You Heard It Here First. How the CW Role Was Won

We called it first. Staffing Industry Analysts identified the role of the contingent workforce manager more than a decade ago. I remember SIA’s president, Barry Asin referring to the CW pioneers, covered wagons and campfires at the second CWS Summit in Dallas in 2006. But the Great Recession and the changing economy have helped catapult this role into the spotlight.

Let’s trace its evolution.

Ten years ago, the role was assigned to either procurement or the HR department. In rare instances the IT or finance department took possession. The role bounced around, with no department really owning it. In 2006, our research revealed for most CW managers, the job was more a task than a profession. Across the large companies SIA surveyed that year, nearly two-thirds of CW managers spent the majority of their time on other issues. 

At the same time, organizations started waking up to the profession’s worth. The function was established as part-time and started gaining in recognition. By 2006, our Buyer Survey indicated that 36 percent of CW managers did spend most their time on CW issues. Though still a minority, it was up from 16 percent in 2003.

Then the global recession happened. It taught corporate America the value of a temp workforce. The ability to ramp up or down depending on your requirements using a contingent workforce was unparalleled. I called it CW managers coming of age.

Given all that has happened with the economy, what does the role involve today? Some CW managers see it as partnering with their MSP, VMS and staffing suppliers to be the buyer of choice without having to pay a pricing premium. Others have a different take.  “My team and I responsible for driving the development, implementation and sustainment of a state-of-the-art internal contingent workforce management center of excellence,” says Peggy O’ Neill, director, staffing contingent workforce at Disney.  

The fact is that when the company is located in one area and the CW spend is not a large line item or strategic initiative for the company, managing a temporary workforce program is not a big deal. It is, however, when it involves multiple regions, numerous currencies, contracts, vendors, fee structures, service models, legal/cultural nuances etc. 

A lot is asked of these folks. “CW managers are called upon to negotiate with different parties, simplify and rationalize contracts, understand the business’s strategic intent keeping in mind sourcing permanent and temporary workers, hold staffing partners accountable while not leaving money on the table,” says James Waite, SIA’s director, contingent workforce strategies and research.

The CW manager could lead a small internal team, outsourcing most functions to third parties or have a staff — 25 or more — internally managing the program.

There is no one right way. What we often see is the CW manager coming from either procurement or HR departments, reporting to heads of varied business units. But there are instances more and more where we have the chief procurement officer reporting to the company’s CFO. It’s inevitable. As the contingent workforce grows in strategic importance and in volume, the spend at many corporations can run into billions.

“In the future, CW managers will be an important part of total workforce management which encompasses permanent and contingent workers,” says O’Neill. It’s only a matter of time before they and their portfolios attract the attention of the C-suite.

We’ve come a long way from the days of explaining what contingent means. The pioneers have circled the wagons. The new frontier has been occupied, successfully.


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