Looking back, July of 2020 probably wasn’t the ideal time to start a business. This was the height of the second wave of COVID; a time when we were all wondering about the future, and where this might all end.
But certain people are just wired differently. Cases in point: Andy Downing and Ken Townsend, the founders of Indianapolis-based JobConnect.
Where others saw a human and economic crisis, Downing and Townsend (somehow) saw opportunity. Bringing a wealth of staffing experience to the table, the gentlemen felt that they understood the gaps in the market well enough to exploit them at a time when millions of others were being forced out of jobs.
How do you build a staffing firm with a foundation of efficiency at the height of a global pandemic? Theirs is a remarkably successful story, and one that uses a surprisingly universal blueprint.
Downing was a staffing veteran whose previous experiences had often painted a picture of how not to run a firm.
“I was previously at a company that was using paper for everything. They had a bunch of people in their physical office — managing paperwork, running E-Verify — and it felt like we were taking a step backwards in terms of efficiency. It took an hour to process a single candidate; to make sure we were tracking everything and knowledge was dispersed among different people.”
So Downing began to wonder what the other side of the coin looked like. Exactly how efficient could a staffing firm be? He found a kindred spirit in Townsend, who had also spent much of his own professional life wading through staffing inefficiency.
“I wanted to see how far Ken and I could take it,” Downing explains. “We could tell that the two of us could do what eight people used to do. The only metric I put on anything was to lessen the amount of folks necessary to be in the office.”
The pair ended up settling on a slightly more achievable goal of 3:1 staffing levels: if a traditional staffing firm demanded three people in the office, JobConnect would have one. By lowering the reliance on humans, the company would in turn significantly lower their levels of risk, particularly in the volatile, pandemic-riddled market that they’d tasked themselves with entering.
The next question: how? Armed with his new title of Chief Opportunity Officer, Downing set to work.
Downing looked at any and every aspect of the new company’s operations that wasn’t focused exclusively on active recruiting, i.e. the soft skilled and eminently human aspects of the job. He looked at the administrative and operational work, the data entry and management, even significant chunks of the company’s communication strategy. If the task was laborious, monotonous, and repetitive, and if he felt as though a machine could do a semi-decent job of it, he searched for a tool that could automate it.
On top of taking care of all the busywork, JobConnect could also lean on the ability of the automation software to scale the business. The firm wouldn’t be hamstrung by the long-winded process of finding the best staffing talent, nor would they have to worry about layoffs or workforce reductions during challenging times.
It was all about replacing repetitive tasks with technology. When the time came to start their venture that July, the pair secured an office and began by focusing on a handful of clients, using technology to automate processes that didn’t need to be manned by people.
Ironically, the focus on automation allowed the firm to be more human from the get-go. “We wanted to maintain that person-to-person interaction,” says Townsend. “We created a physical space that candidates would only come into when they had to. All the paperwork was taken care of virtually, and the office would only be there for real quality time.”
One of the tools that JobConnect decided to leverage was Able.
“Part of the investment was about scalability,” says Downing. “When we think about potentially adding more recruiters to the team, we want to make sure we’re letting recruiters do what they’re supposed to do: find great talent and place it. Onboarding tasks aren’t their job.”
Enter Able, which keeps JobConnect’s processes in one place — the likes of e-signatures, placement details, I-9 and WOTC tracking, tax information, and more — and could be easily configured to accommodate JobConnect’s unique workflows.
Able ensured that JobConnect’s onboarding workflows just happened. When a new employee is placed, they get a welcome email. When a background screening needs to be run, it will be run. If the E-Verify box is ticked, things will be verified. The confidence and peace of mind that this engenders in a recruiter allows them to focus less on tracking and compliance issues, and more on delivering amazing candidate experiences and building up the business.
“Able was a no-brainer for our tech stack. We’re trying to offer the simplest path to deployment, whether that’s easy-to-deal-with people or an easy-to-deal-with platform,” Downing confirms. “I always strive for ease of use, and Able is great for us and our candidates.”
While the challenge of establishing a business during a global pandemic was undeniable, JobConnect actually enjoyed one significant advantage over larger and more established firms. As a company that has been built from the ground up with automation in mind, the team wasn't shackled by legacy technologies and processes.
Thus, from the very beginning, JobConnect had a propensity toward efficiency. Nonetheless, it was still a surprise exactly how quickly business ramped up. Accounts soon began rolling in, drawn by the outward simplicity of JobConnect’s operations, as well as that palpable central Midwestern charm (much of which was provided by Smokey, the JobConnect mascot.)
It’s time to start doing things differently. Increase your investment in technology, subsequently increasing your efficiency and scalability. Understand that automation doesn’t replace the human experience, but fuels it, by giving your recruiters their time back.
You see an opportunity and you go for it, safe in the knowledge that a quality approach will see you through any form of crisis.