Attention, scientists: Tired of unreliable assistants? Try On Assignment. The specialist staffing agency places scientists and other professionals, from lab assistants to nurses, with clients in need of temporary help. The firm has four divisions: Healthcare (nurse travel, clinical lab, diagnostic and imaging staffing services); Life Sciences (scientists, chemists, technicians); IT and Engineering (engineering and specialized high-end consultants); and Physician (short- and long-term physician staffing). On Assignment provides staff to more than 5,300 clients, and operates from about 75 offices in Belgium, Canada, China, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and the US. The company was founded in 1985.
Things picked up in 2011 after a weak 2009 and 2010, the result of a recovering economy. (As with most players in the staffing industry, throughout the recession On Assignment was stung by high unemployment rates and a reduced demand for its services across all its operating segments.) The company clamped down on operating costs to offset losses and worked to reduce its long-term debt load. Subsequently, net income improved in 2011 thanks primarily to an increase in revenues. The company reported growth across all four of its segments, in part due to acquisitions it made the previous two years.
Indeed, On Assignment's business strategy involves steady growth through targeted acquisitions. Since its founding, it has purchased more than a dozen companies. In 2012 the company acquired Apex Systems, the sixth largest staffing firm and one of the fastest growing IT staffing firms in the US, for $600 million. The deal represents efforts to fortify its most lucrative segment, the IT and engineering industry. The company sees the sector growing by 12% over the years, while other industries shrink or remain stable. And in 2011 On Assignment obtained Valesta, a provider of clinical research specialized staffing services with headquarters in Belgium and additional offices in Spain and The Netherlands.
Previously, On Assignment bought The Cambridge Group Ltd., a staffing services firm placing physicians, clinical and scientific personnel, and IT professionals. The 2010 deal strengthened On Assignment's core staffing segment and expanded its gross margin. Also that year the company swallowed up Sharpstream, a firm with expertise in search services for executive to middle managers residing in the life sciences sector. Sharpstream has offices in London, Shanghai, and the US, and On Assignment used Sharpstream's Shanghai office as its springboard for launching its scientific and clinical research placement offerings in China. – less