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A Critique: Recruiters, Consultation and Craft Labor Markets

Previously, we have discussed the positive changes within the recruiting industry that must occur for a better service as a whole. Today we’ll discuss something that is different from the previous content, and very important to me personally. Having worked in skilled craft labor and still having clients in this market, I wanted to address an elephant in the room as well as create a platform to discuss solutions.

A recurring issue across many of the skilled blue collar labor markets MMI Industries management team members have recruited in is the use of shady business practices by some firms to reduce costs and improve margins by taking advantage of their workforce. Some firms in some industries, in a race to capture diminishing profits, turned to questionable practices to cut costs that often to the detriment of the workforce they employ. The act of taking advantage of workers is not only morally wrong but in many cases also illegal.

Recruiters who have experience with this and have seen it in their industries need to do more to combat this pervasive practice. Recruiters should be up-to-date with labor laws and best practices and be able to provide consultation to their candidates as part of a more holistic approach to recruiting.

An example: wind technicians and GWO certifications.

MMI Industry’s team first encountered a situation like this when their management team worked on projects sourcing wind technicians for the operations & maintenance of wind farms. Some candidates who had experience, and certifications proving that experience, were unable to switch jobs because their employers failed to register their certifications with the various certifying organizations.

When candidates want to switch jobs they are unable to verify their certifications and are left with either paying out of their own pocket to get certifications they already hold or are simply unable to change jobs. The result is skilled laborers being trapped in roles that underpay them for their experience with –what they perceive as– little recourse for this practice. The case of wind technicians is not unique nor is the method by which they are entrapped in dead-end positions.

As I investigated the nuances of the issue I learned that the practice was in violation of the terms of service that the certifying organizations require employers to agree to. Equipped with the knowledge of how wind technicians could legally take recourse against their employers for this farce, I began to inform as many wind technicians of their rights as possible.

What happened next was surprising. When I spoke with wind technicians who were in this situation and were unaware of their rights they almost all said something similar, that they were shocked that a recruiter:

  1. Knew about this practice and the rights that wind technicians had to address it.

  2. Cared enough to inform them of their rights.

  3. Provided consultation on what they, wind technicians, could do to combat the practice.

After having many conversations that followed a similar dialogue I decided that I wanted to inform other recruiters of the process of disenfranchising wind technicians and what we as recruiters could do to help end the practice. This is just one example of some of the practices carried out by different firms across various industries.

What recruiters can do to help.

Recruiters already have the tools they need to help others. Every industry is different but almost all blue collar industries share several common themes: certifications to perform the work issued by an independent certifying body, general compliance with safety guidelines such as OSHA, non-regulated best practices that laborers practice across various firms with no formalization.

Recruiters need to take the time to speak with people in their industry and just listen. Clients and candidates are a well of knowledge on the three linking principles of skilled craft labor. Recruiters should tap that well and become familiar with how their candidates are certified, who certifies them, what is that process, as well as the other two aspects. If a recruiter really understands their industry then when they talk with their clients and candidates they have better rapport on the grounds of industry competence but also the knowledge to know when something is wrong. As the adage goes, “not all clients are good clients.”

Recruiters need to also understand the culture of the craft they work in. Trades and crafts have superseding cultures that are seen from firm to firm. Recruiters who comprehend the culture intimately will have better relationships with their candidates.

When recruiters understand their markets, they have the trust and buy-in of candidates which results in a competitive edge with what candidates will tell you about the market. Those recruiters also gain a level of respect that will carry from candidate to candidate across the industry. Recruiters who take time to gain in-depth knowledge of the markets they represent will generally see higher billings because of their better rapport but also because of the trust they have with the candidates they represent.

The net result is recruiters who are familiar with market practices will be more trusted than because of the shared values and knowledge they have. Those recruiters can then serve as true brokers and consultants aiding their clients and candidates in understanding the complexities of the labor market.

Recruiting as an industry is changing.

Private equities' answer to chase profits by sticking bodies in seats failed. In a race to capture more market share, it inadvertently turned into a race to the bottom. But now some firms are turning away from the mass agency model and returning to what has historically been successful, targeted and specialized boutique agency recruitment.

Increased headcount correlates with a logarithmic decline in efficiency. Too many chefs in the kitchen does not make for a better meal. Despite this, agencies continue to boost headcount and open new offices to chase profits.

The firms that will be successful in the future are not investing in plants, property and equipment but rather in a tactical labor force. A small team armed with the best support tools is often more effective than a larger but under-skilled and under-equipped team.

Clients are screaming for it, they are tired of the hundreds of calls from unskilled and unreliable recruiters. Clients are looking for expertise, personalized service, business case consultation and better quality candidates. Candidates are looking for recruiters who understand their preferences and desires as well as understand what they do and the pain points as well as the general joys of their profession. Recruiting firms that recognize the change in preferences and the demands from their clients and candidates will outperform their competitors.

Advancements in recruiting technology like: auto-dialers, smart CRMs and APSs and training in the latest psychographic recruiting techniques will give some firms the edge.Reduced headcount and other benefits of smaller or non-existent offices means that recruiting firms can also pay their recruiters what they’re actually worth.Better paid staff with more experience and the best tools are far more productive than the present alternative. Recruiting firms that invest in those kinds of capital expenditure projects will see better internal rates of return than those who invest in new offices and free fruit in the office kitchenette.

Recruiters who see the change in market preference and truly believe in providing a better service will see a renaissance in their field. The end result is recruiting returning to a consultative profession where recruiters are brokers, not sales people. The future of recruiting is here, some of us are already living it.


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