2023 SIA Exec Forum Recap: Staffing Industry Optimism, Lessons from The Pandemic, and AI

Matt DichterEvent, Recruiting Acceleration, Staffing and Recruiting

SIA’s Exec Forum has been a long-standing staffing industry conference favorite of mine, and this year was no exception. It was bigger and better than ever, with more attendees than any Exec Forum to date. It was a great testament to how our industry has continued to grow, even in the face of an uncertain economy.

Since there was so much action-packed content spread out over many exciting keynotes, sessions, & events, I decided to put together an outline of some of my top takeaways. Hope you enjoy!

2023: Plenty of Reason for Optimism

Barry Asin kicked off the conference with an outstanding keynote focusing on many key staffing industry trends. And by and large, despite the U.S. facing an uncertain economy, there is plenty of optimism for staffing agencies in the short run.

As I noted in my last blog post, this downturn is a bit different from past recessions. There are currently 6.3M more jobs than workers… which gives our industry plenty of exciting opportunities to place workers. As does the shift in the labor force to remote & hybrid workspaces, which paves the way for flexible contract work. Barry noted that contingent staffing work has grown a staggering 28%, and that trend is expected to continue.

Inflation has historically not been such a bad thing for staffing agencies. If anything, it has a slight positive impact on revenues for our industry. SOW work, payrolling, and daily pay work continue to gain traction. Overall, SIA is forecasting a 2% growth in US staffing revenue in 2023. What is your staffing agency doing to seize this opportunity? 

Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

Several sessions from Exec Forum focused on agencies that made sweeping changes during the pandemic that still remain in place today. There is no doubt that it accelerated digital transformation (more on that later), and forward-thinking agencies have been quick to adopt engagement, automation, & AI tools.

Several leading agencies like Insight Global and IDR pivoted further into healthcare staffing during COVID. Some saw a huge opportunity, while others did so out of necessity. Ashley Holahan, CEO of IDR, noted that their agency lost 30% of their tech business overnight. While some agencies would panic, they doubled down on hiring and launched a healthcare brand that is still thriving and growing.

Jessica Calzaretta, President at Insight Global Health, talked about the importance of counseling and mental health support during difficult times. We talk a lot here at Staffing Engine about meeting candidates where they are. Jessica had an interesting twist on this: you need to “meet your employees where they are, because taking care of the full person leads to productive workers.” In case you haven’t spoken to a millennial or Gen-Zer recently, they put a premium on mental health. Is your agency meeting them and supporting them in this critical area?

Digital Transformation & Technology Investments are a Top Priority

Starting with Barry’s aforementioned keynote, there was an emphasis put on technology throughout Exec Forum.

As I discussed in my tech supplier breakout session at this show, AI has been talked about at SIA conferences for several years now. For the first time, it’s become truly mainstream. Staffing agencies are adopting AI tools at an accelerated clip in order to automate more transactional parts of the sales & recruitment process. This in turn keeps their people focused on relationship building and revenue. 

Now that ChatGPT has emerged, Barry noted that while there’s a ton of hype, we’re still TBD on its impact (at Staffing Engine we think it has a major role to play!). And it was interesting hearing other applications of AI and VR throughout the industry. Darren Simons, Chief Digital Officer at Kelly, discussed their business’ exponential increase in tech usage across the enterprise. Not only did Kelly launch a warehouse training program using VR/AR, they are also actively exploring ways that ChatGPT can become a major disruptor based on its potential ability to sell using vast amounts of available data.

What about technology in staffing’s largest and fastest-growing vertical, healthcare? There was a great session led by some of my friends and colleagues in the healthcare staffing space that focused specifically on the impact of platforms on the industry. While the market has largely settled post-pandemic, the reliance that health systems have on staffing agencies is here to stay. 

That’s in large part due to nurses loving the flexibility that contract work allows for, and also how streamlined staffing platforms have made the recruitment process. My jaw dropped when Ryan Kovacs from Aya Healthcare noted that their tech has allowed some recruiters to manage over 300 nurses on assignment… There was a time when managing 50 nurses at once was impressive!

All that to say, these staffing industry leaders are not using technology to replace their recruiters. They all still acknowledge that their people are their greatest assets. Instead, they are finding ways to apply technology in innovative ways that make them more productive and profitable.

SIA Exec Forum 2023: Final Takeaways

Hopefully, this has helped shine some light on the highlights from a great conference. As I sign off, I will leave you with a couple of gems from Seth Mattison, one of the keynote speakers at the show.

First- “always tell yourself the truth.” Seth had a great example of how when Domino’s was re-inventing their company in 2010, they ran marketing campaigns where their CEO came out and said “our pizza sucks.” They started by looking at the hard truths, embracing them, and then showing enough vulnerability to admit them publicly. THEN when they went to fix them, people were willing to give their pizza another chance- and the Domino’s business skyrocketed from there. What are you struggling with within your staffing agency that should be called out and addressed?

And finally- when it comes to growth vs lifestyle businesses, “if your company is really growing, it technically means you’re always a little underqualified.” This really got me thinking, despite being a little uncomfortable (Seth also talked about the importance of embracing uncomfortable actions). Taking action on the fact that there’s always one more thing you can do to grow to the next level is what separates the great leaders apart.

As a final sign-off, you can hear me talk in more detail about some of these topics with my friends Lauren Jones and Rob Mann from the You Own the Experience Podcast right here. Friendly disclaimer: it was a little loud on the conference floor where we recorded, so the audio gets a little choppy at times. Still worth checking out! ?