Growing talent pools, managing costs, and maintaining compliance are a few ways MSPs have stepped it up during the COVID-19 recovery.

By Marta Chmielowicz

The economic disruption of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of workforce flexibility, leading to a rise in contingent labor hiring nationwide. According to PRO Unlimited’s Fall 2020 Labor Market Report, contingent hiring declined by 56% in the first half of 2020 but quickly returned to pre-COVID levels by July, resulting in a 9% increase year-over-year by September.

“When the pandemic shock hit, we saw a very sharp initial decrease in overall full time and contingent job postings in the large set of data we track across industries in our Total Talent Intelligence® engine,” says David Trachtenberg, chief marketing officer at Workforce Logiq. “However, there are important sector-specific differences that clearly presented themselves over the year as the pandemic evolved.”

For example, Workforce Logiq’s data shows that in 2020, companies in the technology, communications, and engineering sectors experienced double-digit growth in contingent hiring volume while those in the automotive, travel, and entertainment industries saw double-digit decreases in contingent job postings. After the steep economic decline of the first two quarters, job postings across sectors grew nearly 20% by the end of 2020.

“According to our Annual Workforce Management Benchmark Report, 60% of major industry sectors ended the year with above average workforce volatility; however, the fourth quarter showed marked improvement with all but three sectors displaying decreased volatility over the quarter -the sign of a stabilizing labor market,” Trachtenberg explains.

While the labor market may be recovering, Stacie Habegger, chief sales officer at The ActOne Group, says that many companies are betting on contingent labor as a less risky alternative to supplement their workforce in a time of uncertainty and fill gaps created by the shift to work from home, challenges with childcare, and illness.

Brannon Lacey, president of PeopleScout, says that organizations are implementing new talent solutions to scale up their operations, with some employers bringing back laid off or furloughed employees as contingent workers on short-term temporary assignments.

“As the road to recovery remains uncharted, we’re seeing that companies are cautious to bring on full time and permanent employees and becoming more reliant on their contingent workforce,” confirms Lee Baldwin, senior vice president and global head of financial services and mid-markets at Pontoon Solutions. “Bringing on contingent workers throughout last year allowed organizations to continue towards recovery, reduce downtime in facilities, and train talent that they plan to bring on as permanent hires.”

This is particularly true for healthcare organizations that are contending with lower volume of full-time applicants and high employee stress as they battle the pandemic. Maria Luoni, president of RightSourcing, an MSP partner servicing the healthcare industry, says the demand for travel nurses and clinical contingent workers has spiked by more than 40% to 60% in some months.

However, other organizations are entirely shifting the work that would traditionally be done by contingent labor to internal employees to avoid laying off staff. “While some companies increased their need for contingent labor, others, especially in the travel, hospitality, events, and higher education space, reduced their use,” Lacey explains. “In these hard-hit industries, many prioritized preserving their internal resources, and full-time employees performed the work typically done by contingent workers.”

Finding Support Among Uncertainty

Employers across industries have found different ways to contend with the instability of today’s labor market and many have turned to their MSP partners for support in developing business continuity and communication plans as they navigate continued uncertainty.

“Pontoon initiated business continuity plans across all programs which enabled workforces to move to remote operations while ensuring real-time visibility of program operations for key stakeholders and hiring managers,” says Baldwin. “We tailored communication strategies to stay in unison with our clients, which helped bring large contingent populations in line with broader company policies in the fast-paced and ever-evolving environment that the pandemic created.”

The crisis has accelerated a desire for both employers and their MSP partners to innovate and do things differently, adopting their approaches as the crisis evolves from hour to hour, day to day, and month to month. Employers and providers are working together to glean best practices from the first wave of the pandemic and carry them forward as the world faces wave two.

Here are some ways MSP partners are helping organizations confront the challenges of the pandemic.

1. Plan talent needs. In these unprecedented times, companies are relying on their MSP partners to offer valuable data and insights into the labor market, available talent pools, and the competitive landscape.

“Right now, clients care about continuity, scalability and resiliency. Many clients are looking for a deeper understanding and clearer picture of their talent needs and usage. They’re looking for more robust ways to track diversity metrics and for creative solutions to keep people at work. They also want to understand the competitive landscape and what other companies in similar situations are doing to respond to the pandemic,” says Lacey.

PeopleScout has responded to these needs by developing communication protocols that allow clients to track the impact of outbreaks in different facilities and regions while providing effective emergency contact outreach. The company also works with its clients to source COVID-specific employees needed to keep workers safe and healthy, such as temperature takers and contact tracers.

“Another major theme was business continuity planning,” Lacey adds. “When a facility or region was impacted by an outbreak, there wasn’t always a plan for how another region or facility would adjust as back up support. This was something we were able to coordinate.”

RightSourcing has also prioritized talent planning, working with its healthcare clients to forecast needs based on historical census data. The month-over-month or year-over-year census data reveals key trends in labor and delivery, flu seasons, and more that can preemptively reveal necessary shifts in talent distribution, providing clues to where organizations may need to pull back contingent workers or supplement workers in a certain specialty.

“What we’ve been doing with our clients during the pandemic is we’re looking at the engaged contingent workers, we’re looking at their end of assignment date, we’re bumping it against fluctuations in the census, and we’re predicting and overlaying that with reported new COVID cases. So, we’re helping advise our clients on a look-forward forecasting basis,” Luoni explains.

The company has also worked to ensure that its clients are strategic in their efforts to bring back furloughed workers, making sure as they tap into new and existing full-time talent, they maintain relationships with their contingent staff so that they will not be left short-staffed in the event of another surge.

2. Expand available talent pools. In addition to talent planning and advising, MSP partners are helping their clients expand talent pools in a fluctuating environment.

For example, RightSourcing is developing new graduate programs to build talent pipelines. The company is also leveraging its robust analytics and multi-channel sourcing approach to deliver the best candidates in a rapid, streamlined, and hassle-free way, identifying where clients need talent most urgently and creating floating pools of workers that can travel throughout organizations to meet the flexing demands of different hospitals and clinics.

“Because we’re a vendor-neutral MSP, we don’t own a staffing company,” says Luoni. “Not only do we have robust scorecarding supplier management protocol, but we augment that with daily huddles, increased technology about open requisitions, and forced ranking of the most urgent requisitions.”

According to Luoni, RightSourcing works with its suppliers to identify geographical pockets of volume for certain positions so that hiring teams can better focus their work and recruit in bulk. This allows suppliers to take a very targeted approach to recruitment, driving a high applicant to accepted candidate ratio.

With remote work likely to become a permanent option for many companies, Trachtenberg says that this ability to identify pools of talent across geographies is more critical than ever.

“The COVID crisis has also unlocked a unique opportunity for employers to expand their geographic boundaries as they hire and rehire workers. This trend significantly expands the available talent pool, as organizations are no longer restricted to markets within commuting distance from office locations. The ability to find the best talent at competitive rates regardless of where they live also improves their ability to attract and hire a larger pool of diverse candidates by expanding the front-end of their talent pipeline,” he says.

Workforce Logiq is meeting this need through its IQ Location Optimizer™ and IQ Talent Diversity™ AI-powered solutions. These tools help recruiters navigate remote work transitions, build diverse talent pools, and optimize candidate searches, allowing clients to go where the talent is rather than focusing recruitment efforts in their own cities.

3. Offer technology to streamline hiring processes. Technology that enhances the hiring process is not a new business priority, but one that has become top of mind as organizations tackle talent acquisition in a remote environment. As a result, MSP partners are expanding the capabilities of their technology suites to better serve their clients and offer a more streamlined hiring experience.

For example, PeopleScout has developed a total workforce solution approach to hiring that allows companies to view the entire spectrum of talent in one platform. “For one PeopleScout client, we combined our RPO and MSP teams and built a consolidated data and analytics dashboard. This allowed us to reallocate candidates between permanent and contingent roles as needed, and it gave our client the ability to make strategic decisions with a total talent view,” says Lacey.

RightSourcing has also prioritized its technology offerings, encouraging clients to take advantage of the various features and functions of its proprietary vendor management system, “Wand,” that they may not have used in the past.

Luoni says that her company’s clients have been quick to adopt some new tech functionality, including:

  • shift scheduling technology;
  • worker tracking features on mobile devices; and
  • mobile-friendly solutions to increase collaboration and communication.

“Another thing that we’ve really done to fit the need is streamlined time-to-fill efficiencies,” Luoni says. “How do we take orientation out of the classroom setting and leverage it online? How do we assist our clients with doing first-level screening of resumes so that we can get workers to the floor quickly without compromising on the quality of that talent?”

4. Manage costs in a crisis market. In any crisis, the labor market moves to a rapid response where demand is high, supply is low, and companies are competing for top talent. Faced with high rates for needed talent, MSP engagements were tasked with cost management.

“Organizations worldwide were faced with the immediate need to reduce cost, even on a short-term basis,” says Habegger of The ActOne Group. “MSP providers were called upon to conduct thorough analysis of supply strategies, optimizations, rate card reductions, and creative discounting. Loyal and mutually beneficial supplier relationships were essential to deliver overnight outcomes.”

RightSourcing reacted by placing a cap on the maximum bill rate for particular job titles, working with its suppliers and leveraging data and analytics to drive hiring volume at a lower rate. This was possible through its robust network of partners combined with its use of innovative hiring strategies, such as extended contracts for contingent workers.

“Every quarter, we advise our clients as we see markets hardening or softening for certain skillsets. We held fast to that core tenant during the pandemic to make sure that we drive the market and we don’t let the market drive us,” Luoni says.

5. Maintain COVID-19 compliance. Compliance issues during the changing COVID-19 climate continue to be a major challenge in the workplace. Many organizations struggled to acquire the equipment necessary to keep their workers safe.

“Companies looked to their MSPs and staffing suppliers to help meet the gap requirement, specific to tools and technologies that were in sudden demand but necessary to be utilized in home office environments,” says Habegger. “Companies required an elevated level of partnership to not only source talent but to also manage the health and well-being of contractors who now perform their work from home.”

Workforce Logiq, for example, sent out equipment to its contingent workforce so they could work remotely without disruption and even went on-site to help a client close their physical office. The company also added their own staff to a client’s procurement team to help them source personal protective equipment for their workers.

RightSourcing has also helped its clients maintain compliance from a process perspective, finding opportunities to modify and expedite hiring procedures. “Particularly with compliance, we always need to ensure from a risk management perspective that we are covering our compliance, not only from an audit perspective but from a patient safety perspective,” says Luoni. “Where can we look at moving from lifetime background checks to seven-year background checks? How do we leverage our compliance expertise to really expedite starts but not sacrifice or not put the quality of the candidate at risk?”

MSP engagements helped organizations navigate the challenges of COVID-19 -and this is bound to continue in the future.

“We are projecting strong growth for the MSP in 2021,” says Habegger. “The pandemic created a lot of challenge for the industry but also presented a lot of opportunity. The forecast in growth will require a flexibility in how work gets done and how it is provided with a consistent oversight from one central and governing body. That is where the real value of the MSP is to be gleaned and where companies will differentiate themselves in their overall offering. Creative utilization of technology as an enhancement to this process will continue to be key as the market continues to rebuild.”

Tags: Magazine Article, March-2021, MSP, Talent Acquisition

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