Handling uncertainty and change were among the themes discussed at the start of the CWS Summit North America conference this week in Dallas. But there was still an upbeat attitude on the future.

“The future is bright, but different and we go digital,” said Lincoln Markham, category director at BP in a keynote presentation led by Bryan Peña, senior VP, contingent workforce strategies at Staffing Industry Analysts.

Another session raised the question of what jobs will be affected by the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, as humans and machines are good at different things. The economy was also a point of focus; the US and corporate profits had been rising before the 2008 recession and quickly recovered after it. In contrast, labor’s share of GDP, which was healthy for decades, has fallen sharply since 2000.

More than 1,000 attendees were at the conference. Heard at the conference:

  • Artificial intelligence will bring change and disruption. And if you use Google, you’re already contributing to it, said Sherri Hammons, CTO of Beeline.

One example of the disruption that will come is driverless cars, Hammons said. If a person can order a driverless car whenever they need one, why would they need to own a car? And what about taxi drivers who will be displaced and even parking garages, if people don’t own a car they need to park?

  • Statement of work also got a lot of attention. When getting executive buy-in on a program, make sure to do your homework. “If you’re selling to an executive, know how to sell to an executive,” said Jason Ezratty, president of Brightfield Strategies. Know the state of organization and how the executives make their decisions as well as the state of the organization.
  • Another panel covered emergency preparedness: Experts discussed disaster-proofing CW programs and ensuring contingent workers remain safe.“We are really starting to give a lot more attention to the health and safety of the contingent workforce,” said Lauren Menger-Ogle, a social scientist at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH.One study showed contingent workers have two times the workers’ compensation claim rate of traditionally employed workers, Menger-Ogle said. This may be because contingent workers aren’t as familiar with the tasks or may not receive adequate health and safety training. Contingent workers may also be less likely to speak up because they are pursuing a full-time position at the client company and don’t want to make waves, or they may have had a negative experience at a previous client firm.What should CW program managers do? Ensure contingent workers have the same safety training as traditionally hired workers, including in emergency response, Menger-Ogle said. Also, encourage contingent workers to participate in a safety committee if you have one. Firms may also want to measure their “safety climate.” Also important is front-line leadership with good safety and communication skills.
  • Vendor management systems was a topic as well, as in years past. However, Peña noted that VMS is a tool, and “tools are not strategies.”