Do You Provide Temps—or a Contingent Workforce?

Think back to the last time you were at a networking event or conference and someone asked you what you did. What did you say?

When I was in the staffing industry, I replied to this question with various versions of “I help companies with their staffing needs by providing temporary staffing and recruiting services.” I always felt in my heart that I was in the temp staffing business, even though we did some direct hire and some temp-to-hire. But I’m not sure I always communicated our value as a solution provider as effectively as I could have.

I’ve now been out of the industry for close to four years, watching from the outside during a time when it’s experienced incredible growth. I’ve written on more than one occasion that the recent shift toward companies hiring a higher percentage of contingent workers has become the new norm. What was initially regarded as a temporary solution to the economic recession has become a permanent—and increasingly vital—way of doing business.

The implementation of the ACA and the nation’s emergence from the Great Recession provided the impetus for this shift. But what’s made it permanent is the fact that staffing companies have started to change how they think about their services.

Twenty years ago, temp staffing was used a lot to fill shortfalls during peak periods, to cover for people out on short- or long-term leave, or to put a warm body in a seat while the client continued searching for someone to hire in a full-time, permanent capacity. Now, however, the contingent workforce is viewed as a competitive advantage.

Notice that I’m using both “temps” and “contingent workforce” here. Contrary to what some think, these terms are not interchangeable. Understanding the distinction between the two is the key to my argument here—and critical knowledge for your organization:

Temp staffing: short term, a body shop, a commodity

Contingent workforce: skilled, trusted, reliable, valuable

Using contingent staffing allows companies to remain nimble and flexible. They can adapt to market changes faster than their competitors who haven’t yet learned how to effectively tap into this resource.

If your firm hasn’t already made the shift in how it markets its services, it’s certainly not too late to do so. But remember: this is much more than a marketing spin. Changing your emphasis from “temp staffing” to “contingent workforce staffing” isn’t just a matter of renaming your practices. It’s a matter of reimagining them entirely in light of a buyer’s expectations.

To catch up to (and hopefully gain some ground) on your competition, first take a step back and evaluate how your team views your organization’s services. If they think that they do temp staffing, buyers will call on them only for short-term needs and expect them to undercut the competition.

But if your team truly believes that they help companies remain competitive in an ever-changing business climate by recruiting the best talent, treating them as their own team members, and constantly looking to improve processes, your clients will respond positively to this attitude. As the author Nelson Boswell said, “Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get.” Show your clients that you’re looking out for their best interests—and they’ll notice.


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