Traditionally, college career centers were free or low-cost source for companies looking for the next fresh face. But what if that changed?
It’s already happening at San Jose State University. Last year, a busy small business owner too swamped to find a candidate himself asked the college, “Can’t you just send me someone and I’ll pay you?” That got Daniel Newell, a Program Manager of Workforce & Economic Development at the San Jose, Calif. institution thinking: the school should charge for headhunting.
Employers are used to paying small fees to attend job fairs or space on campus for interviews Still, SJSU is one of the first to charge for headhunting services, according to Lisa Severy, president of the National Career Development Association in Broken Arrow, Okla. Severy, who is also the Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado in Boulder, says with funding for higher education decreasing, it makes sense for career centers to generate revenue beyond job fair fees, says Severy.
Admittedly, not every college career office could get away with charging for access to its student body. SJSU is less than a 30-minute drive from bold-face names like Apple in Mountain View and Facebook in Menlo Park. While big tech firms love to hire from Stanford, MIT and Harvard, SJSU’s location has helped it develop relationships with big employers that other state schools might not have. Meanwhile, every other local employer must compete with big Silicon Valley names for talent and can use the help rising above the din.
“They’re in a very unique spot there,” Says Edwin Koc, Director of research, public policy and legislative affairs at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Their graduates are highly sought after in the tech space.”
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Managing students’ career needs has become increasingly difficult at SJSU. Newell points out that an increasing number of students and alumni are participating in informational sessions to prepare for connecting with employers and job fairs, which means more event prep and coordination work for Career Center staff. Student and alumni attendance at informational sessions increased 188 percent between the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years, and job fair attendance rose 21 percent over the same period, he says.
Of the 15 professionals in the university’s Career Center, seven work directly with businesses, handling employers’ phone calls, emails, and recruitment inquiries, Newell says. Through SJSU Spartan Staffing, the Career Center was able to bring on an additional four recruiters to serve as liaisons between SJSU’s student and alumni populations and employers, explains Newell. The four recruiters are employed by two local staffing agencies, Slingshot Connections and Expandability, a local non-profit staffing service specializing in individuals with disabilities, but do business on behalf of the university, Newell says.
SJSU Spartan Staffing is unique because it focuses on employment, says Newell, pointing out that that, as far as he knows, no other public university offers for-fee staffing services to employers. University career centers typically don’t make candidate referrals and tend to focus on career counseling and professional development, he continues. SJSU “is doing both, counseling students in their career path while taking a very proactive approach to helping them get a job or internship,” explains Newell.
Asked why an employer would pay SJSU Spartan Staffing to source an employee when an employer could get itself a Harvard or Stanford grad for free, Newell counters that no recruitment effort is free given the money invested to travel to far-off campuses to recruit and woo potential hires. Less well-known businesses will still have a tough time competing for talent – regardless of the school -- against Fortune 500 companies. He says services like SJSU Spartan Staffing can help level the playing field between small companies and those that have deeper recruitment resources.
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Before rolling out the services, Newell says he took the opportunity at an SJSU job fair to informally poll a handful of the 26,000 employers SJSU works with, who said they would have no problem paying for a university staffing service. Newell maintains a more formal poll of employers wasn’t necessary, citing “the constant phone and email inquiries we receive daily regarding candidate referrals” as proof enough that employers would pay the university to find them candidates. After selling SJSU administration on the idea, the Career Center launched Spartan Staffing in January 2014.
Employers hiring for jobs or internships can access student and alumni networks and work with the agencies to identify candidates and set up interviews. Fees are paid once offers are made, typically a percentage of the hire’s salary. Slingshot and TransAccess receive 90 percent of the revenue generated, with Spartan Staffing taking the remaining 10 percent. In the highly competitive Silicon Valley, employers looking for top talent, especially in engineering, can pay an intern more than $30 an hour, Newell notes.
If SJSU Spartan Staffing can’t fill a position with an SJSU student or alumni, it will open the job search up to the community through several local organizations. “We will do what we can to find [businesses] that talent, even if it’s outside the university,” Newell says.
Of course, such a model isn’t without its drawbacks. Newell points out that, when hiring interns, if an employer chooses to have SJSU serve as the employer of record, the university assumes all liability and workers’ compensation risks. Severy adds that being the first to do anything always carries some risk, and some of those risks may not be known yet.
As to whether this model might spark a trend that still remains to be seen. Koc says this model might be an option for some schools given that schools can’t produce enough grads in certain disciplines. Still, he says the features the service offers as well as how it interacts with career services will be important factors to the model’s traction. Right now, Koc says, “It’s too early to tell.”
Currently, more than 20 employers are in the SJSU Spartan Staffing pipeline, employers like Ann Thomas, the owner and director of Singles Travel Co. in San Jose, Calif. “Because we’re in the Valley, you’d think it’d be easy to find someone with IT experience, but it isn’t.” Thomas says she worked with SJSU Spartan Staffing to hire a part-time web developer from SJSU after interviewing three qualified candidates.
SJSU Spartan Staffing has been working with employers for several months and has made a variety of placements in government, education, healthcare, medical device, and technology sectors. About 75 percent of the placements have been full-time positions and 25 percent internships, he notes.
Newell says SJSU Spartan Staffing is on track to hit its goal of 38 placements by the end of the first year and its goal of 260 placements over five years. He anticipates the number of placements will increase significantly once the fall semester is underway. Should the venture generate what’s planned, $2.5 million over the next five years, the university could net $250,000.