Filling the Gaps
Doherty Staffing celebrates 35 very successful years helping employers find the right employees—a task never more important than it is today for manufacturers.
From the May 2015 issue of Enterprise Minnesota.
In 1983, just three years after starting a staffing company, Tim Doherty was feeling confident that his fledgling company just might succeed. So comfortable, in fact, that he decided to close his operation on the day after Thanksgiving and reward his employees with a long weekend.
That Saturday, Doherty made his regular Saturday visit to the office and saw that his answering machine was blinking. It was a message from a Fridley-based meatpacker, his first, and at the time, his biggest, client. Short and sweet: “We’re working today,” was the message. “Apparently you aren’t. We’re going to find a company that is.” Click.
Doherty learned a lesson. “We lost the business,” Doherty remembers, adding that he has never since closed his offices on the day after Thanksgiving. The lesson: Be there when your clients are. And, as he commemorates his 35th year in business, Doherty has earned the reputation of being there for his clients.
Headquartered in Minneapolis for 35 years, Doherty Staffing Solutions offers customized workforce solutions to companies doing business in Minnesota and across the nation. Doherty Staffing is the largest staffing firm based in Minnesota.
Today, Doherty’s 225-plus employees operate nearly 20 office locations and over 25 remote (client on-site) locations across the Midwest. Aside from its corporate offices in Edina, additional main territory offices are located in St. Cloud and Owatonna. For staffing and recruiting, Doherty’s service area reaches as far east as Eau Claire, Wisc., as far south as Lennox, Iowa, as far west as Wakefield, Neb., and as far north as Crookston.
Doherty grew up with four brothers in Minnetonka. When he was in the 10th grade, in the summer of 1970, his father moved the family to Litchfield and bought an A&W Root Beer stand. Doherty moved back to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota, where he received a degree in business. After a year selling insurance and a couple of years selling for Proctor & Gamble, he joined a local staffing company in the fall of 1979, in the midst of a recession. He was let go after just a few months.
Undeterred, he took his father’s advice and decided to establish his own staffing firm, using a bank loan secured by the equity in his parents’ home. No Minnesota bank would make the loan, so Doherty went to Wisconsin, where looser usury laws allowed the family to get a loan with a 24 percent interest rate.
“That was one of my first lessons,” Doherty says. “When you need the money, it doesn’t matter what the interest rate is.”
His first operation was a decidedly low-tech affair—a very small office and a phone. His staff included two employees, including his mother. He tracked work orders by clipping them to a clothesline, not unlike in an old-fashioned diner. The application process, the payroll and the invoices were all hand-written, “by my mother,” Doherty recalls.
A lot has evolved since then. His operation became an early adopter of computers in 1980 and he expanded greatly by creating Doherty Employer Services, a human resources outsourcing business. He talks today about the sometimes confounding development of employment law, the creative and useful growth of temporary employees, possible resolutions to the skills gap, and how to confront the growing maze of bureaucracy behind health care reform.
After founding his company in a recession, he has survived at least four others, along with his manufacturing clients. And like most manufacturers, he says recessions can be a time to learn lessons.
“Each time, the staffing industry has grown bigger,” he says. “And then each time, in each downturn, the industry has taken a much larger downturn.”
One outgrowth of the most recent recession has been the increased use of temporary employees, which Doherty attributes to the rapid increase in the sophistication of technology.
“The costs of having product sitting on the shelves has gone away, by the ability to forecast and the ability to ramp up quickly,” he says, adding that executives also want to minimize the pain of downturns. “Companies have managed to learn how to manage the workforce more productively by ramping up when they need to ramp up and then ramping down. The whole pain of having to lay off full-time employees is a bad memory for a lot of them. They want to be more diligent in being loyal to their core workforce and then to utilize contract employees to ramp up for a particular project, and then have the ability to ramp down again.”
Doherty is also keenly aware of the skills gap. His recruiters still work closely with tech schools to find potential employees, but the opportunities are rare. “Most students have multiple offers before they graduate,” he says.
The trend, he says, began in the mid-’80s, as cost-cutting high schools eliminated shop class. “There really is no such thing as vocational-type training in high schools anymore,” he laments.
To compensate, Doherty Staffing makes an effort to help educate students about potential career opportunities. “Like it or not, our country seems to be on a path in which all high school students should be looking to go to college, to get a degree in liberal arts,” he says. “Over the past couple of years, that realization and the publicity has started to come back. But how do you reverse a trend that took 20 years to develop and change it in a year or two?”
Doherty has also worked directly with employers to help train employees. For example, Doherty helped the AGCO Engineering Center in Jackson set up a mobile facility in which it helped employees receive welding certifications.
Doherty says his company also is keenly aware of finding employees with basic soft skill behaviors, such as showing up on time, five days each week.
“It’s one of the things that our staffing clients look to get from us,” he says. “It’s expensive to recruit employees. That’s one of the key reasons that companies will use a staffing company. [They want to] streamline that process and watch and observe the soft skills of employees.”
The soft skills attitudes seem to always be an issue between generations. “It was said back in the ’80s, too,” he notes, “I don’t know if it is any different. You are always going to have individuals that, as much as they may want to, have a hard time showing up five days per week.”