2020 was certainly one for the ages, and unfortunately, the changing of the calendar to a new year did not magically end what has been an unrelenting pandemic. However, with the distribution of vaccines initiated, 2021 is heading in a positive direction. SIA’s Staffing Trends in 2021 report highlights the most important trends we believe will affect the staffing industry as 2021 progresses.

Specifically, the report lists 10 trends:

1. Covid-19 is the dominant market trend until the second half of 2021
2. Summer recovery will not be a return to normal
3. Resilience in a volatile and complex environment
4. Diversity, equity and inclusion a top strategic concern
5. Automation on steroids
6. Investment in reskilling initiatives
7. Platform models are the new battleground
8. Development of omni-channel staffing
9. Customer preference for direct sourcing impacts demand
10. APAC markets accelerate faster than elsewhere

Here is a quick look at a few of the trends and what they mean for the staffing landscape.

Covid-19 is the dominant market trend. The responses to Covid-19 have varied by region, and the disparity in deaths among the world’s major staffing markets is quite pronounced. Regardless of how well individual countries have fared, the linkages in global economies mean that the impact on business has been and will continue to be felt everywhere. Gross domestic product is expected to increase in 2021, though the extent of the increase is contingent upon the continued course of the pandemic. The distribution and use of vaccinations will undoubtedly play a key role in shaping the global recovery, which we expect to take shape in the second half of the year.

Summer recovery will not be a return to normal. The global recovery we expect to establish itself in the summer will not be a return to the normal we got used to pre-Covid, but rather an adjustment to the new post-Covid normal. In terms of the job world, the perception of what constitutes a good career path will change, and finding skilled candidates could be a challenge for staffing firms. Certainly, we expect remote staffing solutions to be more common; from the accompanying graph, you can also see that staffing firms expect to see a greater percentage of temporary workers performing remote work going forward. This could open the door for talent platforms to take away business from traditional staffing suppliers. Freelancing and statement-of-work consulting will also likely attract greater interest in the more flexible, post-Covid normal.

DE&I a top strategic concern. In November 2020, SIA helped conduct an international survey on diversity among contingent workforces. The survey found that 64% of firms believe diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are a priority for their employed workforce, yet only 26% said the same for their contingent workforce. However, 63% expect contingent DE&I to become a higher priority in the future.

There is a large body of research that shows diversity correlates with business success; staffing firms can help employers ensure their sourcing processes are more diverse. Staffing firms can also improve their own practices by altering their executive director gender mix in favor of females.

Investment in reskilling initiatives. According to a May 2020 Deloitte report, 74% of organizations believe that reskilling the workforce is important to success, and 53% believe at least half of their workforce will need to change their skills and capabilities. This is simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity for staffing firms to help their client companies in reskilling and educating. By the number of recent investments by staffing providers into training firms, it is apparent that the value of training is seen across the industry.

Customer preference for direct sourcing impacts demand. According to SIA’s North American Workforce Buyers survey, 29% of large buyers of workforce solutions have a direct-sourcing solution, and another 49% expect to explore one within the next two years. This method of tapping into internal talent can be considered a threat to staffing firms; however, the reality is that direct sourcing is a complex undertaking. Staffing companies should clarify their value proposition to clients. Further, an opportunity exists to create tools and curation services for companies that indeed wish to direct source.

APAC markets accelerate faster than elsewhere. According to SIA’s Most Attractive Staffing Markets Globally 2020 report, eight of the top 20 most attractive staffing markets are in Asia. APAC was already seen as a legitimate growth opportunity before Covid, and the response to the pandemic in many parts of Asia is leading to further interest. Large markets like China, Japan, and India, and smaller markets like Malaysia, Taiwan, and South Korea, exhibit high growth potential. We expect to see investment activity in APAC to heat up.

Perhaps years down the line, we will look back at the time of Covid as a period of rapid adaptation and innovation. How staffing firms have responded to the pandemic so far, and how they will continue to do so going forward, will shape the industry as we know it in 2021 and beyond.