SI Review: January/February 2014

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Branching Out

Staffing firms are partnering with online platforms in different ways

By Andrew Karpie

Over the past two years, Staffing Industry Analysts has been studying the emerging phenomenon we have called online staffing — the intermediation of a work arrangement that is performed across an online platform, whether that work arrangement is between a small business and online freelancer (e.g., Elance) or between a larger business and an onsite contractor (e.g., Work Market).

A number of staffing firms are now responding to these platforms, a few of which are highlighted here. In each case, the firms are proving to be early “responders” rather than adopters, pursuing various thoughtful strategies and approaches to create unique talent management solutions that coexist within or transform their existing business models and serve clients better.

While some staffing firms have begun making strategic investments in online staffing platform businesses to get a closer look, others are engaging more directly and actively. The following four cases are examples of both approaches.

Kelly Services/oDesk. In December 2013, Kelly Services partnered with oDesk, a first step in Kelly’s strategy to offer online work as an alternative way of delivering talent to its business clients. Teresa Carroll, senior vice president and general manager, Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group, states that Kelly’s goal is to offer its clients the best talent supply chain possible, “one that accommodates how businesses want to consume talent and how workers prefer to work.” And the free agent workforce is a big part of that.

Online staffing platforms are seen as a component of a broad talent sourcing and delivery strategy and supply chain, or “online talent communities,” with which Kelly can partner to enable its clients to fill their talent gaps. The road ahead, Carroll says, will not only be expanding Kelly’s online talent communities, but just as important, assisting its business clients in making organizational and other adjustments that will enable them to optimize their use of online talent communities.

MBO Partners/Work Market. And in September 2013, independent contractor engagement compliance provider MBO Partners teamed with Work Market. Independent contractor engagements are becoming more common, which is “driving demand for online capabilities that make it easier for these self-employed professionals to build client relationships and obtain projects,” MBO founder and CEO Gene Zaino says. On the demand side, client managers want to be able to explore social networks and marketplaces that make it easy to learn about, evaluate and select talent themselves. By integrating MBO’s contractor engagement and compliance management services with the talent marketplace and work distribution technology platform of Work Market, large enterprises can build their own private pools of high-skilled, independent professional talent, easily distribute work, engage them quickly, efficiently, safely and compliantly.

The Willis Group/NextCrew. Rick Roberts, president of Willis Group Talent Acquisition Companies, expects the introduction of an online staffing platform to add value and increase efficiency for its clients and consultants alike. “In the future, it will be necessary to have an online component in order to compete in the staffing industry and to provide satisfaction to existing clients,” he says. The company spent 2013 building relationships with key online staffing players to identify the provider that shared its vision and would be good partners, he explains. Willis has already developed pilot solutions for some existing clients leveraging the NextCrew software platform, but Roberts makes clear that his company is taking what it calls a hybrid approach to online staffing, “combining the quality of our relationship-driven business model with the efficiency of online platforms.”

Nesco Resource/Field Nation. Nesco Resource was actually the first staffing firm to announce a partnership with an online staffing platform business, Field Nation in May 2013. Tim McPherson, Nesco president and COO, says the company is leveraging the Field Nation platform in different ways to achieve a number of goals: To provide clients with an alternative self-service process for sourcing their temporary workers and enabling Nesco to capture more 1099 spend; to improve recruiting performance in specific areas; and even to support certain kinds of permanent hire recruiting in the Nesco RPO Division. “For high-volume projects with multiple processes for large headcount requirements, this technology saves our recruiting and sourcing staff time in their efforts,” McPherson explains.

But in the end, it comes back to adding value to and continuing to serve the needs of staffing firm’s clients. “If clients have a preference to utilize online staffing platforms as part of their overall contingent labor strategy,” McPherson says, “why not instead be the ones to introduce the service offering and of course share in the business generated? Clients will find these platforms and tools on their own anyway, so we’d rather they engage through our partnership.”

Andrew Karpie is an affiliate analyst at Staffing Industry Analysts. He can be reached at akarpie@staffingindustry.com

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