RISING unemployment and the global financial slowdown may be giving many recruitment agencies sleepless nights, but the president of one Birmingham firm is optimistic about the future.
Ralph Gronefeld Jr, whose company ResCare bought Birmingham agency PeopleServe last year, says that the turbulent economic conditions are not a source of worry, and is confident about PeopleServe’s position.
The Kentucky-born CEO yesterday said: “We’re not really worried. There are still employers out there, and there are still employees looking for work.
“We’re committed to our mission of serving more people, and are confident in our quality and management.”
And the American businessman is implementing a raft of changes which he hopes will strengthen the company’s standing.
Earlier this month the firm – previously known as Biscom – was re-branded as PeopleServe, in a move that Mr Gronefeld, 49, believes will give the company a broader remit.
Under the PeopleServe name, the company will continue its work offering training and employment for the West Midlands.
With six offices in Birmingham, Stafford, Walsall and Wolverhampton, the organisation is a key provider of welfare-to-work services, specialising in government-funded initiatives to bring the long-term unemployed back into the workforce.
“We are looking to expand our services to include all different types of people – those with disabilities, young adults – who are looking for work,” he explained. “As PeopleServe we can provide a broad range of human services, building on Biscom’s success in training and recruitment.”
And under the ownership of ResCare, PeopleServe is certainly well positioned to weather forthcoming financial storms. ResCare is one of the world’s largest training organisations, with headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, and an operation with some 42,000 staff. The billion-dollar company has been providing training and work opportunities for over 30 years, and has grown to have interests as far afield as Haiti, Canada, Bahrain and Germany.
The acquisition of PeopleServe was ResCare’s first British move, and the company was guided by a wish to find a compatible UK firm.
“We wanted to continue our mission to serve more people. In Birmingham, we found exactly what we were looking for.
“It was important to make sure that we found the right company, and that we shared the same culture – were on the same page.
Acquiring PeopleServe was a great opportunity and allows us to continue to grow.”
But how does a firm based in Kentucky understand the employment market in Birmingham?
“Actually the core service model is the same,” Mr Gronefeld explains. “The outcome is the same: people getting jobs. There is not a whole lot of difference in the American and British approach. There are a lot of similarities.
“And it is never a cookie-cutter approach anyway. Every contract is different, every person is different.”
The American company is confident in the abilities of their Walsall-born managing director, Kay Sutton, who controls PeopleServe.
“We have good management in Birmingham,” Mr Gronefeld said.
“I’m very pleased with the company here, and have been very impressed with the team.
“When we took over the company last year, we were never planning any revolutionary changes and have been disciplined about what we’ve done.
“It was all about seeing an opportunity, and reacting to it. We do plan to expand but we are confident in the alignment between our parent company and PeopleServe.”
ResCare’s entry into the British market comes at an interesting moment for the welfare-to-work industry. Work and Pensions minister James Purnell concluded consultations last month on his green paper on the future of welfare, No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility.
And certainly the government is keen to overhaul the current system, with Purnell’s proposals described as the greatest revolution since the Beveridge Report of 1942 – which founded the modern welfare state.
Purnell’s green paper proposes that those unemployed for two years will be forced to work in return for benefits; single mothers will have to look for workwhen their child reaches seven; and drug users will have to seek treatment.
Meanwhile, those on incapacity benefit will have to undergo rigorous medical assessments to determine what work they could do.
The proposals also open up the possibility for an extension of private sector involvement. And Ralph Gronefeld is ready for the opportunity.
“We believe we’re well positioned to grow from here,” he said.
“We have ways of working in the States that people can learn from, and we hope to learn from you here in Birmingham. It’s all about best practice. And we are certainly excited about the future.”