After years of statement-of-work dominating conversations with contingent workforce managers around the world, the No. 1 topic among them now is direct sourcing.

The concept of direct sourcing of contingent workers has been around since I started in the staffing industry in the early 1990s and has historically implied the desire of the end user to go “direct” to the talent — either themselves or indirectly using an intermediary such as an MSP. Either way, they have looked to avoid the staffing agency as the second intermediary.

During my career, I have seen organizations and/or their MSP partners look to build databases of alumni and silver medalists and keep track of suitably skilled candidates that might, one day, be of interest to them.

These methods are still valid today and are indeed embedded in this new wave of direct sourcing that is piquing the interest of so many.

So, how does this new wave of direct sourcing of contingent workers differ from prior iterations?

Here’s how I see it.

Direct sourcing now is all about using the client’s brand and a technology platform to invite potential candidates to a private talent pool. Then, engage with them to ensure this talent pool does not become stagnant and — although potentially small — is full of readily available people, motivated to work for the end client. The technology enabling this is in two primary forms: Robotic process automation, or RPA,  serves to automate repeatable processes; bots, meanwhile,  provide conversational interaction via either voice-activated or messaging interfaces. They are the  scalable and highly efficient “enablers” that amplify the ability of the end client’s “brand” to attract talent and to continually engage with that talent.

Integrating such technology with the vendor management system enables millions of interactions to take place with potential workers, enabling humans in the process to do what humans do best when it comes to the creation of that talent pool/river and having those all-important conversations that finally get the candidates over the line and engaged with the end user. It’s about automating the numerous repeatable tasks in the hiring process and giving the candidates an improved user experience as a result, through automation. People still have a key role to play in the curation of the talent pool, so this provides a new business opportunity for staffing companies wishing to provide these services, possibly white labelled.

Adoption of this new wave of direct sourcing is still in the formative stages; however, early indications in terms of its potential impact appear to me very positive. Indeed, I have heard some speculation that direct sourcing will eventually overtake traditional staffing sources, providing more than 50% of a program’s contingent workforce.

Given this new wave of empowering direct sourcing through RPA and bots, and the fact that the tried and trusted practices mentioned above are still valid even without RPA and bot technology, I wonder if it is time to reinvent the way the industry refers to this new wave of direct sourcing in order to both differentiate its methodology and to avoid confusion.

If it does eventually overtake traditional CW hiring methods, perhaps it will simply be referred to as sourcing, and the use of staffing firms be referred to as indirect sourcing? Maybe the name takes shape at the enterprise level, as it’s the company brand that defines the program.

The outcome of this debate and the longer-term scalability of these platforms is something I’m looking forward to observing, as well as the conversations about it.