Temp firm carries on after founder’s death

Deborah Abel is president of Abel Personnel, a company founded 50 years ago by her father, Franklin, who died in December. (Photo: Harrison Jones)

In the world of LinkedIn and Indeed – where people can apply for jobs with the tap of a finger – it’s challenging for recruitment firms to stay relevant.

It is no different for Abel Personnel, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year on the heels of founder Franklin “Frank” Abel’s death last December.

The challenge has passed to Abel’s daughter, Deborah Abel, who has been president of the Harrisburg-based company since 2001.

Over the last half century, Abel Personnel has grown to 21 employees and three divisions, which place between 300 and 400 workers each day: A+ Teachers, for school employees; Abel Staffing Inc., for office and professional staff; and Abel Executives, which  concentrates on executive-level jobs.

Franklin Abel founded the company in 1969 after leaving the Harrisburg Grocery Co. “He quit over a raise dispute and went on to work for Rite Aid for six months before coming to the conclusion that if he could work that hard for someone else, he could work that hard for himself,” said Deborah Abel, whose father didn’t immediately settle on a staffing agency.

Franklin eventually paired up with Tom McConnell, whom he had met through a resume writer. The two hit it off and in March 1969, they launched Abel-McConnell Personnel.

The firm began as a permanent placement service, and Frank brought on his wife to help with the hiring.

“In those days, women interviewed women for women’s jobs and they asked my mother, Dottie, to come in and help for two weeks,” Deborah said, noting that her mother ended up on the job for 18 years.

One of the first problems the business confronted was communication.

“Getting in touch with candidates back then was difficult, so we decided that we would place them in temporary jobs so we would know where to reach them during the day,” said Abel, noting that business took off.

After one year, Abel acquired Hallmark Personnel. In 1977, the company was renamed Abel Girl. As times changed, so did monikers. In 1979, the company dropped Abel Girl in favor of Abel Temps, adopting Abel Personnel after McConnell retired.

Deborah joined the firm in 1990 as marketing manager. She quickly realized that to stay competitive, the company had to keep abreast of technological advances.

“I started in a tiny office with the yellow pages and a phone,” Deborah said. “The answering machine was a game changer and the fax machine was revolutionary for sending resumes to clients.”

The internet created advantages and disadvantages. It enabled businesses to connect with employees more quickly, but it also created more competition, Abel said.

“Now, anyone could post their resume on the internet,” said Abel.

Jim Carchidi, CEO of JFC Temps, said his Camp Hill-based company also has witnessed the evolution of technology.

But what was first eyed as bad for the staffing business can be beneficial, Carchidi said. “Because we have Monster, Zip Recruiter … hiring managers are overloaded with information and their inboxes are getting bombarded with candidates,” he said.

JFC works to cut through the noise. “With recruiting, we are talent agents. Like sports agents, we’re representing the best talent in our individual skill segment,” he said.

For Abel, one of those segments is substitute teachers. The company’s A+ Teachers division places substitutes, school nurses and special education aides in the Harrisburg, Steelton-Highspire, Annville Cleona and Pine Grove school districts.

The A+ Teachers division came about in 2007 after the firm identified the niche.

“One of my staff members was watching the news and it was reported that school districts were having difficulties filling substitute jobs,” said Abel.

And new technology helps when it comes to filling those jobs fast: “We can ask them if they are interested in taking an English class tomorrow via text,” Abel said.