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Quick! Name your biggest triumphs and toughest challenges during the pandemic. If you are anything like your peers in the staffing industry, you are likely to applaud the resiliency and adaptability of your teams, while you bemoan the lack of efficiency in your operations. Technology was both the source of pandemic pain and the savior in many of these situations, prompting digital transformation at an unexpected but accelerated pace for many in the industry. Those who learned how to quickly adapt to the changes brought on by a public health emergency are emerging stronger, more agile and better prepared to seize the opportunities of the post-pandemic world.

Initial tech challenges. From that initial announcement of “two weeks to flatten the curve,” one of the most obvious hurdles the relationship-based staffing industry faced was the need to connect with candidates and clients (and each other) in a no-contact environment. With the pandemic making it more difficult to connect with people, technology was quick to the rescue with robust virtual connections that allowed the industry to move forward. Beyond Zoom and Skype and Facetime, we saw a spike in the use of other digital tools. According to Talent Board’s North American Candidate Research Report, the use of what some might have considered to be new, edgier technology increased significantly from 2019 to 2020. For example:

  • Chatbots: 15%
  • Job simulation assessments: 26%
  • Mobile text campaigns: 50%
  • Video interviews: 129%

Bigger issues. Adapting to business during the pandemic involved far more than simply getting used to new ways of communicating. Technology solved many of our external connection issues, but internal challenges were not as easy to address. One large west coast staffing firm was quickly stymied when they attempted to get their company on a remote footing with a legacy tech stack that included an immovable, on-premise ATS. For others, pandemic pain emanated from an inability to move quickly to take advantage of new business opportunities.

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Shifting priorities. Prior to the pandemic, the overwhelming focus of IT budgets was on candidate experience. That led to the introduction of new apps, each with its own unique integration headaches, but everything was implemented on a small scale, at a measured pace. Once the pandemic arrived, it became apparent to many firms that legacy systems were a far more critical deterrent to growth than the need to stabilize remote operating models. They learned that no matter how skillfully diverse applications are integrated with existing technology, the result is often an overly complex environment, supporting a web of inefficient processes. The availability today of powerful and versatile cloud-based platforms offers far greater agility in addressing market needs.

The cloud to the rescue. The ability to quickly pivot when opportunity knocks became readily apparent when a TargetRecruit client was invited to assist with the US vaccination effort. They needed to urgently identify candidates willing to travel, but they had never asked that question, let alone stored the answers as most of their placements were local. With a totally configurable technology platform and access to third-party apps, they quickly adjusted their candidate input form and reached out to everyone in their database. In a couple of days, with minimal cost and effort, they gathered the critical information, found a great way to re-engage dormant candidates, amended their portal to capture travel preferences for new candidates and successfully filled every position. This kind of responsiveness would not have been possible with a fixed format system, and they would have missed the opportunity.

The Big Takeaway

Experts say the pandemic accelerated the digitization of business by at least five years. For many staffing firms, that means less friction in the recruiting process and better candidate experiences. For others, it has led to the transformation of business processes, allowing firms to operate more efficiently and effectively. In all cases, technology is freeing up staff to focus on those aspects of the business that offer the highest potential to differentiate capabilities, provide outstanding service and focus on growth.

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