Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17050 Employers' Use of Labor Market Intermediaries In Filling Low-Level Jobs: Sorting Disadvantaged Job Seekers and Employment Opportunities

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 3:30 PM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Timothy Hilton, PhD, Assistant Professor, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI
Susan Lambert, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Background and Purpose:

Non-profit and publicly-funded labor market intermediaries (LMIs) serving low-skilled and otherwise disadvantaged populations play important roles in connecting job seekers to jobs at the low end of the labor market.  Research demonstrates that although LMIs often help low-skilled workers secure jobs, these jobs tend to be characterized by low pay, fluctuating work hours, and high turnover.  This research explores LMI and employer relationships from the vantage point of the employer by examining variations in employers' use of LMIs to fill low-level, hourly jobs of varying quality. The study addresses two main questions:  (1) How does employers' use of LMIs vary with the quality of job to be filled?  (2) How are employer size, union status, and business strategy related to use of LMIs? The findings hold implications for both social workers and policymakers by providing new insights into the conditions under which LMIs are able to connect low-skilled workers with good jobs.       


Data come from a comparative study of twelve hotels in downtown Chicago. Hotels were selected to generate variation in terms of hotel size (number of employees and rooms), quality (AAA diamond rating), and union status.  Data include hiring and job data (pay, turnover, schedules, promotion) and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with HR staff responsible for hiring.  Five common entry-level hotel positions were selected for investigation to allow both within- and between-employer comparisons. The analyses follow Yin's (2003) recommendations for analyzing information gathered through comparative case study research with the goal of specifying both commonalities and differences across organizational contexts. 


Findings reveal that employers are more likely to use LMIs when filling lower quality as opposed to higher quality low-level jobs. Data also suggest that employers are likely to use LMIs in a targeted manner only when filling higher quality jobs; that is, they select LMIs that HR staff  believe will refer skilled job seekers to fill jobs with relatively high wages and low turnover. Employers are less selective in choosing LMIs when filling lower quality jobs, often using multiple agencies with the goal of filling high-turnover jobs quickly.  The findings do not reveal clear-cut relationships between LMI-use and employers' size, union status, or business strategy.


Conclusions and Implications:

For social workers doing workforce development, a key lesson from this study is that business needs, not applicants' needs, drive hiring and placement in firms. Workforce development staff should be encouraged to learn about the needs and strategies of local employers not so that they can succumb to pressures for quick hiring into high-turnover jobs, but so that they can recognize differences in employer practices that are likely to matter to their clients' prospects for sustained and adequate employment. Workforce development staff would be wise to begin negotiations with employers assuming that there are better jobs than the one the employer would like to fill, and then be ready to engage in a longer-term process of establishing a positive relationship with the employer that will ultimately provide clients access to the employer's better jobs.

<< Previous Abstract | Next Abstract