4 Staffing and Recruiting Trends to Consider in 2021

candidate experience

For updated trends and insights, visit our blog on Top Staffing and Recruitment Trends for 2022.

Little could have prepared your staffing business for 2020, but thankfully, this isn’t the case as we look towards the remainder of 2021. Bullhorn surveyed hundreds of staffing professionals at the beginning of 2020 and again amid the COVID-19 crisis to discover the outlooks, priorities, challenges, and staffing trends impacting the industry. Are your priorities and challenges aligned with those of your peers? Are there any opportunities to differentiate yourself from the competition or weak spots you need to address?

Here are staffing trends for 2021 to keep in mind as you make decisions about the future of your business:

Staffing and recruiting pros are optimistic about the future

2020 was an incredibly challenging year for staffing firms, leading to layoffs and business closures, but respondents are largely optimistic for 2021. The majority of respondents in the GRID 2020 COVID-19 Staffing Industry Impact Survey reported that they expected the economy and business performance to improve in the second half of 2020.

And it should be noted that while the staffing industry as a whole has struggled during the pandemic, a full 30 percent of respondents said business performance since the start of the COVID-19 crisis has improved or stayed the same compared to Q2 of 2019.

But even when you account for the fact that many businesses have weathered the storm, there is little correlation between business performance so far this year and expectations for the future. For example, respondents at staffing firms that saw performance improve and respondents at those who saw a downturn by more than 30 percent shared the same opinion on when the economy would improve — slightly more than half said it would happen in the remaining six months 2020.

The takeaway: staffing firms expect big things for 2021, so don’t expect competition to soften anytime soon. Invest your resources wisely to deliver the best possible experience to candidates and clients; your competitors certainly will be.

Clients are priority number one

The staffing industry has always been about relationships, but the emphasis on which relationships firms prioritize has shifted this year. Going into 2020, candidate acquisition was the top priority, as it was in 2019 and 2018. This was primarily (but not exclusively) connected to the talent shortage, the ultimate challenge for staffing firms.

recruiting trends 2020


However, as the unemployment pendulum swung from historic lows to historic highs amid COVID-19, a talent shortage is not the challenge it was heading into the year. Instead, client relationships (the number-two priority heading into 2020) are now firmly the top priority for firms as businesses struggle to win new clients and maintain existing clients in a shifting landscape.

But that’s not to say that candidates don’t matter. Candidate engagement and improving the candidate experience are still the second-most important goal for firms since the COVID-19 crisis, ahead of other important priorities like managing cash flow. Ultimately, focusing on relationships is still a winning business strategy in this landscape and any other.

DEI is a business imperative

Like the rest of the workforce, the staffing industry has always faced challenges related to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), and 2021 is no exception. For example, our 2020 Global Recruitment Insights and Data report revealed that only 28 percent of firms have a person of color in any leadership position (and of those, only 5 percent are women of color). Furthermore, only 16 percent of all leaders in the industry are people of color, despite representing nearly double that in terms of workforce practitioners (30 percent).

One thing that has changed in 2020 and into 2021 is the global spotlight on inequality and inequity. As a result, staffing and recruiting businesses are taking steps to address DEI challenges in the industry. One important note to keep in mind: incorporating DEI into the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s better for your business. Two-thirds of staffing professionals say diverse organizations are more effective than their counterparts.

Remote work is here to stay

Before COVID-19, many agencies operated remotely, but remote adoption wasn’t widespread throughout the industry. Then, of course, the pandemic necessitated remote recruiting and the use of remote technology: 91 percent of staffing pros have adopted (or increased use) of video interviewing or video conferencing solutions since the start of the COVID-19 crisis.

But don’t expect remote work or remote technology to go away when it is no longer a pandemic-related necessity. On the contrary, most staffing professionals expect the increase in remote jobs and remote recruiting to be permanent post-COVID-19.


Most of the roles we recruit for would have been office-based—this has all changed now. Even people managing huge teams are doing so remotely.
Respondent GRID 2020 COVID-19 Impact Survey


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