The past year has been another unprecedented one for the workforce solutions ecosystem. Organizations faced a talent market unlike anything we have seen in the past while also focusing on unprecedented operational challenges. Last week, our CWS Council team recapped some of the most important events and impacts of the past year.

Vaccine mandates. When we started the year, there was a positive outlook for vaccines and it was inevitable that we would begin to see some light at the end of this pandemic. Just as inevitable as the release of a vaccine was the potential mandate by employers and governments that people get the vaccine. Throughout the year, there have been several factors slowing these mandates. More speedbumps lie ahead until a clear, black-and-white set of guidance is provided.

Remote work. As the year started, many organizations were optimistic that they would soon see a full return to the office. Many of these organizations would find themselves continuing to push those return dates back or compromising on a hybrid approach that provides flexibility to work onsite or remotely. But remote versus return to the office is no longer a tactical decision. Smart organizations are embracing remote work strategically to help attract and retain top talent.

Candidate-driven market. Competition for talent is at an all-time high. Whether it’s low-skill positions like light industrial or high-skill positions in the IT space, the talent market is competitive. The talent is calling the shots and looking not only for more money, but more flexibility of the engagement in the form of remote working and flex schedules. Many organizations are exploring creative ways to attract talent and differentiate themselves in the marketplace with opportunities for reskilling and upskilling as well as completion bonuses and incentive programs.

Continued focus on DE&I. One of the biggest focal points for buyer organizations as we started the year was around diversity and inclusion in our contingent workforces. This initiative hasn’t slowed through the year with nearly 52% of buyers surveyed in our Workforce Solutions Buyer survey planning to explore programs to encourage candidate diversity and 27% looking to have programs in place to align their CW program to their organizations diversity goals. Matt Norton, SIA’s global workforce solutions research manager, notes a conscious shift of the diversity mindset of organizations: “Diversity strategies had been focused on supplier diversity; this year, buyer organizations are increasingly gaining visibility into candidate and worker diversity to create more diversity strategy depth.”

Sourcing channel segmentation/diversification. With talent being the top priority for most, companies are looking beyond their traditional sourcing approaches to better find and engage talent, with initiatives focused on direct sourcing and IC engagements. Additionally, companies are seeking continued maturity within their statement-of-work and staff aug programs through technology adoption and vendor rationalization. Many organizations have started to think more holistically about their workforces and how they triage their businesses’ labor needs to the right sourcing channel by creating centralized decisioning support designed to evaluate the work and suggest the most advantageous path to engage the right type of labor.

VMS technology advancement. The term vendor management system has been challenged over the past year as several platforms have adopted the term external workforce system to better articulate the scale of functionality these technologies have beyond just the management of vendors. VMS functionality is progressing rapidly as these platforms have started focusing on native talent pooling functionality and analytics while also providing the ability to openly connect with external systems through standard APIs. “We started to see a significant long-anticipated shift in the importance of technology in the staffing industry during 2021, with some key acquisitions and rebranding activities,” says Peter Reagan, SIA’s senior director of contingent workforce strategies and research.

Collaboration of buyers at an all-time high. As buyer organizations look at adopting nontraditional services, tackling vaccine mandate requirements or addressing the talent shortage, they are finding that they may not have a playbook of best practices for these initiatives. These new challenges have buyer organizations looking to their peers more than ever to crowdsource solutions and collaborate on best practices. This past year has required organizations to build a strong peer network to quickly validate and address the rapidly changing market conditions.

“The past few years have proven challenging for buyer organizations around the world. Many of these challenges are similar from one organization to the next,” says Frank Enriquez, senior manager, contingent workforce strategies and research at SIA. “We offer strategy meetings for our council members; they have been incredibly successful with very strong attendance and collaboration.”

While these are just some of the impacts from the past year, it is likely that we will continue to see new challenges in the staffing market in the coming year along with new solutions. Be sure to join our CWS Council team for our upcoming webinar looking at the top predictions of 2022. The team had an 85% accuracy rate with our 2021 predictions, which sets a high bar for its forecast of the coming year.