In our last issue, we listed the top articles written by our CWS Council and legal advisors, who provide their expert knowledge and guidance each week to CWS 3.0 readers. This week, we feature the top articles written by our editorial staff in 2021.

Covid-19 and its wide-ranging effects on contingent workforce management dominated readers’ interest in 2021. Contingent workforce program managers face talent shortages as well as wage inflation, but the pandemic also presented some solutions to the very problems it helped exacerbate.

At the same time, some topics proved perennial, such as the need to be mindful of risks associated with the use of independent contractors amid the proliferation of measures taken by states to rein in IC misclassification and recover lost tax revenue.

Here is a recap of the year’s top stories.

Covid and Wellness

In the pandemic’s early stages, employers focused on mitigating and limiting exposures to the coronavirus — such as instituting protocols to maintain safe distances and the use of personal protective equipment. While those efforts continue, the release of vaccines in late 2020 created the need for other policy decisions.

Vaccines. As vaccination programs rolled out across the globe, contingent workforce program managers paid close attention to the legal as well as moral and ethical aspects of any vaccination policies they might develop. One article explored whose choice vaccinations should be and methods employed by companies to encourage vaccinations. Meanwhile, we cautioned contingent workforce program managers to tread carefully when approaching the issue of mandatory vaccines to strike a balance between keeping their contingents safe and avoiding legal employment battles.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided guidance related to vaccination incentives as well as accommodations employers could provide to remain in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other regulations.

Ultimately, the Biden administration established its mandate for employers of 100 or more workers: under the mandate, their workers need to be vaccinated or be tested weekly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency temporary standard enacting the mandate in November, and legal battles quickly arose to block it. [The fight continues into 2022: After a federal court lifted a block on the ETS, the US Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments over the mandate.]

Wellness. From isolation to family challenges to increased workloads, mental wellness was hit hard in 2020. As vaccinations rolled out last year and restrictions eased, workers’ mental wellness showed improvement. Senior Editor Craig Johnson’s article discussed what the talent was saying and what contingent workforce managers could do to foster further improvement.

Shifting Talent Landscape

The pandemic also exacerbated worker and skills shortages that many industries already struggled with.

Remote work imposed by Covid-19 has challenged companies to modify their management practices and evaluate policies long-term, as they face workforces that are inclined to quit if forced back into the office as well as other challenges.

Meanwhile, many businesses found they must reduce their workforces in the wake of Covid-19, driving interest in outplacement services. Offering outplacement services to workers, including contingents, offers a smoother transition for them and brand protection for the organization.

Skills and wages. Still, as the pandemic wore on, it became clear the talent shortage and skills mismatch that existed prior to Covid-19 was not abating, requiring companies to become creative in their talent recruitment strategies. Editors broached several strategies in CWS 3.0, such as giving second chances to those with criminal backgrounds. Upskilling is another approach that has gained traction, which Senior Editor Craig Johnson discussed in his two articles on the topic, “Skills apocalypse” and “A new training prototype.”

Economists suggested Covid-19 caused permanent changes to the US job market, exacerbating mismatches between workers’ skills and job openings that could lead to temporary shortages and stronger wage growth in certain sectors. And contingent workforce programs did feel the big squeeze, with bill rates exploding as various types of workers in many different sectors commanded higher wages.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion, which surged in importance in 2020, remained a top concern for CW managers in 2021 — and not just because of the attention focused on racial disparity amid the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement. DE&I is the path to take for a range of reasons. Associate Editor Katherine Alvarez explored how program managers initiate a DE&I focus, from directing spend through diversity-owned staffing firms and tracking their workers’ numbers through ensuring inclusion.

Seeking to keep momentum moving in the right direction, SIA developed the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Influencers list to highlight professionals whose work has shown progress in the ecosystem. Several program managers were included in the inaugural list, announced in May.

Legal Issues Still Top-of-Mind

Risk management always generates interest from contingent workforce management.

A Circuit Court of Cook County (Illinois) judge denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against a buyer of staffing services and three of its staffing providers brought against them by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. The lawsuit alleges that the staffing agencies formed an unlawful agreement to refuse to solicit or hire the others’ employees and to fix employees’ wages. The buyer of their staffing services allegedly facilitated the agreement by acting as a go-between to communicate the agreement and assisted in enforcing the no-poach agreement.

Never-ending IC compliance concerns. Two Senate Democrats in April proposed federal legislation that would require states to adopt California’s restrictive version of the “ABC” test that gets tough on independent contractor misclassification for purposes of determining eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. The 106-page bill aimed to reform the country’s unemployment insurance system, which has struggled during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Program Management

The future of work. The abrupt and drastic changes required to adapt to the pandemic accelerated the pace of change in the ecosystem, pushing advancements and trends from future expectations to current, necessary realities. That was one message delivered during CWS Summit Europe 2021, a virtual event held in April attracting more than 500 contingent workforce managers, staffing suppliers and others. In his keynote address, Peter Reagan, SIA’s senior director, contingent workforce strategies and research, discussed several ways the pandemic has affected the ecosystem. “We have been transformed and catapulted into a completely new way of living, and a complete new way of working,” he said. Changes and advancements he predicted last year would take place in 2030 to 2040 are now on the front burner, fueled by the pandemic’s impact.

The role of the contingent workforce manager. Most CW managers fall into the role — many seeking more responsibility than their current HR role offers or a change from the supplier side of the industry. CWS 3.0 examined the evolution of the role from a need arising from the 1996 “permatemp” case filed against Microsoft Corp., to development into a full-time, strategic career position to its current and future responsibility to address the challenging rapid pace of change in the industry.