts also provides best practices for both buyers and suppliers and just last month released the results of their 2010 Contingent Buyer Survey providing insight into customer satisfaction with VMS and MSP providers. Lastly, I encourage you to search the Internet, judiciously of course. You can find some very useful overviews and information on various types of VMS and MSP (SaaS, third-party, full service) from the providers themselves and other industry professionals.

How can I help? I hope by sharing my experience and opinion on one facet of a program, albeit a critical one: the importance of communication. This is not a revelation – we all know good communication is a key to any success in life. I am referring specifically to the need for communication between the client and the staffing firm and ensuring that your VMS and MSP do not restrict or prohibit communication in ways that are detrimental to the overall goals and success of the program.

The goal of any program is to provide contingent workers who have the requisite skills and experience as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. The more that a staffing firm, and in particular their recruiters, knows about your company and the position you are trying to fill, the more successful they will be in doing so. A good MSP will provide ways to centralize and consolidate communication opportunities where it makes sense, while allowing for direct contact when and where it is most needed and most beneficial.

For example, it is a good idea to provide staffing firms with opportunities to learn about your company’s culture and intangible or soft-skill job requirements in addition to the specific requirements of each position that come with a requisition. Facility tours, job shadowing, and informational sessions that involve multiple providers are more efficient than individual meetings or multiple calls from providers to hiring managers. Training on systems and procedures is obviously also the purview of the MSP provider. Whether internally or externally managed, your MSP should reduce the administrative burden on your hiring managers and these types of activities can get your providers the information they need without involving them. But programs that include prohibitions on contact and rely on the MSP to act as middleman or gatekeeper between the recruiter and the hiring manager will not be as successful as those that do not. One only needs to recall the childhood game of telephone, where a message is quietly repeated from one person to the next until at the end it is announced aloud, to understand why this is so. The results of the game usually demonstrate dramatic and often humorous changes but this is not what you want in business; that type of miscommunication wastes time and costs money. A complete and detailed job description is the first step in efficient communication, but when there are questions about the nuances of a position, the hiring manager will almost always be better able to properly communicate this information than a program manager.

This is especially true in the case of difficult to fill positions or where there is a need for specialized skills such as IT or engineering. ATR specializes in finding these kinds of contractors, so I know this firsthand. We have worked with all types and models of programs with varying levels of contact allowed, and consistently the most successful programs are the ones that allow communication and relationship development. No one wants excessive vendor solicitations, constant contact or unnecessary communications, but a good client/supplier relationship is none of those things. It is the basis for a truer understanding of your company’s business needs and CW goals that will result in long term efficiencies and more successful placements. Using your MSP provider as a screen deprives you of these benefits.

Most of all, you should consider the needs and desires of your company and your end users when it comes to how you structure your program and what decisions you should make with regard to communications. Remember that one size does not always fit all and you may find that some hiring managers want more or less direct contact than others. What works in your manufacturing division may not be best for the IT group. I think the key is to be flexible and allow your managers discretion, and when someone suggests prohibiting communication and contact, think twice. Take a look at your program and make sure that your communication policies, however well intentioned, don’t make it harder for you to find the right candidate. When it comes to your MSP, outsource the administration not the relationship.

Jerry Brenholz,
President and CEO
ATR International


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