It’s great to stay on top of the latest staffing trends. But it’s even better to be ahead of them: to see where the labor market is going, not just where it is today.

So what will the market for contingent workers look like a decade from now? And how can staffing firms prepare?

I spoke with a few staffing experts and they offer these predictions for the next 10 years:

Unemployment will remain high by historical standards.

“We could have a recovering economy, yet still have high unemployment,” said Ira Wolfe, author of “The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0” and president of Success Performance Solutions, a pre-employment and leadership testing firm based in Lancaster, Pa. “Ten years out, we will probably still be seeing relatively high unemployment, at least higher than we’ve been used to.”

It might seem that if a lot of people are looking for work, companies won’t need the help of staffing companies to fill positions. But that’s not necessarily the case.

“Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find people with the skills” they need, Wolfe said. In addition to specific job-related skills, these include “the ability to fit in, to work collaboratively, and, if the job does require telecommuting, to be able to do that.”

How to prepare: To find the workers who can serve employers’ needs, staffing firms will need to refine their ability to hone in on specific skills. This could involve deepening their networking connections with workers who have specialized expertise, for example. For the softer skills that Wolfe mentioned, staffing firms will need to be able to gauge how important they are for a particular position, and how well candidates would do.

Demand for knowledge workers will increase.

As we moved in past centuries from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy to a skills-based economy, job demands changed. Today, we are moving to what some describe as a knowledge-based economy: from “hand labor to semi-hand labor to skilled labor to knowledge labor,” Wolfe said.

“The definition of work has changed, which has changed the type of work, which ultimately will change what staffing firms are being asked to do,” Wolfe said.

“The definition of work has changed, which has changed the type of work, which ultimately will change what staffing firms are being asked to do,” Wolfe said. “Teams are dispersed. They’re also temporary. You may be staffing for facilities that are not local, or you may be working for a local company that’s sending people to a remote team.”

How to prepare: The landscape is changing quickly, and Wolfe predicts that staffing firms will have to adjust their business models to compensate. If firms see their customers becoming less tied to local labor, for example, they may need to find ways to provide workers in other locations. This broadening of the location of work could also open up new opportunities for staffing firms to provide workers outside their immediate areas.

Workers will continue to move away from long-term employment with one company.

Experts predict an increasing number of workers will look to contract work, part-time work and other less-than-long-term employment arrangements.

Some will be people who 20 years ago would have retired. But due both to the recession and to the fact that people are living longer, healthier lives, more older workers will look for ways to keep working.

For Generation X workers, those who follow the Baby Boomers, this “model appeals to them because they are the first generation of what we could call the mobile workforce,” said Cheryl Cran, a leadership and generations expert who is president and CEO of Synthesis At Work, a consulting and speaking firm in Vancouver, B.C. “Generation X does not have the attitude that you must sit at a desk” to work and thus may be more receptive to contract jobs.

With fewer workers planning to retire early, more may make time off in mid-career part of their long-term career plans.

“We’re going to see more people taking off time while they feel good so that they can enjoy themselves, see the world, get another degree, or have a baby or whatever,” said Joyce Gioia, a futurist, management consultant and speaker focused on workplace trends. “And then they’ll go back to work, work for another 8-10 years, and then they’ll take off some more time.”

How to prepare: The continuing move away from the traditional model of spending decades with one employer will likely open up new opportunities for staffing companies - both directly, as companies try to fill roles for specific projects, and indirectly, as short-term work becomes more acceptable.

It’s important to keep these changes in perspective, though. Although the idea of contract employment is appealing to many workers, health insurance, retirement plans and a steady paycheck also remain important draws.

Generations will mix increasingly at work.

The retirement of the Baby Boomers will bring about a huge generational shift in the workplace. But it’s happening slowly – and many older workers may stay in the workforce in part-time roles.

“Before, it was a more orderly progression,” Wolfe said. “The longer that older workers stay in place, the more challenging it is for young people to get their jobs.”

Meanwhile, younger workers may have a different view of work. And contrary to what some older observers may think, it’s not that they’re unwilling to work hard.

“If you know what buttons to push, you can get a Millennial to work harder than anybody you’ve ever seen,” Gioia said. But they want to be excited about their work.

How to prepare: Staffing firms, like the companies that are their customers, will be working with a broader generational mix than in the past. They will have to find ways to recruit and motivate workers from both ends of the generational spectrum – as well as those in between.

“Retirement will be very different, and therefore staffing will be very different,” Gioia said. “Employers are going to get real creative to hold on to this intellectual capital that they have in their older workers.”

Demographic changes will mean changes in demand as well as in the workforce.

Predicting workforce trends can be challenging: Technology can create new jobs and make others obsolete, and it can also allow some jobs to be done from overseas. But in some areas, it’s clear that workers will be needed, and that the work can’t be done from afar. One of those is caring for the elderly.

“We’re facing a critical need for frontline workers in elder care,” said Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and professor of human development at Cornell University. “The population in need of workers is growing astronomically, while the population of workers is not growing.”

The positions range from relatively low-paying jobs – such as nursing assistants, home health aides and personal care attendants – to highly skilled positions such as physical and occupational therapists, nurses and doctors who specialize in geriatrics.

How to prepare: Many nursing homes already use temporary staff, and demand is likely to increase, especially in nursing and lower-level jobs.

Although the work is fulfilling for many people, it is also stressful and often has low pay and benefits.  Currently, the need for a lot of temporary workers in a nursing home is “often considered to be a sign of poor management and high turnover,” Pillemer said. Yet “some workers really prefer working for an agency because they can have more control over their hours.”

To benefit from this trend, staffing firms will need to make the jobs attractive to high-quality candidates.

Tags: Economy, Industry, Staffing Trends, Future, Ira Wolfe, Margaret Steen