The Future of Platform Staffing, Part 2

A Continued Discussion with Avionté Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Christopher Ryan

This interview builds on our previous conversation, “The Future of Platform Staffing, Part 1”, with Avionté’s Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Christopher Ryan, where he shared his insights into the future of staffing. Here Chris discusses the importance—and challenges—associated with achieving platform scalability while preserving the human touch and responsive service that traditional staffing companies are known for.

Interviewer: Last time we spoke about platform staffing, you mentioned the concept of integrating the strengths of traditional staffing with automation. Can you elaborate on what it truly means to combine the best of traditional staffing with the advantages of a gig or talent platform?

Christopher Ryan: Compared to other industries, the automation of staffing presents unique challenges. Most industries that use platform technologies have well defined use cases. If you take airlines, for example, your primary use cases don’t change that much day to day. You can buy a ticket, choose your seat, get updates, change your itinerary, track bags, etc., but it’s pretty straight forward.

Staffing and recruiting are completely different. The whole point of “contingent” labor is to help employers with “contingencies” It’s when things get crazy – changes in the economy, a major customer order, a new fad, bad weather – or even a new labor regulation—that’s when staffing agencies are expected to show up for their clients. Staffing agencies need to be dependable in times of change.

Equally important, employers expect agencies to tailor their services to accommodate their unique needs. In practice, this means tweaking workflows to account for job roles, geographies, regulations, as well as the employer’s unique work policies. So “customer service” has a special meaning in the staffing industry. It’s about delivering value-added, time sensitive results in a market environment that is undergoing constant change.

Platform staffing needs to optimize scalability without sacrificing configurability. Let’s take an example. Supposing I have a client who just expanded their plant operations, and they need 40 extra FTEs within 5 business days. Most employers today would hedge their bets by contacting multiple staffing agencies, filling positions as they come in from each agency.

But in a platform model, one agency can potentially handle the entire order and do it faster. To do this, the staffing agency wants to use the ATS and mobile platform to quickly set up its own digital job fare. The front-line recruiters receive the job requisition electronically from the VMS, make quick modifications, and push the job opportunity to their entire candidate database on the mobile app, even while they are posting the opportunity on their website and external job boards. The self-service functionality on the mobile talent app allows talent to respond to recruiters in near real time, but the recruiter can also set up different workflows by source as applications come in.

  • They can immediately pass qualified candidates to the employer for review
  • They can prescreen talent with an automated questionnaire, before scheduling interviews.
  • They can instantly trigger an onboarding workflow for highly vetted talent with prior experience.
  • They can set up role specific communications updates and reminders.
  • The entire remote onboarding workflow itself can be uniquely customized by role, locations, and employer, with the configuration saved for potential future use.
  • The entire onboarding process can be tracked electronically without the recruiter having to continually follow-up.

The point here is that the recruiter retains control of the outcomes, and the recruiter can adjust workflows rapidly. But we haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to the challenges of recruiting itself.

The recruiter’s judgement is critical for delivering a quality work outcome. Each employer has its own unique situation, and every candidate has their own personal story. Even when a candidate has the right skills, personality traits, and work experiences, that may still turn out to be a poor fit for a specific work culture. So, a recruiter’s unique understanding of both the customers and the talent allows them to play matchmaker. It’s a uniquely difficult job.

Our challenge with Platform Staffing is to keep the most human elements of recruiting while we scale the process. Artificial Intelligence can help recruiters to narrow searches and streamline workflows, but I do not foresee replacing the judgement of human recruiters in many critical situations.

But we do want AI to do all of the work that recruiters shouldn’t be doing. It makes no sense to have a recruiter calling a candidate five times a day to remind them to submit their I9 and tax forms. It makes no sense for recruiters to be contacting people one at a time, and then trying to strong arm them to show up for a job that the person may or may not even want. It makes no sense for a recruiter to be filling out paperwork that talent could better be filling out on their own from their home, preferably on a mobile phone.

We need to elevate the recruiter’s role to deliver more value and to create a more reliable supply chain of labor, build a better candidate pool that employers need. And then make sure that the match between what the employers need and what you have is up to snuff. That’s where all the value is. And then you want to take all the administrivia out of the rest of the equation.

Interviewer: It really sounds like you’re talking about a different type of recruiter, right? It sounds like the skills and what they’re going to be doing on a day-to-day basis is going to change?

Christopher Ryan: Yes. There’s no question. And the more you leverage technology, the more tech-savvy recruiters need to be. But this is nothing new. If you think about the U.S workforce, certainly when I started in the workforce, most people were still producing documents with typewriters, and department secretaries and administrative assistants were everywhere. Today, you can have an entire company with only one executive administrator and everybody else produces their own documents. The idea that executives could design and deliver their own documents was a radical idea in the early 1980’s, but that changes within a decade.

Interviewer: And, to your point, when I think of an executive assistant now, they’re usually very highly skilled, and they’re paid very well for those skills.

Christopher Ryan: That’s exactly right. You have somebody who has elevated skills, and the low-skill job has gone away entirely. And I think that’s what we’re looking at in the world of staffing.

The recruiting job will be elevated, and broadly speaking, there may be more jobs in staffing. Agencies may employ more people in the future than they do today. But that said, those jobs will be different. They will be higher paid, but they will be different. And the people who are recruiting will have a unique understanding of both the technology they’re working with, as well as the process of employment and placement of workers into different job environments.

Interviewer: So, what would you say to recruiters now who are worried about their jobs? What kind of skills do you think they should start developing? What would you suggest to a recruiter who is fearful of technology and wants to remain relevant?

Christopher Ryan: First, I’d say you need to identify and work with the technology that will help you earn more money. One of the interesting things about recruiters is that they’re producers; they are paid to find and place people. And if you understand that you can use technology to earn more, I believe that’s a good way to motivate recruiters to get comfortable with it.

What is most important for recruiters to understand is which technologies will enable them to reach more talent faster. And, in particular, which technologies will help them leverage the database or the candidate pool they have today.

One of the biggest problems with staffing is that many agencies do such a poor job of managing their existing candidate database. They aren’t able to leverage it as an asset, and as a result, one of two things is happening: Either A, the recruiter has to go to a job board and find new talent, which is very costly and time consuming. Or B, you have recruiters who are squirreling away their favorite 20 or 30 talents which they keep on a separate piece of paper or on a spreadsheet that they never share with the rest of the company.

And as a result, it’s each recruiter for themselves trying to protect their own income, but in doing so, the agency overall becomes less and less effective and responsive.

Interviewer: So, essentially, the recruiters able to leverage technology to build a pool of reliable talent that they can consistently go back to are going to be the ones that win.

Christopher Ryan: That’s exactly right. If you have a candidate pool of a hundred high-quality candidates and you can place them consistently over time, you’re going to earn a lot more money than somebody who is constantly having to look for that next talent to place.

And I think the other thing I would say is look at every aspect of your job that doesn’t put food on the table but is required as part of the administrative workflow. If you can automate that low value work so that you can focus more on what you’re getting paid for, you can earn more.

Interviewer: Then, in your point of view, the most successful staffing models will place the recruiters at the center of the workflow and use automation to cancel out any low value tasks so that recruiters can focus more on meeting the needs of both talent and clients.

So, how do you do that? Can you outline the key components of a successful platform staffing model, and shed light on Avionté’s vision for platform staffing?

Christopher Ryan: There are several things. To start, you have to have a modern, end-to-end staffing platform that enables the agency and the recruiter to manage and monitor every step of the placement process, from identifying potential candidates to navigating them through the talent pipeline, including pre-screening, interviewing, and so on – all the way through to when they’re successfully placed on the job and reporting back.

And then how do you re-engage them when the assignment ends? And so, you want a complete, end-to-end record. And with it, modern business intelligence that allows you to track gross profits per recruiter, as well as talent and all other key metrics in one place.

So that’s the foundation. But then, there’s the judicious use of a couple of other specific technologies. One is a mobile platform. One of the reasons why mobile is so powerful is because you can reach people wherever they are, whether they’re waiting for coffee, they’re on a job somewhere else, or it’s eight o’clock at night. In fact, today the mobile phone handles 70 to 80% of all searches on the internet. The likelihood that somebody will return to a website goes up by a factor of 10 when it’s a mobile app rather than an individual website. People are spending four or five hours a day on their mobile phone, so it makes sense that there is some way to reach all your talent by mobile. And that means having a compelling mobile app.

The second thing is to make that app relevant to talent. They need to be able to do everything related to their employment process in one place, whether it’s seeing and applying for jobs, pre-screening for a particular role, scheduling an interview, submitting papers for onboarding, tracking your time, seeing your paycheck, or even getting paid virtually on your phone. Having all of that in one place makes the app much more compelling and, therefore, more likely that the talent will actually use it.

And, if the talent is looking at your app, they’re less likely looking somewhere else. They’re not shopping for another job down the street with another staffing agency. And that’s really important because many times staffing agencies sell a big customer, but then it turns out that they’re just one of five agencies serving that same customer, and they’re all competing for the same requisitions.

So, having a captive pool of talent that are loyal to you because you’re giving them a better, easier, more convenient technology experience is critical. And having a mobile app to reach the talent in real time, and then a self-service model that allows them to respond and keep the process moving is crucial. So, mobile is a key part of it. And, making sure that whatever is happening on your ATS platform, whatever the recruiter sees on their dashboard, is reflected by what is happening with the talent on their mobile app and vice versa.

Interviewer: So, what other types of automation tools would you recommend to build this loyal pool of talent?

Christopher Ryan: Another valuable thing is having automation that does some form of talent matching so that you can send push notifications to talent best matched to new jobs.

If you’ve got a database of 50,000 people, but you need to fill a hundred positions quickly, having algorithms that will actually push the job notification out to the first 500 people who are most relevant – and then the next 500 and the next 500 – is a very efficient way to get much higher usage out of your existing candidate database.

And when you hire from your existing candidate database, several things happen. One, you’re able to respond to a customer much faster with potential talent. Your fill rates go up because you’re cutting response time dramatically. The talent is more likely to stay with you because they’re getting another work opportunity. And you’re not paying any job board costs. And, in some cases, you might even be able to skip onboarding. So that dramatically improves the recruiter’s reach.

Then you apply automation which can reduce recruiter workloads in several ways. One is the use of artificial intelligence and chatbots to do pre-screening. There are many basic questions you want to ask somebody before you decide to interview them live. And sometimes you want to talk to somebody informally before you know you want to talk to them formally.

A well-designed chatbot with the right questions can determine if somebody is eligible to work. Can they lift 50 pounds? All of that you can pre-screen, and now you’re using the recruiter’s valuable time only to speak to those that meet minimum requirements.

And then automating the onboarding process, making it self-service, allowing somebody to respond to and submit all their documents remotely, receiving ongoing notifications and instructions and then updating the recruiter in real time – all of that can save the recruiter an extraordinary amount of time.

And then, notifying a recruiter automatically that somebody showed up at their work site on the first day. That often is also a major stress stressor for recruiters. So, there are different ways that you can dramatically reduce the administrivia that a recruiter has to deal with through the use of automation, self-service, and mobile.

Interviewer: So, Avionté recently acquired SimpleVMS. How do you think a VMS fits into the overall vision that Avionté has for platform staffing?

Christopher Ryan: This speaks to the final piece around platform staffing that I think is really important. That is the duplicate workflows that often occur when an employer is using their own contingent workforce solution or vendor management solution.

It is very often the case that a staffing agency actually has to maintain and work with two separate platforms. They receive requisitions and submit back talent and enter various information into the employer’s VMS, and then they have to duplicate the entry of that information into their own talent system.

And that kind of duplicative entry is very inefficient. Creating an automated workflow that permits the seamless pass through of requisition data from the employer to the staffing agency is potentially a huge time saver for the staffing agency.

The other thing is that very often staffing agencies are asked by employers to provide various special kinds of reports, and, if in fact, the VMS platform and connectivity can handle some of those chores, that could be a huge advantage.

For example, consolidated timekeeping and reporting that can identify all the talent that a staffing agency has placed at a particular work site – all of that can dramatically improve the efficiency of the process as well. So, at every stage of the process, you’re trying to eliminate all the points of friction, the friction that would prevent talent from responding, the friction that keeps a recruiter from spending time either finding or training new talent or working with the employer on special needs. At every point, you remove friction from the system. You work end-to-end, and then you have analytics and metrics that give you insight into how you’re doing on a near real-time basis.

And soon, you’ve got a platform model. But what’s different is now you’re not placing 10,000 Uber drivers. You might be placing 10,000 workers across a hundred different employers, across a hundred different job roles, and fulfilling them quickly, even with the unique workflow requirements that each employer has imposed on the staffing agency.

Interviewer: And, because so much of this is automated, recruiters can handle more, becoming, as you mentioned, super recruiters. So, you can actually place thousands of individuals with potentially the same number of recruiters that you have now?

Christopher Ryan: That is correct. And if you have a recruiter with specialized knowledge in a particular job type, such as a team focusing on offshore oil field workers, using platform technology allows you to harness their expertise and differentiate yourself in the market. Similarly, if you have recruiters who have expertise in healthcare and credentialing through platform technology, you can dramatically improve speed and efficacy of placement.

It all comes back to a couple things. You want the largest candidate pool possible to make platform staffing work. You also want a larger pool of employers who are participating in the automated delivery of requisitions to or electronic submission of requisitions to the staffing agency.

So, if you get those two things right, your ability to execute platform staffing goes up dramatically. But note that this doesn’t prevent you in any way from still dealing with unique individual job roles that need to be filled.

Interviewer: What do you think is going to happen to those agencies who are not embracing automation and new technology?

Christopher Ryan: I think there will always be some small mom and pop staffing agencies. But of the twenty-five thousand agencies out there currently, I believe only a small number, maybe 800 to a thousand, are going to be able to surpass a couple million in sales.

Again, I would look at travel agencies. Modern, automated platforms now deliver the vast majority of airplane tickets to most people. But there are still travel agencies that remain which offer highly specialized services. For example, you might have a travel agency that specializes in designing special honeymoons in Greece. You may have a travel agency that specializes in delivering bike trips throughout Europe. So, you’re either going to be a very niche player with very specialized expertise and customer service, or you’re going to figure how to be big and scale. But what we will not see are large staffing agencies that don’t leverage technology effectively.

The question every staffing agency must ask themselves is: Why would an employer rather work with me? Can I deliver more talent faster with better quality? And are my people focused on the things that are most important to the employer? So, you either become a highly specialized niche player or you scale through technology. But you don’t want to be caught in the middle, because those who are caught in the middle, they’re going out of business

The flip side is that a company that learns how to leverage technology well can purchase other staffing agencies, improving their valuation by applying technology to an underutilized candidate database. So, there are some real opportunities there.

Interviewer: This all makes a lot of sense, but we know that adapting to change is difficult, especially for an industry that really has not historically adopted change as fast as others. What do you say to staffing agency leaders? What are some actionable takeaways to begin this process of change management? How do you begin? Because, obviously, this can be very overwhelming.

Christopher Ryan: What I would say is you can’t build it in a day, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, you should develop a long-term strategy and execute it in small pieces carefully, measuring every step along the way.

It starts with making sure you’re on the right core staffing platform. Before you go out and buy mobile or before you go out and look at 20 new partners, make sure that you’re on the right ATS and have the right back office. You need to have a good end-to-end staffing solution that is scalable and capable of growing with the industry. That’s your first step.

Then start implementing mobile and make sure that your recruiters are comfortable with the technology and will accept and use it. They are often the gateway. If recruiters accept the technology, the talent will use the technology. That seems to be the lesson we’ve seen repeatedly.

So, start by making sure you’ve got a great base, then develop a mobile strategy, execute it in stages, and put analytics in place to measure the outcomes that you’re looking for. You should be looking for higher percentage of placements. You should be looking for reduced placement time. You should be looking for higher profit per recruiter and manage against those goals using the technology.

And then finally, I would seek to have a VMS strategy in place, because, in the long run, any employer of any size who is employing temporary workers is going to be using a VMS.

Christopher Ryan
Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer at Avionté

Christopher Ryan leads the Strategy and Marketing functions for Avionté. He brings more than three decades of consulting, thought leadership, and corporate experience in Human Capital Management.

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