SI Review: March 2012

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Perspective

Forum Comes of Age

21 years after launch illustrate how things change … and don’t

By Barry Asin

In June 1992 when the first Staffing Industry Executive Forum launched, I was fresh out of business school and newly placed at Adia Services as head of strategic planning. The “staffing industry” was newly named in the process of transitioning from something based on absence substitution to something much more integrated into HR strategy. With no Google or Internet to look to for information about the newly formed industry, the announcement about the first Executive Forum was like a breath of fresh air.

On the Agenda

Since that time, much has changed, while some things have stayed the same. To understand what has changed, let’s look at the key topics from that first Executive Forum. Among them were the growth of professional staffing, the adoption of managed staffing models and the need for industry players to address outsourcing. A big issue back then was the expansion of temporary employment firms to include the areas that were defined by Staffing Industry Analysts as part of the staffing industry. Peter Yessne, SIA’s founder, saw that temporary employment was really part of something bigger — an industry focused on a three-way relationship involving an employer, an employee and a third party. That led to an industry definition that expanded to include permanent placement and search, as well as outplacement and staffing leasing/professional employee organizations (PEO).

What’s Changed?

Since then, the staffing industry has changed in many ways, both small and large. For one thing, we’ve seen many firms grow to encompass both temp and perm as part of their business model, a strategy seen by many as undesirable in the early 1990s. The 1992 Executive Forum spent significant time exploring the staff leasing business and pondering how or if temporary staffing firms would grow to accommodate it. It also looked at outsourcing as an opportunity, but primarily reflected its office/clerical roots by focusing on the outsourcing of mail rooms. Now that the mail room is more or less dead, there are a whole new range of services offered by companies that are variations on those themes; with an explosion of interest in recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), managed service provision, payrolling and independent contractor compliance services coming to mind as areas that were low on the radar screen back then.

We’ve also seen change in the Executive Forum in the number and diversity of the types of staffing firms that participate. Of the 130 or so people attending that first forum, a significant majority were focused on commercial staffing, using a typical small branch office model. And many of those firms were just beginning to implement front-office technology and candidate databases. Today’s much-expanded Forum highlights the explosion of specialization among staffing firms and the growth of many interesting service models — from virtual recruiting centers, to off shore recruiting, vendor-on-premise only models, centralized recruiting and of course candidate databases that live in the cloud as opposed to the desk drawers of individual recruiters.

Additionally, while business in 1992 was almost entirely local in nature, there were the beginnings of discussion around regional and national accounts. Today, global expansion is high on the radar screen for staffing firms of all sizes and the diversity of forum attendees and topics reflects that. Finally, while there were few suppliers in attendance at that first Executive Forum, today we see a broad array of highly sophisticated suppliers with cutting-edge technology. This final change is evidenced this year with the introduction of our new “TECH Day@ Executive Forum.”

What’s the Same?

For all that has changed, much remains the same. At its heart, staffing is a simple business. If you understand your clients’ needs and are able to find great candidates to meet those needs, you can’t go wrong. And it’s also still a people business. While technology abounds, the Executive Forum and the industry still invest considerable time focusing on managing, motivating and connecting people. Moreover, the conference is still organized to deliver on the needs of the senior executives and leaders who drove the growth of the industry through the last 21 years and will chart the course into the next 21.

Barry Asin is president of Staffing Industry Analysts. He can be reached at basin@staffingindustry.com.

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