The so-called “War for Talent” is raging at ever increasing speeds in more and more skill sectors. Most participants in the talent sourcing business can quickly name the top skill markets or “purple squirrel” skill sets that pose the greatest challenges in their sourcing efforts. These sourcing challenges are growing. Contingent workforce (CW) program managers need to take steps to compete in this increasingly competitive talent environment.

Macro indicators suggest the economy, on the whole, continues to give a broader and broader base of contingent talent more choices on where they will engage their skill sets.

This continued trend raises a key question for CW program managers: What is the competitive condition of your “engagement brand”?

An “engagement brand” is similar to, if not closely aligned with, one’s corporate hiring employer brand. The key differences are the talent is not engaged in full-time employment (with benefits) and consequently has a more separated relationship view during their engagement with the organization. A simple example is the contingent worker could be working with multiple entities simultaneously (even a competitor) while the full-time worker is primarily engaged with one organization during his or her ongoing tenure. It’s definitely a different relationship and some organizations aggressively promote that separation with CW talent for fragile risk mitigation purposes.

If Employer Brand is an organization’s reputation as an employer. The “Engagement Brand” is the market reputation when conducting contingent work for an organization. Employer branding management would typically include attracting talent, retention efforts and overall strategies that enhance your company’s employer brand. An engagement brand would cover similar relationship elements with regard to supporting the market brand impression that it is desirable and beneficial to engage in contingent work for an organization.

Staffing Industry Analysts has spent the last year or so working with CWS Council members in reviewing their overall program capabilities via a Program Maturity Assessment Model. Consistently, these assessments have shown investments in managing their engagement brand have come up short, especially with regard to evolving sourcing strategy requirements and challenges. In fairness, many programs have respectable capabilities around the nuts and bolts of managing CW engagements. But only recently have program managers been faced with higher levels of difficulty in attracting the quality CW talent levels they need to engage in their program. Even something as simple as conducting satisfaction or Net Promoter Score surveys for current and outgoing CW talent is rarely conducted. Unfortunately, most have no measured visibility into CW talent’s wants, needs or preferences when engaging workers for their organizations.

Some view the talent sourcing strategy as the sole responsibility of one’s staffing partners, noting it is the providers’ core expertise and what they are compensated for. But one’s CW sourcing strategy can be severely hampered if an organization has a poor reputation for CW engagement work no matter how skilled the recruiter. Certainly, this is an extreme negative case but fairly realistic in specific low-skilled, local labor markets. Workers create definitive public opinions on engagement experiences for certain organization’s local operations.

Poor engagement brands will produce more costly, ineffective talent sourcing and ultimately might only attract and deliver a poorer quality class of talent. When the supply/demand ratio of talent tilted in the favor of buyer organizations, shoring up one’s engagement brand did not seem to be a priority. But now, sourcing challenges are emerging in specific skill sets, and as key stakeholders within the business increase their strategic leverage of CW resources, they are demanding higher levels of talent quality in their of CW engagements. The engagement brand has to be invested in, managed and leveraged as a core competitive advantage in attracting and securing the best CW talent in the marketplace.

Employment branding management is a traditional standard component of most comprehensive recruitment process outsourcing engagements. Engagement branding needs to be addressed similarly and become a key weapon in CW management programs.