It s not unusual for global> companies to try to impress visitors by flying the flags of the countries of their best customers. But Manpower goes a little crazy: It has so many flags floating in the breeze outside its new world headquarters that it looks like the United Nations has opened a branch office in downtown Milwaukee.
The flag-waving is understandable from a company that does business in 82 countries or territories, employing millions of associates, or temps, everywhere from France to Vietnam. But it s how many temporary factory workers and secretaries are being hired in the U.S. that s getting the attention lately. If there s a canary in the economic coal mine, it s a staffing firm like Manpower. As the economy recovers, companies typically hire temps before adding full-time workers. And recent reports look promising: The Labor Department says the U.S. added almost 313,000 temporary jobs from September through March, after losing 330,000 temp jobs in the first nine months of 2009.
Though it may be too soon to declare a turnaround, the trend couldn t have come at a better time. The total number of workers Manpower placed in jobs plunged last year to 3 million, from 5 million just two years earlier. Revenue fell by 26 percent in 2009, and the firm reported a loss for the year. Manpower CEO Jeffrey Joerres had to do some downsizing of his own, closing 10 percent of its employment offices worldwide, to 4,000. The stock price tumbled to below $25 early last year but has since rebounded on hopes of a recovery.
With the U.S. now making up just 10 percent of its business, Manpower is also counting on the rest of the world to pick up the pace. Joerres has added 30 countries to the Manpower roster since taking the helm in 1999, mostly by starting new operations rather than acquiring competitors. We should be good enough to go get that business, he says. It may take me four years instead of six months, but if I m playing the long game, I get a much better return.
Like his two predecessors, Joerres is a native of Milwaukee, where the company was founded in 1948. The quintessential case of local boy makes good, he won a basketball scholarship to attend prep school and was the first in his family to go to college. He hasn t forgotten his blue-collar roots. Once a year he rolls up his sleeves and works in one of the company s employment offices, placing job-hungry workers in temporary positions. At the same time, he s not averse to hobnobbing with fellow Milwaukee executives and joins some for long weekend rides on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. We call ourselves the Leather Butts, he says.
We sat down with Joerres in his office overlooking the Milwaukee River, where he discussed Manpower s challenges, the global employment outlook and why millions of full-time positions remain unfilled across the U.S. and Europe.
Temporary hiring is picking up. Do you expect more full-time jobs to follow?
Usually the lag before permanent hiring will be seven to nine months, but I think it will take longer this time. Companies have gotten more sophisticated. In the 80s, they would hire as soon as economists declared an end to a recession. But now they know exactly where their product is, what their backlog is and how much labor they need.
You ve spoken recently about a talent mismatch, the fact that 2.6 million jobs are vacant in the United States and another 4 million in Europe because there aren t enough workers with those exact skills.
It is a global problem, but it is more acute at the mid- to higher-level skills. Companies have become extremely efficient. In the past they might have sent a computer programmer away for three months of classes and then started on a new project. In today s world they don t have those three months, so they will hire Sue to replace Joan, because Joan doesn t know the latest version of a computer program.
So Joan basically needed to retrain herself in her spare time?
Yes, which is so unfair. But without that, you are out of the flow.
Why did you keep interviewing people during the global downturn?
We think to stop would hurt our brand. We have a responsibility to the 11 million people we interviewed last year. Our people are trained to deliver bad news if we don t see any jobs for them. And we have a secret: If you give us a r sum or apply for a job, you get access to 4,500 online training courses.
But at the same time, you were closing offices.
We did very little of that in the U.S. In France, where we had 1,000 offices, we now have 800. We got a little out of control with 1,000. We had a Starbucks syndrome, where you could see one Manpower office from inside of another one.
How do you decide the time is ripe to move into a new market?
We will follow where governments want us to go and where clients want us to go. Emerging markets are very intrigued by us because we do job training. We bring a sense of calmness to a chaotic labor market. We can help them with the transition of people from agriculture to industry.
I assume there has to be a basic level of public security first.
We won t be helicoptering into Iraq anytime soon.
What is Manpower s most improbable assignment?
We do all of the recruitment for the Australian military. If you think about it, we have the ability to find someone, test them and match them to the right job. We can do that for engineers. We can do that for soldiers, too.