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Staffing firm's revenue increases nearly 100 percent since 2010

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Deborah Abel-Millman is president of Dauphin County-based recruitment and staffing firm Abel Personnel Inc.
Deborah Abel-Millman is president of Dauphin County-based recruitment and staffing firm Abel Personnel Inc. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

Abel Personnel Inc. has 300 to 350 employees on assignment throughout the region at any given time.

That means people are working and employers have temporary and permanent positions filled.

But what’s most important to Deborah Abel-Millman, president of the Swatara Township-based recruitment and staffing firm, is reputation.

No, not the fact that Abel — started by her parents in 1969 — is celebrating 45 years in business.

She takes pride in having recruiters not bound by numbers who are spending necessary time with job seekers. They are learning about work histories, skills and goals and then matching candidates with applicable companies.

“Our goal isn’t to be the biggest. It is to do the best job,” said Abel-Millman, who has led the company since 2000 and helped diversify and grow it to where it is today.

Abel finished 2013 with $7.6 million in revenue. That’s nearly 100 percent growth since 2010.

‘We didn’t send bodies’

Understanding where a prospective employee is coming from and what that person hopes to find in the job market — while finding the right fit for employers, which might lead to permanent employment — builds loyalty, Abel-Millman said.

“I think our strength is personal relationships,” she said.

That’s what Abel has always been about, said 81-year-old Barbara Isaacman, who was hired by the company a few months after it was founded and retired in 2010.

“We didn’t send bodies. We sent qualified people,” she said.

That meant doing their homework — testing skills, checking references — and spending up to an hour with each applicant.

“That’s what made us successful,” Isaacman said. “I think employers realized we cared about who we were sending.”

Employers echoed that statement.

“They’ve done a great job of sending us people that are really skilled in areas we’re looking to fill,” said Brad Kohler, director of operations for Magellan Health Services.

Magellan, which has an office in Lower Paxton Township, predominantly needs call center and eligibility determination positions for Pennsylvania’s PACE program. It has used Abel for about 10 years.

“They do a very good job of prescreening and preparation. They understand the work we’re doing,” Kohler said.

Turnover rates are lower than when Magellan was handling external hires, he said. That has reduced training costs and provided more stability for the company.

Evolution

In the beginning, Abel worked exclusively on placing candidates in permanent positions. There were no answering machines or voicemail, so scheduling candidate interviews meant constant calls in hopes they would answer.

To ensure connections were being made, Abel transitioned in the 1970s to temporary employment opportunities for candidates. This way, recruiters could reach workers about other jobs.

As times changed and the business environment evolved, demand for temporary, contract and temporary-to-permanent placements became more of the norm, Abel-Millman said.

Today, the firm, which focuses primarily on first-shift office and professional staffing jobs, sees about 90 percent temporary jobs. Customer service positions are a strong area for Abel.

“A lot is temp-to-perm (jobs),” she said.

But with strong placements, about 60 percent of those jobs end up being permanent, she added: “You have to send a good person and they have to have the skills.”

Good personality doesn’t hurt, either.

Growth potential

Aside from building strong relationships with employers and employees, Abel-Millman credits the recovering economy as another reason for her company’s growth.

Some clients that hadn’t done business with the firm for a few years are coming back, she said: “Companies who were holding the line with hiring freezes in 2008, 2009 and 2010, we see them opening the doors again and growing.”

Abel also has seen opportunity in its A+ Teachers division, which was launched in 2007 to serve school district needs for substitute teachers, nurses and classroom aides.

The firm works with eight to 10 school districts, Abel-Millman said.

One of them is the Annville-Cleona School District, which has been using the service for three years.

Cost savings and a better supply of substitutes are the biggest advantages, Superintendent Steven Houser said.

“They do all of the assignments, all of the interviewing and maintaining of a database,” he said.

The latter can include retired teachers, because they are independent contractors. That helps create a stronger pool of substitutes, Houser said. The costs are lower, because a school district hiring on its own requires additional contributions for pensions, Social Security and unemployment compensation.

Houser estimates district savings at $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

“I think some districts have concerns about subcontractors and they don’t have the control,” he said.

With rising pension costs, outsourcing this service could save districts even more money moving forward, he added.

“We have more school districts calling us for preliminary discussion. I see that area growing,” Abel-Millman said.

Abel is expanding into Maryland. The firm has been working with the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to fill call center jobs.

Having her women business enterprise, or WBE, certification in Maryland could open the door for additional growth in the Maryland market. Another office is possible, Abel-Millman said.

She also has started the WBE certification process in Virginia.

“Our focus for new clients is accounting and bookkeeping needs. That seems to be the trend,” she said.

Executive recruitment is another area of opportunity, Abel-Millman said, especially as baby boomers retire from significant positions.

And health care reform has created opportunity, along with uncertainty, she added.

On one side, the Affordable Care Act has helped temp-to-perm workers, who couldn’t go without insurance, buy it through the marketplace. On the other, there are many companies that want to stay under a certain size with employees because of Obamacare and health insurance costs. They may opt to hire contract employees through staffing firms, she said.

45 years and increasing

Swatara Township-based Abel Personnel Inc. is celebrating 45 years in business.

The staffing and recruiting firm has grown revenue by 95 percent since 2010.

2010 revenue: $3.9 million

2011 revenue: $5.8 million

2012 revenue: $7.2 million

2013 revenue: $7.6 million

Abel history

1969: Established in Harrisburg as Abel-McConnell Personnel by Franklin and Dorothy Abel and Tom McConnell.

1971: Acquires Hallmark Personnel.

1977: Founds Abel Girl division (renamed Abel Temps in 1979)

1979: Changes name to Abel Personnel when Tom McConnell retires.

1990: Deborah Abel-Millman joins the family business as marketing manager.

2000: Deborah Abel-Millman named president; company moves to current locations in Lemoyne and Swatara Township.

2007: Founds A+ Teachers division.

2011: Establishes Abel Staffing Inc., a management company.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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