Successful contingent workforce management programs view their staffing providers as partners, not suppliers. Hence, it is imperative to understand the trends, opportunities and challenges they face. Published every two months, Staffing Industry Analysts’ US Staffing Industry Pulse Survey Report provides insights into the staffing suppliers’ environment, how it affects their organizations and what they should prepare for.

“Understanding the opportunities and the challenges that your staffing partners have allows you to be a more educated buyer and better partner,” says Dawn McCartney, senior VP of SIA’s Contingent Workforce Strategies Council. “Being an educated buyer not only benefits your program and your organization but also benefits the staffing partner and the contingent workers. I believe that in order for CW programs to be successful, they need great staffing partners — and for staffing partners to be successful, they need great CW programs to support. Having the pulse of the industry can help you to achieve this.”

Provider Landscape

Suppliers reported trends on bill rates, orders and more.

Bill rates. The survey featured in the September 2023 Selected Highlights report sheds some light on bill rates. A net -9% of staffing firms reported an increasing trend in bill rates over the last three months, down from -4% in the prior survey; in addition, the net percentage of staffing firms expecting an increasing trend in the next six months fell to 16% in the September report from 18% in July.

“It is important to note that outside of healthcare, bill rate growth is still positive,” says Curtis Starkey, a senior research analyst at SIA and author of the report. “The recent three-month trend figure in the report was pulled down by healthcare — in particular, travel nursing, in which a net -57% of respondents saw an increasing trend in bill rates in the last three months (thus, a net 57% saw a decreasing trend). For per diem, that figure was -21%; allied -18%; and life sciences -7%. All other segments were positive (or in the case of IT, flat). And only in the allied and travel nursing staffing segments is a net decreasing trend in bill rates expected over the next six months.”

Labor market balance. Average sales difficulty in August was unchanged from the prior survey at 3.40 (on a scale of 1 to 5), and average recruiting difficulty only decreased slightly from 3.11 to 3.09. As participant companies increased in revenue size, their average recruiting difficulty increased while sales difficulty decreased. Within SIA’s tracking period, average sales difficulty remains at its highest historical level outside of the beginning of the pandemic.

New orders. The survey found new orders decreased a net 16% in the last three months, down from a net decrease of 13% reported in the previous survey for the July report. However, a net 54% of staffing firms surveyed for September’s report expect an increasing trend in the next six months, up from 47% who expected an increasing trend in the previous survey.

Revenue. Overall, spending on temporary workers through US staffing firms fell by a median 7% year over year in August among staffing firms participating in the Pulse survey, down slightly from a 6% decrease in June. However, the aggregate decrease in their US temporary staffing revenue was 15% continuing the 2023 trend of lagging aggregate growth and illustrating the recent phenomenon of larger companies reporting more negative growth than smaller companies; in August, small company staffing revenue was up a median 4% year over year, medium company revenue was down 5% and large company revenue was down 15%.

Locum tenens again posted the strongest median revenue growth at 10%; growth was flat in allied healthcare, finance/accounting, IT and office/clerical. On the flip side, the biggest declines were seen in the travel nurse staffing segment, down 22%; per diem nursing, down 15%; and industrial, down 6%.

Internal Staff Layoffs

The most recent Pulse survey also queried participants about layoffs in the second or third quarter of this year. Overall, 38% of respondents reported laying off internal staff, with 20% stating the layoffs constituted 1% to 5% of staff.

Of the eight healthcare per diem staffing respondents, five reported internal staff layoffs with three of those reporting layoffs of 10% or greater. Thirty-six percent of industrial respondents also reported internal layoffs, but the majority at a smaller scale (33% reported 1% to 5% of staff were laid off).

For comparison, 20% of all respondents that primarily serve the healthcare industry reported internal layoffs of 10% or greater, whereas none of the respondents serving the manufacturing industry reported as such.

The survey for SIA’s September Pulse Report included responses from 151 staffing firms that conduct business in the US. Selected highlights of the September 2023 Pulse Report are available for download to CWS Council members.