Staffing Industry Analysts measures many different facets of the workforce solutions ecosystem — from staffing firms to job boards to managed service providers and vendor management systems. It takes a huge collective effort to put these various estimates and forecasts together and, given differences in reporting formats, it’s only once the year comes to an end that we finally have a complete picture of what happened in the prior year.

So, now that our 2017 reports are behind us, we can step back to look at what did happen in 2016. Well, the global staffing market continued to grow at a steady 5%, though the US market could only manage a rather mundane 3%. Stronger staffing growth could be found elsewhere, such as Italy (up 8%) and France (up 9%). Even Brexit-ravaged Britain managed to end 2016 4% ahead of the prior year.

2016GlobalRevIn calculating our estimates, we split staffing into two main service categories: temporary staffing, which grew 3% in the US; and place & search (direct hire, executive search and temp-to-perm), which only grew by 2% in the US.

But what is interesting is to see how the complementary parts of the ecosystem prospered in comparison and the story here is that EVERYTHING grew faster than core staffing services.

We estimate that MSP grew by 11% globally in 2016. The more mature MSP market in the Americas grew by a more modest 8% — though still significantly ahead of US staffing. The best growth could be found in APAC MSP, where this less-developed region achieved impressive growth of 26%.

VMS achieved even better growth than MSP; it was up 15% globally and 12% in the Americas. Once again, APAC was the region where the best growth opportunities could be found, with strong demand delivering 43% growth in an immature market.

RPO was another service category that posted stronger growth than staffing (and, perhaps one of the reasons why direct-hire growth was so weak). We estimate that RPO grew 13% globally in 2016 but it wasn’t in APAC that this service sector grew most strongly, it was in EMEA, with a robust 30% improvement.

Within the human cloud, online staffing grew by 18%. As this market has started to mature, the stellar growth rates we saw a few years previously have started to moderate but, even so, most staffing firms would be delighted with double-digit growth like this, and perhaps one of the reasons why a number of the larger staffing firms have started to invest in their own “‘just-in-time” online services.

Job boards also experienced a decent period of growth in 2016 with an estimated improvement of 9%. However, this revenue growth belies a challenging and competitive environment, particularly for traditional job boards (still the predominant model), as basic job board functionalities have become commoditized and new business models and websites have captured market share such as job aggregators, social media job sites and programmatic job advertising/ job distributors.

What emerges from all this growth data is a market that is rapidly evolving and one where the most diversified of staffing firms have been able to tap into new growth markets to compensate for the very modest growth within their core services. This diversification could benefit your business in two ways; by launching new services in faster-growing market sectors or by expanding into new faster-growing regions.

An interesting narrative is developing among those staffing firms that are diversifying because they are not all diversifying in the same way. Some perceive opportunities by adding VMS to their portfolio while others have invested in a job board. Some will expand into the higher-growth but higher-risk markets within APAC while others will look for more comfortable and familiar markets closer to home. Inevitably, some will get this diversification more right than others so we look forward to seeing which firms emerge as the victors. Or maybe the victors will be those staffing firms that ignored the attraction of higher growth elsewhere and doggedly looked for operating efficiencies and pursued opportunities within their core competence of staffing?

Now that we have a clearer understanding of what happened in 2016, what does this mean as we enter 2018? Short of a global economic downturn, the easy answer is pretty much “more of the same.” We are forecasting that global staffing markets will have picked up a little bit in 2017 (up 6%) and will continue on that same trajectory in 2018. But we forecast that the US staffing market stays stuck at 3% growth in both 2017 and 2018 despite the best efforts to stimulate the US economy by President Trump.

One bright note is that staffing markets are picking up quite markedly in Europe, where we see acceleration in all the main staffing markets apart from the UK, where we expect the uncertainty of Brexit to dampen prospects.

Regardless of what the data say, growth can be found in any market with the right strategy, the right people and the right execution. The staffing market and the wider workforce solutions ecosystem in 2018 remains an exciting place to be.