Employment Sections

Putting Out the Call

Thing5, United Personnel Ramp Up Search for 500 Employees

Patricia Canavan

Patricia Canavan says Thing5 has generated excitement not only in the number of new jobs, but their broad scope.

The announcement that Thing5 would relocate to downtown Springfield and hire 500 new employees this year was met with suitable excitement by city officials hungry for more economic development downtown, as well as by career seekers even hungrier for well-paying jobs.
But the initial excitement has given way to a sobering, yet intriguing, question: how does a company hire that many qualified people that quickly?
“This is an exciting opportunity for our community, in the number of jobs being brought to downtown, but also the scope of the jobs,” Patricia Canavan said. “To a degree, there’s something for almost everyone.”
Canavan is president of United Personnel Services, whose offices are right across Main Street from One Financial Plaza, soon to be renamed the Thing5 Building when the company moves into about 20,000 square feet of prime real estate there — with plans to occupy more space down the line. And United — contracted by Thing5 to locate and, in many cases, train those hundreds of new employees — has wasted no time in getting started.
“We’ve geared up on our end,” Canavan said. “We’re working Saturdays and evenings, bringing on some new staff, and working with our experienced recruiters because of the volume of paperwork.
“This is an exciting opportunity, particularly in this current economic environment,” she added, noting that her firm has tackled large-scale hires before, for clients such as Smith & Wesson. “We love to be a human-resource partner to companies in growth mode. Helping to further a business is something our staff loves, and it’s exciting.”

Bigger Things
Thing5, which provides call-center services for the hospitality industry, has been in a growth mode that forced Managing Director David Thor to look outside his current headquarters at the Basketball Hall of Fame. He didn’t have to look far to find ideal class A space in the heart of Springfield’s downtown.
But filling up the building’s sixth floor is no overnight effort.
“The majority of the positions are fairly entry-level, contact-center service types of positions, taking e-mails and calls,” Canavan said. “There’s a need for bilingual candidates as well as English-only candidates.”
However, “there are also some high-level management positions available,” she added. “Because they’re growing so fast, they need to have a variety of management-level people to manage the growth and promote quality standards.”
Thor noted that, as an ‘inbound’ call center, these employees are not tasked with cold calls and selling people on a product. “These are more like modern-day travel agent positions — booking rooms, advising about reservations at certain hotels.”
Beyond those entry-level positions, however, is a support structure that includes training, quality assurance, information technology, and other roles. “For every 25 or so agents, there’s a leader agent, and then a supervisory position above that, and the management infrastructure that manages the whole team,” he explained.
The response to Thing5’s big news in January certainly reverberated around a region still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.
“After the press conference announcing Thing5’s presence downtown, we saw an unprecedented flood of applications, which is great,” Canavan said — and not just for those who will make the cut. News like this, she explained, tends to draw out job seekers who might have become frustrated and slowed their search, and who might be ideal fits for other clients of United Personnel.
“We work to identify those people who can meet needs in our community, and we help them access other great opportunities,” she told BusinessWest.
For Thing5, “people need to meet minimum requirements, certain work experience, and as a result of our interviews and the screening process we’re putting people through, some people are not meeting those requirements,” she explained. “The good news is, Thing5 is not the only company out there We are very, very busy. We are seeing a turnaround in the economy, and a multitude of jobs available.”
As a result, Canavan said, “the thing that’s kind of nice for folks applying at Thing5 is that, if it doesn’t work out, there are other opportunities being placed through us. We do have a pretty robust training program for people we think could benefit from training. If you have great data-entry skills but don’t know Excel, we can train you in Excel. That is a general philosophy of the company — there are opportunities available, and we help people see them.”

First Steps
For applicants who land jobs at Thing5, Canavan explained that United will have a significant role in training — “our piece of the orientation is pretty robust” — before Thing5 takes over for task-specific training.
‘Robust’ is also an apt word for what will happen downtown if more employment stories like this one emerge in the neighborhood; this one move alone reduces the amount of vacant space in One Financial Plaza by 25%, and will increase the number of people working in the high-rise by 60%, with more growth possible in the near future.
“We’re being careful” in keeping the initial growth to around 500, Thor said. “We think this business has great potential and can grow well beyond that. But we don’t know that for sure.”
Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, which co-owns the building, recently told BusinessWest he hopes such developments create a critical mass of people downtown that could, in turn, spur additional retail, restaurants, entertainment, and even residential addresses.
But all that starts with finding those 500 workers.
“When we look at Thing5’s record, their growth has been fairly exponential, so it’s fantastic for our community,” Canavan said. “We are so thrilled to be a part of that. There are challenges of staffing this project — it’s a lot of people, and we have to interview and screen many multiples of 500, then train them. We’ve been working hard to get the word out, recruit, get a variety of ways to reach the widest audience possible.
Thor said the company has had reasonable success so far with the entry-level positions. “We’re more than satisfied with what they’ve been able to find. With some of the more skilled positions, like technology and some of the management positions, we’ve had a harder time.”
However, he noted that Thing5 has always professed a “no-barriers” philosophy of promoting from within and allowing employees to further their experience. “If you talk to the people in the company, most of them had some other position before that.”
And opportunities are what Canavan, and United Personnel, are all about.
“Something I’m always struck by is how many opportunities there are for people, even in this tough job market,” she said. “Right now, we’re seeing people we’ve placed getting into companies and creating their own opportunities. We can be a great resource for people, whether they’re going to Thing5 or somewhere else.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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