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The Future of VMS: Growing from “Teenager” to Thriving Adult – Part 2 of 2

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I spend a lot of time thinking about where staffing technology will go. How can all of us – staffing firms, hiring companies, technology vendors, and industry analysts – use technology more efficiently to get the right candidates into the right positions faster and more affordably? After all, wasn’t this the twinkle in the eye when vendor management systems came to be?

In my last post, I recapped the history of staffing technology specifically, vendor management systems (VMS). VMS have become a central technology in our industry, and we’ve seen clear signs that use of VMS is going to keep growing. And VMS is big business: Staffing Industry Analysts estimates the global VMS market at roughly $136 billion.

In our 2015 North American Staffing and Recruiting Trends Report, we found that 64 percent of recruiting firms used VMS to drive some of their job orders in 2014, and 23 percent of 2014 job orders came through VMS. Firms of all recruitment types said they planned on increasing the percentage of job orders driven through VMS in 2015, and even firms that primarily focus on retained executive search planned to use VMS for at least 20 percent of their job orders in 2015. Simply put, recruiting firms are using VMS more and more. They’ve accepted the industry’s fixation on speed and engineered their operating models to support this efficient method of talent procurement.

With that background covered, I’d like to offer a perspective on the future. Where should we go from here, and what major shifts in thinking are worth considering?

In essence, the staffing supply chain is currently a teenager. We’re at a crucial moment, and it’s going to decide the future: is the supply chain a bright and promising teenager who’s going to work with others to make the world a better place, fulfilling all of our hopes and dreams? Or is it a teenager who’s going to move back home after college, live in the basement, and wonder “Do I dare?”

So, here’s what I’d share with our teenager:

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

The duck test codifies something we often take for granted in staffing: there are often amazing similarities in the roles we try to fill. However, when openings are released to be filled, they are described differently by different organizations. Right now, if you performed a detailed comparison of job requisitions for every call center representative at every large organization, you’d have a fair amount of variation in requirements, skills, and descriptions. But how would these requisitions fare when put to the duck test? A solid recruiter, of course, would immediately recognize any shared traits and find resources to meet the specifications. And an enterprising recruiter with a robust pool of candidates might look for other similar jobs to place the candidates that weren’t quite the correct fit.

Why are we making hiring so complicated? For some subset of the myriad jobs we fill, could we identify some as less unique? Could minimizing the uniqueness of job orders improve the resilience of our workforce? How might the individuals in our workforce react to better substitution in their roles?

When I’ve broached this topic in the past, some have suggested that workers don’t want to feel like they are easily swapped out of their jobs. Let’s explore this a bit further through another lens: professional sports.

When the Cleveland Browns trade a wide receiver to another team, the new team still calls him a wide receiver. He has a standardized job more accurately, a position that he could play for any NFL team. He can be traded between teams. The NFL has even agreed on certain traits that make a good wide receiver. They even measure them in similar ways (just like you do if you’re playing fantasy football).

So what if we started to look at staffing with some “standard playing positions”? If we defined, essentially, a standard part list for every role, we could commoditize jobs and make the staffing supply chain work much better.

For our call center rep, beyond obvious safety and background check requirements, let’s say the job requirements are:

  • Has a high school diploma.
  • Can read a script.
  • Has experience working directly with customers.

Then, when a hiring organization puts out a job order for call center reps, staffing firms would be able to deliver candidates with the exact specifications in seconds. This idea doesn’t apply everywhere, but it could work in some contexts. Standardizing jobs for nurses, retail workers, construction workers, drivers, pharmacists – the potential is huge.

“Don’t be a jack of all trades.”

Looking ahead, when a market has specific positions that favor substitution, smart staffing firms might reinterpret specialized staffing and would have more incentive to train candidates to meet the requirements for those specific roles.

For example, let’s say we have a well-defined position for quality assurance engineers for web-based applications. An entrepreneurial staffing firm could focus on QA engineers – find them, train them, and make sure they meet all the requirements. With a defined part list, there’s room for staffing firms and candidates to get really good at working with clear positions.

“Stop being an enabler.”

Finally, here’s my question for anyone who works in staffing: are we enabling hiring organizations to make hiring more complicated than it needs to be?

If we classified jobs from the very beginning and put clear, unambiguous requirements on positions, we could steer the market in a better direction. Our customers might design their processes differently if they knew they could rely on certain positions being filled very quickly and very reliably.

To test these ideas, I’ve been looking at O*NET. Have you heard of this? It’s a set of standardized occupational codes that the U.S. Department of Labor uses to process workers’ compensation claims and other applications. On the O*NET website, you can browse thousands of standardized job descriptions for dental hygienists, actuaries, baristas, tutors, video game designers, etc., and each job has exhaustive information about the tasks, skills, education, and knowledge needed for the role.

Will our teenager dare to change the world?

We’ll find out.

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