Athenian Group lends personnel touch to job placement
In the crowded recruitment field, Jason Wahl believes small is beautiful
Human resource recruiting firms have earned a few nicknames over the years. Monikers like “headhunters” or “body shops” come from the nature of the business. Recruiting firms whisk away employees from companies – who sometimes are their own clients – to supply another client in need of a body. “The reputation of our industry isn’t the best one,” says Jason Wahl, managing partner of the Edmonton-based placement agency Athenian Group.
Wahl doesn’t want to be lumped into that category with his venture, which was launched in February 2011. While head hunting is one way of finding qualified candidates for clients, Wahl avoids the industry practice of poaching workers from one client to satisfy another. “If you don’t have companies to pull people from, then obviously you are pulling people from your own clientele. That’s something I couldn’t do anymore.”
The need for companies like Athenian Group is certainly on the upswing. The Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada sounded the alarm about this challenge in May when it released Canada’s Oil and Gas Labor Market Outlook to 2015. In the report, the council says the oil and gas industry will need to fill a minimum of 9,500 jobs by 2015.
While a hot labor market is good for Wahl’s business, it is tough for a startup to carve out market share when there are more established players out there. But Wahl is pretty established in the Alberta recruiting field, too. Born and raised in Toronto, he first came to Alberta in 1996 when he served a six-month stint as a recruiter in Calgary. His second stay in Alberta came in 2002, when he moved to Edmonton. He’s also been working in the recruiting field during that period and in 2011 was confident enough to launch his own placement company.
While Athenian Group, which has five full-time employees and an office in Calgary, doesn’t have the reach of an industry regular like Adecco, being small has its advantages. “It generates a more personal approach,” Wahl says. “When you focus on a particular client’s needs, you can actually build programs for them and become part of their hiring process.”
The requests from clients to build those programs and provide more bang for their buck are increasing as the oil and gas sector stares down economic and price volatility. Wahl says these companies are asking recruiting firms to do more than just find them the right person for a job.
He points to work Athenian Group has done recently with URS-Flint. It essentially became part of Flint’s human resource team. “That’s not a standard agency-type of placement. We’re going in and adding our manpower to their internal staff to get them through a crunch for a particular project.”
It’s that kind of innovation Wahl hopes will give his new company staying power in a competitive market. The former military man, who completed a seven-month tour of duty in Bosnia in 1994-95, certainly has the drive to succeed. And with 16 years in a business where the turnover rate is extremely high, he’s got industry knowledge that is rare. For now, Wahl says his firm is going to establish itself and stick to serving oil and gas and mining clients. “We’ve got a niche market that we’re pretty good at. I want to make sure we are focusing on that.”