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The Top 5 Takeaways From My 12th SIA Exec Forum

Posted by
Pankaj Jindal
November 13, 2021


It’s been a little over a week since we got back from Austin and I wanted to summarize my learnings. SIA Exec Forum is one of our favorite events to attend every year because the thought leadership and peer networking is unparalleled.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend Exec Forum, or just didn’t make the trip this year, the theme was “Breakthrough Leadership.” The buzz in the room focused a lot on the future.

How can we prepare our firms for the future of work?

What can we do to retain and redeploy talent in a candidate driven economy?

What technologies do we need to stay relevant?

When is the next recession going to hit? (not anytime soon, according to the economist who predicted the last downturn)

This year it became clear that most Staffing CEOs are focused on how their firms need to adapt for long term growth.

My Top 5 Takeaways:


1. Innovating at the Top Of Funnel

Sourcing new candidates for roles always seems to be top of mind for staffing CEOs. However, this year there was a lot of talk about how we can make this process more efficient. If volume isn’t a problem, then quality and filtering is. The new ideas focused on making this process better include innovative ways of finding/reaching out to candidates, automating the initial screening process, and job matching.

My prediction is that job matching, using smart software to match candidates with jobs, will be the next game changer for "Top of Funnel." Specifically, we are finding here at Sense that our customers are increasingly finding quality candidates for new roles in their existing database. A number of our customers compared the candidates they got from from job boards against the candidates already in their ATS and found 50% overlap. Smart job matching will make sourcing candidates for roles more efficient by reducing time-to-hire, increasing redeployment rates, and freeing up recruiter time.


2. Automation Over AI

This was my most surprising takeaway. As much buzz as there is in the recruiting industry about the rise of AI and machine learning, most Staffing firm CEOs aren’t bought in on the value quite yet. Most seem to feel that what they need is automation not AI. Let me just clarify real quickly the difference between the two: Automation is focused on making repetitive, manual processes automatic with triggers, for example when a recruiter submits a candidate for a new role you can automate an email that updates the candidate. On the other hand artificial intelligence (AI) is all about trying to make machines or software mimic human behavior and intelligence.

My impression is that automation seems like a manageable first step to most staffing CEOs while AI is still too futuristic. We fundamentally are in the people business and shifting suddenly from using people to using a bot can be a harsh transition. AI seeks to remove people from the process whereas automation makes people more productive by automating the tasks that are not a good use of their time. With automation, machines execute tasks that they do best and humans focus on work that they do best, and no one is doing work that could be better done by the other.

Some day not too far in the future AI models will become robust enough to fully replace menial people work (not ALL people work) and automation is the first step to getting there. A great example of moving from automation to AI is the Chatbot. Chatbots were everywhere at this year’s Exec Forum, but there still seems to be some hurdles to implementing them. For the smaller firms, Chatbots are prohibitively expensive and require thousands of job recs to train the models. For larger firms, they feel as though they still need humans to filter the candidates sourced and filtered by the Chatbots. While I certainly agree that the use case for using chatbots to improve recruiting is a no-brainer, it will be interesting to see what we learn as firms start to adopt them. These bots will become smarter and it is something to keep an eye on as the staffing world looks to augment more of the recruiting process with smart technologies.


3. Employee Engagement

Engagement is always a critical topic at SIA, especially in the current economy. It is safe to say we are in a candidate’s market, with US unemployment at its lowest point ever. Candidate engagement has never been so elusive and simultaneously so critical to success.

However, firms are starting to get wise to the fact that internal employees are living in the same world as our candidates. In fact, in the Bay Area recruiting skills are as an in-demand as coding ones. Internal employee happiness is quickly becoming as important to a firm’s success as candidate happiness. The tenets are simple but the practice is hard. In 2019 there seems to be a lot more we could be doing to celebrate our teams and make them feel valued. Happy employees make for happier candidates and clients all around, resulting in more revenue for your firm in the long run.


4. Consolidation

I’ve been on the other side of this as a career staffing leader. As more and more technology gets adopted by staffing firms, the issue of “horizontal” software becomes more and more painful. Every Staffing CEO I talked to is trying to consolidate their tech stack. Some common pains I heard include:

  • Wasting resources on duplicate tools or tools no one has adopted
  • Losing critical data to siloed point solutions
  • None of my tools work together or talk to each other
  • Nothing integrates well with my ATS
  • Shiny, new (but ultimately unnecessary) tools are expensive

Having a series of point solutions collectively make up your tech stack prohibits the benefit of economies of scale. Managing candidate relationships cannot be done well or at scale without an ATS. The ATS is the foundation for your tech stack as the system of record and anything that takes away from using it as a single source of truth just isn’t valuable. Staffing leaders need to have one holistic view of their business and swimming in the murky sea of cobbling together point solutions just isn’t working. Why do it with 50 different tools if I can have it all with one trusted vendor? We wholeheartedly agree. That is why we built Sense to act as an all-in-one system of engagement, leveraging data from your ATS and feeding critical information back into it.


5. The Contingent Workforce

This has been a hot topic for the past few years now but, although the MSP and VMS models continue to grow within the staffing industry, few firms seem to have it figured out. Most firms are struggling with low margins for this segment and with the overall management aspect. As a result, payroll & funding solutions are gaining more momentum because MSPs are paying staffing companies later and later.

As firms experiment with new models and adopt new tools to help manage the contract workforce, the rest of us will be all ears. There is still so little thought leadership in this space and it is only at places like Exec Forum that you get access to real experts. As of 2019, it seems like we are still in the experimental phase of understanding and servicing this increasingly important segment of the workforce.


I could not be more excited about the future of the staffing industry and am grateful to SIA for bringing so many breakthrough leaders together for a few, rich days of peer sharing. I’m headed to StaffingTec in a few weeks and am interested to see if these themes carry through there. If you plan on going, let us know! I’d love to connect in person.

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