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Voices: Recession’s lessons helping Placers weather pandemic

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NEWARK – For nearly 20 years, Placers has been working to connect Delaware jobseekers with employers in need, but company founder and President Chris Burkhard said that the level of disruption in the job market has been something he’s never seen before.

Chris Burkhard | Photo c/o Placers

“I can’t tell you the number of customers that called me and said, ‘Do I do layoffs or furloughs,’” he recalled.

Placers connects temporary workers with employers in need. In typical years, that need may be to work on a new project or to support undermanned divisions. The employee actually works for Placers, which establishes a wage with the employer in need and pays the relevant taxes and insurance with a few-dollars-an-hour markup as its revenue stream.

While temporary staffers are used to moving between employers to cover projects and duties as needed, the pandemic essentially hit pause on new opportunities, Burkhard said. Some of his employees were furloughed and filed for unemployment assistance as they awaited opportunities to return as the lockdown eased, while others were able to work remotely and some found work with essential businesses. The staffing industry as a whole was down about 35% during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burkhard said.

“We didn’t lose that many [to unemployment],” he said. “We were down, but we’re starting to rebound now.”

While Burkhard declined to say how many temporary workers are employed by Placers – the figure would be of interest to his competitors, he said – Burkhard said that they employ thousands every year. They range from lifelong freelancers to college students looking for a summertime gig. He said that his goal remains to make Placers the largest private employer in the state – a distinction that ChristianaCare health care system currently holds with more than 12,000 employees.

His company’s success has landed it on the annual Inc. 5000 list each of the last four years, ranking 3,195th last year with 114% growth over a three-year period to total revenues of $12.1 million in 2019. Burkhard said that he expects a tough second half of 2020 to give way to a much better 2021. Placers will survive the pandemic in good shape due to several lessons he learned in the 2008-09 Great Recession, Burkhard added.

“COVID was rough, but we were incredibly well-positioned,” he said. “It’s like being a very savvy sailor that sailed lots of storms. First storm, you’re just lucky to survive, right? This is like my third or fourth storm. We did so many things over so many years to get ready: low debt, having proper credit, good policies, stronger management team, diverse customer base, etc.”

With stability under its roof, Burkhard said he felt compelled to put Placers’ expertise to work during the pandemic that has seen more than 100,000 Delawareans file for unemployment assistance in less than three months. He created the Act of Kindness program, which provides free coaching for job seekers and business owners alike.

“We’re just doing whatever we can to help, be it with resumes, helping people get leads or tips, doing mock interview practice, etc.,” he said. “We want to help them just navigate their search in the whole process.”

–Jacob Owens


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