Manpower started with need for temporary secretaries

Gaye Bunderson//July 15, 2011

Manpower started with need for temporary secretaries

Gaye Bunderson//July 15, 2011

Wendie Gregory is branch manager of Manpower in Boise. Prior to that, she helped establish a Manpower office in Rock Springs, Wyo. from the ground up. (Photo by Gaye Bunderson)

One of the oldest temporary employment agencies in the U.S. is Manpower, launched in 1948 by a Wisconsin attorney named Elmer Winter.

Winter, in search of a secretary for only a limited period of time, looked around for an organized way to fill the position. Finding none, he engaged a partner in an effort to start their own secretarial service. Manpower was born.

“They started the company from first-hand experience,” Wendie Gregory, branch manager of Manpower in Boise, said. “We started by hiring secretaries. Now we need accountants, financial analysts, engineers – a full set of offerings.”

Transpose the numbers in 1948 and you come up with the year Manpower became the first temporary-help service to achieve over a billion dollars in sales – 1984, according to Gregory.

“The industry grew immensely throughout the 1980s,” she said.

At the corporate level, Manpower is now known as ManpowerGroup. The company offers four lines of business:

1) General staffing services

2) Professional staffing services

3) Vendor management services for large global corporations that want Manpower to oversee a contingent work force for them

4) A complete suite of human resources solutions, such as retraining packages

The company has evolved beyond, but maintained, its core concept in order to stay relevant and continue to grow.

“In the 1940s all you needed to start a staffing agency was a storefront and a pad of paper,” Gregory said.

Now, with dozens of similar agencies competing with Manpower for client companies and qualified workers, “it’s always competitive,” said Gregory.

Like so many other businesses, the economic downturn affected Manpower as well. “It was tough when the downturn started,” Gregory said, “but it’s getting better.

“In a down economy, the trend would be for temp jobs to come back. … Companies are operating lean; but any uptick in business creates demand, though it may not be a sustained increase.”

As far as trends in Boise, job prospects now are mostly seasonal and include construction work. Though such work is not where it used to be, according to Gregory, it is spiking now due to the time of year. Other fields experiencing greater seasonal need are transportation, utilities, wholesale, and retail trade.

Manpower has been in Boise since the 1960s and now, in 2011, works with 40 to 50 business clients, and 50 to 100 potential temps daily “when we’re in full recruitment mode,” Gregory said.