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Staffing Version 2.0: Pooling People & Hannah McKinnon

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Staffing Version 2.0: Pooling People & Hannah McKinnonA Canada-based online company is the pioneer for a 21st-century version of temporary and permanent hiring.

At Pooling People, employers with a need to create work for their staff can connect with understaffed companies looking for assistance, borrowing and lending out workers.

Poolingpeople.ca is the brainchild of Hannah McKinnon, an enchanting and enthusiastic half-British, half-Swiss businesswoman with a 15-year background at an information technology recruitment firm. Her LinkedIn profile is flooded with testaments to her work ethic and creative insight.

McKinnon was inspired by a comment her father made about 13 years ago on the building industry. Some companies were understaffed, needing an extra worker for specific projects, while other companies had surplus staff. McKinnon’s father wondered if there wasn’t some way to connect these companies so they could share workers.

It was the 1990s when her father posed the question to McKinnon, a time when the Internet was still in its formative stages, and social networking didn’t exist. McKinnon put his request in the back of her mind.

Meanwhile, McKinnon told Staffing Talk, a recurring theme was being heard about the staffing industry. McKinnon said the staffing industry has a poor reputation universally.

Though it was a “very broadsweeping statement,” McKinnon said the general consensus was that staffing agency usage was necessary because it was the only option for many companies, they were unhappy with the quality of work these agencies were providing. Adding to the frustration was the high cost to use a recruitment company.

McKinnon moved to Oakville, Canada, about 18 months ago. While reconsidering her career future, she revisited her father’s question, and it germinated into an idea.

Together, they drew up a model for a Web site, where a company could register profiles of its available employees. Other companies looking for temporary workers could then search these profiles and “borrow” the workers, and get them at salary cost, or negotiate for a lesser fee.

McKinnon also created the opportunity for downsizing companies to register the workers they planned to lay off on the site. Not only would this introduce these employees to the recruiting community, but it would show the company is actively involved in helping its employees find other work, and give the remaining workers a sense of security, should the same happen to them.

“There’s a feel-good factor involved,” she said.

McKinnon’s Web site was launched in January, and accomplished the following goals:

  • Overstaffed companies’ idle-time costs were reduced
  • Borrowing companies were saved from high fees from recruitment agencies, as Pooling People offers a free six-month trial basis and an annual fee of only $250
  • Employees were given job security

“They have the benefit of not having the axe hanging above their head,” McKinnon said.

Further, borrowed employees may acquire new skills with their opportunity to work in a different environment, gaining “at the very least, a broadning of horizons,” McKinnon said.

Initially, the attraction of such a Web site stemmed from the construction business, as workers are used to moving from project to project, but McKinnon eventually wanted to incorporate other industries that didn’t necessarily need to remove employees from their location.

Graphic design, for instance, could be done over the Web, so an employee based out of Buffalo, N.Y., could take on a job in Toronto without having to travel. The removal of geographical boundaries was a “very sexy and attractive” idea, McKinnon said, and is just one aspect that makes Pooling People unique.

“It’s removing the obstacles,” she said.

Over the course of developing the site, concern arose over confidentiality and potential poaching of workers. McKinnon designed templates that prevented the site from divulging profile information about the employee, and created a clause in which the borrower agrees not to “hire away” the employee for at least a year.

Along the same lines, McKinnon said there was also the fear of employees not wanting to return to their permanent job. Realistically, she said, an employee is most likely already looking for work if their current job cannot provide enough hours or projects. If the employer can demonstrate they are making every effort possible to find the employees work, “it will definitely increase their respect to the company,” she said.

Since its inception, Pooling People has signed over 50 companies, many of which are in the Toronto area.

“The reactions have been very positive,” McKinnon said.

She has even received comments that her services are underpriced, but McKinnon said she wouldn’t consider raising the fee because it is likely more companies would be daunted by a higher fee – hence the reason they hesitate to go through recruitment agencies.

“We didn’t want to make this exclusive,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon said she hasn’t actively promoted the site in the United States yet, but “the intention is to take it [there] eventually.” She has been speaking with U.S. attorneys on the feasibility of bringing Pooling People to the country, and it was all systems go.

“They got very excited,” she said. “It would be very easy to do.”

The concept of borrowing and lending workers has not yet reached the United States in any format similar to Pooling People. Melissa Beattie, of the American Staffing Association, said, “ASA is not aware of any particular firms operating under this model.”

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