Mike Fettig describes the local job market as hot, but also a tough one for finding the right employees for client companies. Photo by Michael Buck
Mike Fettig said there’s a BHAG at the Fettig employment agency in Grand Rapids — as well as a new home with windows overlooking the Grand River.
BHAG stands for “big hairy audacious goal,” and the BHAG at Fettig is “to make staffing a positive word in West Michigan by 2020,” Fettig said.
The firm known as Ameritemp Staffing was acquired by Mike’s parents, Kim and Rhonda Fettig, in 2007.
“We changed our name three years ago because we wanted to drop a certain connotation with that name,” he said. “We didn’t want it to imply temp staffing.”
Mike joined the family business in 2008 and is now executive vice president, reporting to his father, who is the CEO. Mike manages the operations, marketing and corporate strategy for Fettig, which describes itself as a staffing and recruitment firm.
Since Fettig joined the company, it has grown significantly, with average annual growth rates above 20 percent. He played a major role in the implementation and launch of the company’s light industrial staffing group, as well as the rebrand of the company in 2012.
This is not Fettig’s original career — that was in education. A Grand Rapids native and 2004 Western Michigan University grad, he earned a math and science teaching certificate and taught for two years in Greater Grand Rapids, then decided “teaching was not for me.”
“I knew I wanted to be in a business,” he said, noting he comes from an entrepreneurial family, including two entrepreneurial grandparents. One of his grandfathers founded Executone, business telephone systems and a call center for medical professionals. It became NetCom Group, which was managed by Kim Fettig from 1987 to 2004, when he sold the business.
Fettig can easily pinpoint his big career break: “landing in the staffing industry” after two years of teaching. He worked for a staffing company for two years in recruiting and account management before joining his father at Ameritemp.
“Our core values are people and performance,” he said. His staff are called “staffing partners” and his office isn’t the typical executive suite with the best view — that’s for his recruiters and account managers. His office is further inside the building, away from the view of the Grand River.
Fettig said the staffing industry during recent years had come to be seen in a somewhat negative light, in view of the number of “temps” that were replacing full-time employees at many businesses, especially industrial companies.
As manufacturing companies started going through repeat waves of layoffs in the 1990s while moving plant operations to Mexico or Asia, they often resorted to hiring a large percentage of temporary employees whenever there was a sudden need for them due to an uptick in orders. A large layoff of temps would not entail the negative public relations or legal complications of a layoff of regular employees.
Some companies regularly hire temps as part of an employment screening process with the intention of hiring the best of them as full-time, permanent employees. The temporary employment is a way to get to know them without any commitment.
Fettig said some staffing agencies tend to treat people “like a commodity,” and some people who work as temps subsequently get the feeling of being second-class citizens.
“We seek out (client companies) that care about people and are going to treat them well,” said Fettig.
In fact, about 80 percent of the company’s business is finding employees who will be hired in permanently. The other 20 percent are companies seeking seasonal workers or employees for special temporary projects.
The Fettig agency spends a great deal of effort on recruiting high-caliber employees for its client companies, which number about 100 companies a year. Fettig refers thousands of individuals to employers each year, and last year about 500 of them were hired permanently.
Individuals placed in jobs do not pay for the service; it is paid by the client companies.
The Affordable Care Act has had a major impact on staffing agencies since, technically, the “associates” placed in jobs are legally Fettig employees in many cases, depending largely on how many hours a week they work.
The ACA was also a major issue for client companies. Fettig said his customers wanted to know if their company would be responsible for meeting ACA requirements of temporary or contract workers.
“As our company evaluated the options set before us, we consulted both local and national attorneys to best understand our options and then filtered our options through our values — people and performance,” he said.
“We saw two clear options: a lesser plan that offered less to the associates and less coverage to our customers/clients but met the needs of ACA, or a more expensive, more complex option. We chose the more complex, more expensive plan that showed we cared about our customers/clients needs being met and offered the best coverage to our associates.
“It was a difficult year as I look back and remember the moving pieces of the ACA, and it seemed as though it was never going to remain fixed long enough to make an informed decision, but we made it through and our customers seem to be happy with the results.”
Fettig estimates there may be as many as 50 staffing agencies in the region. “We would be one of the largest privately held and family operated,” he added.
The Fettig firm has just one location — a new one that reflects a $1 million investment on Grand Rapids’ northwest side. Previously on 28th Street SE, Fettig is now on Leonard Street. Large windows installed in the renovation of the building provide a close-up view of the Grand River, clearly appreciated by the staff.
Staffing in the region used to be mainly for manufacturers of office furniture and automotive parts, but now it is more diversified, with medical equipment makers and food processors playing a bigger role. Fettig guesses 65 percent or more of client companies are involved in manufacturing.
Business in West Michigan is very good these days.
“It’s a hot job market,” said Fettig, with the local unemployment rate dipping down to about 3 percent. He predicts it will continue to be a hot job market, which obviously bodes well for all staffing agencies and management recruiters.
“It’s good, but it’s tough” for the Fettig firm because its emphasis is on better educated, experienced and motivated employees that client companies can consider as potential permanent employees.
“Finding good people is much harder” than just rounding up warm bodies, he said. Fettig recruiters spend a great deal of time meeting with job candidates.
Fettig said they look for those who are seeking good jobs and are likely candidates for client companies to hire permanently.
He said barriers to employment include lack of work ethic, lack of a consistent work history, criminal convictions and inability to pass a pre-employment drug screening. Not everyone with a criminal conviction is ruled out. He said his company adheres to client companies’ policies regarding convictions.
The demand for general labor in the light industrial market is not as high as it once was, but “everyone matters,” Fettig added.
He and his father work well together in managing the company. Mike describes them as “best friends outside of work, as well as inside.” Both have Christian ministries, as well.
“I love going to work. I love what we do and enjoy the people on our teams. I do not dread a Monday morning, ever.”