It’s clear the staffing industry has been focused on new challenges this year. From the post-pandemic surge of 2021-2022 to the broad-based pullback of 2023, the ground has certainly shifted. Three broad themes resonated as we spoke with our customers, competitors and peers at SIA’s CWS Summit in September.

Staffing as a strategic asset. Program strategy and expansion are surging in importance as customers seek strategic, globally impactful programs that treat contingent labor as a comprehensive talent solution rather than just an operational process. Whether they are including statement-of-work spend, leveraging direct sourcing or adopting global resource tracking, programs that provide transformative, turnkey solutions via transparency and control are at the vanguard of change. Supporting this broader vision by weaving together multiple advanced technologies is an evolving priority that both MSPs and staffing firms can be part of.

This evolution, combined with lower volumes and multiyear program fatigue, implies that now may be time for buyers to pursue a new MSP. Technology-forward MSPs that create robust strategies paired with capable change management and adoption are in a strong position. Be prepared to provide a new approach to help buyers drive improved business outcomes and customer/supplier experiences. Technology platforms, particularly VMS, may also need upgrades, especially for SOW management or global work. Ambitious goals are achievable with the right MSP and supporting technologies but must be championed at the highest levels of the customer organization to gain traction.

Technology and optimization. VMS platforms, robotic process automation (RPA), generative AI, direct sourcing, talent communities, data visualization and numerous other opportunities have combined to create the fastest evolution of the staffing technology landscape in our history. How can we help programs capture the full value of these technologies to drive value, service and growth while reducing cost and risk? Are technology challenges caused by the technology itself, its configuration or gaps that can be filled by alternative technologies? What ROI is needed to justify replacing a fully implemented and operational VMS?

Technology selection, integration and optimization is the most critical differentiator among high-impact, results-driven programs. However, without a clear and cohesive strategy, new technologies won’t get them very far. Once goals are clear, customers and MSPs must evaluate their current states versus agreed-upon goals. A technology-forward MSP can optimize and drive adoption of existing tools. This is generally faster and more cost effective than replacements or new implementations. Additional tools can enhance functionality once the core VMS is properly configured and optimized. No matter how advanced the technology, it won’t be successful without clear goals and needs as well as a team that can execute on configuration, training, adoption and support. As MSP and staffing leaders, we can leverage our experience with clients who have been through technology changes to advise others how to set their foundations firmly before adding complexity.

Market conditions and savings. There has been a dramatic shift from last year’s talent-hungry, growth-focused buyers to savings-consciousness and program downsizing. How can MSPs and staffing providers support customers to achieve the right balance of flexible, high-quality workforce solutions and realistic annual savings goals? Are newer strategies like direct sourcing the answer? How about automation? RPO? Bulk staffing? Global optimization?

In today’s inflationary environment, savings strategies must balance risks with quality. While savings can be quickly achieved and easily measured, the impacts on quality take longer to manifest. Some will make this tradeoff deliberately based on savings goals and business realities. Others will continue to demand the highest quality talent with cost as a secondary factor. Most are in between. To be part of the solution, we should encourage our clients to focus on performance-based supplier optimization combined with volume-based pricing (Note: For buyers/MSPs, this is an ongoing effort requiring continuous performance monitoring, clear strategies, agreed-upon metrics and creating/maintaining a level of trust and partnership that incentivizes suppliers to invest in the program over the longer term).

What has been your experience with our evolving contingent labor landscape? No two programs are ever quite the same, and no two client/supplier relationships are the same. That’s what makes our sector so enjoyable and so challenging! If any of the above has piqued your interest, we’d love to hear your thoughts.