Signe Godfrey


POSTED: Friday, September 11, 2009

Signe Godfrey sees glimmers of hope for Hawaii's overall economy in her own Honolulu business, which places job seekers in temporary and permanent positions.

But the owner and president of Olsten Staffing Services says that while the state's fiscal woes seem to have “;hit bottom,”; there are many rough months ahead before employers resume hiring, on track to an eventual labor shortage several years down the line.

“;It's really hard for people to hang in there while the economy improves,”; said Godfrey, whose company matches temporary workers with local companies, plus serves as a headhunter for firms seeking permanent hires.

The firm also offers workshops and seminars to help potential employees make the most of their chances in the tight job market.

Olsten has about 20 job-placement openings at the moment, less than during a strong economy but better than at the depths of the recession.

Godfrey, 67, born and raised in Honolulu, is married to Roger Godfrey, a former president of Times Supermarkets who is now retired. She has been owner and president of Olsten since 1987, balancing business with family life as the mother of three now-grown children.

She is a McKinley High School alum, who studied art at the University of Hawaii before marrying and eventually entering the work force. Active in an array of community groups, including the Rotary Club of Honolulu, the Salvation Army, Chamber of Commerce and the Workforce Development Council, she spends her free time gardening, especially growing roses.

QUESTION: A survey out this week showed that only 10 percent of Honolulu employers plan to hire during the rest of the year, and 21 percent plan to cut jobs. Does that jibe with what you are seeing?


Q: But what about all the national statistics, also out this week, indicating that the recession has ended and things are looking up?

A: While people may not be hiring yet, I believe that we are at the bottom, so that in the next six months people will begin to recover and begin hiring again. They may not be hiring in the next three months, but I believe we are starting the recovery mode and hiring will pick up.

Q: Are you getting an influx of laid-off people looking for temporary work?

A: Yes, a lot.

Q: Are you able to place them, or are companies cutting even temporary jobs?

A: Yes, we are able to place many of them. Traditionally, about 80 percent of our people who we place end up getting hired (permanently) and that's still a continuing trend. ... Having said that though, the second part of that question is also a yes.

Q: So employers are not even using temporary workers as much?

A: Right. A lot are probably doing two or three things. If somebody is quitting and moving to another job, they're not rehiring to fill that position. And then there's layoffs, because there just isn't enough work for everyone. Also, they're cross-training, so one employee is able to fill multiple roles. ... What we have noticed is that we have more orders for part-timers than we do for full-time work. People are calling for somebody just two or three days a week and those are hard to fill because people don't want to work that little.

Q: What's the typical mindset of potential workers coming in? Are they optimistic, or starting to feel more desperate?

A: It's almost a desperate situation for many.

Q: So people are taking temporary jobs they're overqualified for?

A: Yes, just so they can have some income, which is tough.

Q: What about middle-age career changes. Is that truly a realistic option?

A: Yes. It's not unrealistic. It's common. People do it all the time. ... In today's world, the way the new generation is coming into the work force, they switch jobs with much greater frequency than used to be the norm. ... Traditionally employers had looked in a negative way at people moving from one job to another, but that is changing.

Q: What can older workers do to boost their chances?

A: I would highly recommend keeping up with computer literacy. Keeping up with all changes that come very quickly in technology is really important.

Q: What personal qualities make someone, of any age, essentially unemployable?

A: Rigidity. If they are so boxed in that they refuse to even consider various options, it doesn't give them any choices. ... The more rigid you are the less likely it is you'll find a job.

Q: What about the essential qualities for getting hired?

A: Flexibility, of course, and also computer literacy and a strong work ethic. ... One of the things that we do ask is if the person had any attendance problems, because that would be a big indicator of their work ethic.

Q: Typically, how long does it take to place someone in a job?

A: When the economy was really good, it didn't take long, from two or three days ... to a couple of months. Today, sometimes it takes a few weeks to even longer and in some cases we can't help them at all.

Q: Besides representing job seekers, you also represent companies searching for executives. Is anybody actually looking to hire?

A: Yes, that is still an ongoing need. ... The management positions are a little more skilled and (companies) need a little more help searching for the right person.

Q: What do predict for Hawaii's economy for the next six to 12 months?

A: We have the (federal) recovery money coming in and that can help in educating and training people to have the skills that will be in high demand in the future ... I'm on the Workforce Development Council for the state (which advises the governor and Legislature). Our main priorities are developing more living-wage jobs ... improving education and training for future employees, upgrading the skills of current workers and those who have been laid off and ultimately actually expanding the labor pool. ... We do anticipate a labor shortage once the economy recovers because the baby boomers are retiring.

Q: So there is a sense of hope on the horizon?

A: Oh yeah, I just can't predict exactly when it's going to happen.