When Tami Sime decided to leave her job after 19 years to start a “non-traditional” staffing services agency in Pittsfield, she knew that she needed help. While Tami was an experienced businessperson and understood the staffing industry, she had never started a company from scratch. She didn’t know how to start, so she reached out to people in the community.
“I didn’t realize all of the resources that are available in Pittsfield for small businesses to tap into,” Tami said.
Tami’s new company would be unlike other staffing agencies. TEC sets itself apart by establishing solid business relationships with companies whether they are actively hiring or not, conducting market research on hiring trends, and building trusting relationships with job seekers. Their goal is to be the go-to staffing agency and act as the liaison between job seekers and businesses. Sarai Liebenow, business development manager, focuses on making connections with local businesses and devises plans to foster sales growth. Jaclyn Aubin, staffing manager, recruits and prepares potential candidates, along with Donna Digennaro, Staffing Consultant.
A business associate advised her that the place to start is the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center on North Street in Pittsfield. The free, confidential, one-to-one business assistance program operates under a cooperative agreement through the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Isenberg School of Management. The service is available to anyone in the Berkshires.
“Mark Avnet, my counselor, and Keith Girouard, the regional director, helped me write a business plan and gave me advice on how to present the plan to the banks,” she said.
Tami presented the business plan she developed to the Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, which quickly approved a line of credit for her business to get going. She said that their questions were detailed and fair but that the MSBDC prepared her well.
“After the meeting, Jay Anderson, the president of the Pittsfield Coop, replied to a thank you email I sent and said, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to make your dream come true.’ And he did! Pittsfield Cooperative prides itself on helping Berkshire residents and businesses grow. They practice what they preach,” Tami said.
Jay and others also advised her to approach the City of Pittsfield, which has dedicated personnel who assist small businesses. Laurie Mick, community development specialist for the City, arranged for a Technical Assistance Grant from the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation (PERC) to help get needed resources. Michael Coakley, the City’s business development manager, helped her make connections to find the best office space.
“I sent an email to Mike (Coakley) asking if he could help me with office space. Mike was on it in two seconds and quickly connected me with the right people,” Tami said. ”I can’t stress enough that MSBDC, PERC and Pittsfield Cooperative Bank want to help and want to get you in touch with the right resources. And, once that happens, it spiders out everywhere.”
After reviewing a few potential locations, Mike introduced Tami to Ben Sosne, the Executive Director of the Berkshire Innovation Center (“the BIC”) in Pittsfield’s William Stanley Business Park. It quickly became evident that locating in the BIC would be a win/win for the company and BIC members as well.
BIC members now have ready access to staffing advice. Tami found that as a BIC member, her network expanded faster. That helped her to learn more about opportunities for her business.
“The benefit of being at the BIC is that you get connected to many companies and their leaders. We have received tremendous support from these companies and have formed strong relationships,” Tami said.
“I don’t think we would be as successful as we are if it weren’t for the BIC,” commented Jaclyn Aubin.
As part of its role as a “non-traditional” staffing agency, TEC actively reaches out into the community to find and assist potential applicants. Tami is especially proud of the “TEC-NewGens,” or new generation, an internship program she created to reach out to and support young people in the workforce.
“It’s hard to use traditional recruiting to tap into the 18 to 28-year-old market. They operate differently than the way I would operate if I was looking for a job,” Tami said. “Our TEC-NewGens have a reach and network that we don’t have with social media and other tools.”
Tami described a time when Jiminy Peak, a local ski area, called on the Thursday before February break looking for help because they were short-staffed.
“They called and said, ‘we need help next week from Monday to Friday. We are short-staffed and need about six or seven people for forty hours a week,’ said Tami. “We replied, ‘absolutely, we can help.’ We put the task on the NewGens asked them to reach out to their network. Within two hours, they filled all those jobs.”
In addition to recruiting, the goal of the TEC-NewGens program is to teach the interns how a business operates. During the summer, they will be working and learning from the team.
Social media is not the only way to reach out.
“We want to be the liaison between job seekers and businesses and bridge the hiring gap. We have the network and do all the leg work,” Sarai Liebenow said.
TEC also helps candidates prepare for interviews. The goal is to make candidates comfortable and present themselves in the best light. For example, TEC created an “interview tips” blog on its website about interview techniques.
“For some candidates, this could be their first job interview. For others, many years have gone by since they last changed jobs. They get nervous and are unsure what to expect” Jaclyn said. “We provide constructive feedback and interview tips tailored to the specific job.”
“Jaclyn sets up a Zoom call just so that she can see how the candidate presents on a Zoom,” Tami adds. “It is not that she is interviewing them. Instead, she advises them on body language, if their setup is sufficient and does their passion comes through. It is important to help them present themselves well over a Zoom call. The nonverbal is just as important as the verbal.”
By reaching out to companies and finding candidates in new and innovative ways, TEC says that it is broadening its network across the Berkshires. Being in the BIC and working with the resources in the city is all a part of that.
“The network is so important. I cannot stress that enough,” Tami says. “Whether it be just a personal relationship, a business relationship, funding grants or something else, all the help a small business needs to tap into is here in Berkshire County.”
– by Roger Matus