Are recruiters obsolete and staffing firms’ days numbered? Will technology completely replace what my firm and my colleagues do for our clients and contractors? If you Google these questions you’ll get plenty of opinions: our demise has been predicted for more than a decade and just as vociferously denied as well. The defenders point out that recruiting, at heart, is a people-centric endeavor, and while technology can enhance efficiencies and even replace manual functions, you can’t take the human factor out of it entirely. 


The statistics on the growth of the staffing industry and contingent workers as a percentage of the workforce over the past decade also belies reports of the industry’s imminent demise. To be fair, plenty of what’s written focuses on how the staffing industry and both in-house and external recruiters need to adapt and sharpen their skills and value to remain relevant. The advice isn’t really different for our industry than for any other – technology has and will continue to change business significantly and the companies that recognize and respond to those changes will thrive.

I am very optimistic about the future of our industry and not just because I think we can outperform a software program! I’m bullish because of the profound changes predicted in the 21st century workplace that will continue to make staffing firms necessary and valuable to both companies and workers. In October 2012, Intel released a fascinating whitepaper, “The Future of Knowledge Work: An outlook on the changing nature of the work environment,” which addresses a number of thought-provoking topics, but presents five key ideas:

  • The definition of an employee is on the cusp of a transformation. Employee attitudes and expectations for flexibility will influence where, when, and how people work.
  • Dynamic and agile team structures will become the norm, and the default mode of employment will look more like a gun for hire (contractor) than employment structures of the past.
  • The location of work will vary widely. Offices will serve as temporary anchor points for human interaction rather than daily travel destinations.
  • Smart systems will emerge and collaborate with humans, changing the nature of work, and driving a re-imagination of work content and work process.
  • A second wave of consumerization via services, “Servicification,” will usher in changes to corporate IT organizations in a way more impactful than the first.

In short, it summarizes rather humbly, but with great significance, “the way people work will change, and so will the attributes of employment.” The whole report is insightful and interesting, but I want to focus on the first two points because I think what it says has major implications for the staffing industry. The following are some of the observations and predictions made regarding employee attitudes and expectations and future employment models:

  • There are indications that both young and mature workers desire significantly increased flexibility in work times, work schedules, and work locations in order to pursue other valued life activities. (page 7)
  • The definition of an employee may also change significantly as knowledge workers desire to bounce part time between traditional corporate roles, cultivation of entrepreneurial opportunities, pursuit of societal contributions, and leisure activities. ... Contract-like work models could become a more prevalent and dynamic way to assemble successful teams. (page 7)
  • People will be drawn from varied resource pools based on skills, interests, and availability as needed for projects and programs. ... Contributors could come from multiple geographies, and in some instances would be drawn from outside the company to fill gaps for specialized skills. (page 10)
  • … the definition of an employee is likely to shift. Individuals may choose to invigorate their careers by being part-time employees for some companies, held on retainers for specific skills by others, becoming entrepreneurs for a period of time, or by participating in open innovation challenges that utilize their unique skills. The Millennial generation in particular is likely to desire frequent shifts between differing work modalities. (page 11)
  • Employers will consider expanding their use of talented part-time resource pools to more quickly add specialized skills, fill needs for constrained skill sets, or to “pile on” large and diverse sets of people to more quickly innovate. (page 11)

It is impossible for me to read this and not see the important role that we will play in connecting the workers and companies of the future as they increasingly rely on the “contract-like work models” with which we are so familiar. As both employers and employees embrace the benefits and flexibility this employment model offers, the need for experienced specialists to help design and execute these workforce strategies will grow. Both sides will look to us to help them find the right solution for their particular expectations and needs. 

As the report states, some of this will be managed internally and be simply a new way of structuring and deploying current FTEs, but there will also be increased reliance on external sources of talent.

There are those who revile the staffing industry and denounce all but permanent, full-time positions as efforts by businesses to shirk responsibility and cheat the worker. Unfortunately there are bad apples in every industry that drag responsible businesses down with them and we must contend with the very real problems they represent. 

That said, the workplace of the future will include these flexible work arrangements because BOTH employers and employees want them. What it means to be a contingent or contract employee has changed drastically. Contingent workers proudly serve in increasing numbers, across new industries, in diverse roles, and more and more by choice. Intel’s report indicates this trend will likely only accelerate. 

What does this mean for me? It means I’d better keep investing in my staff, ensuring that they are getting the training and experience that they need to meet these future challenges. It means I’d better hire additional talented people, more recruiters and account managers, so that I can continue to serve my clients, deliver quality service, and meet the increased demand the future workplace promises. If you’re interested in joining us at this exciting time – we’re hiring!