The Talent Landscape Heading into 2022

Staffing firms have cited candidate acquisition as their top priority for 2022, but they face a series of obstacles standing in the way of their talent goals. The labor participation rate has taken a sharp decline since the beginning of the pandemic, and the top three challenges cited by recruitment professionals for 2022 all reflect a candidate-short environment complicating talent acquisition plans. Amidst the talent shortage, the number-one recruitment challenge for 2022, qualified candidates are at a premium. Additionally, most staffing leaders believe that implications stemming from COVID-19 will continue to cause candidate acquisition and placement hurdles.  Finally, firms cite increased competition from each other and from non-traditional labor models. In 2020, when staffing revenue decreased 11 percent year-over-year, online talent platform revenue rose 25 percent. A growing number of workers have shifted to freelance work or taken a hiatus altogether; a record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September.

The stakes for attracting qualified candidates have never been higher, but what should firms do to attract and retain talent? How does the talent pool feel about working with staffing firms and what actions can firms take to win over new—or redeploy existing—talent?

Candidates like working with staffing firms

The good news: candidates have a generally favorable opinion of staffing firms, especially when compared to other options like online talent platforms. Two-thirds of candidates with an opinion on recruiters have a favorable view of them, and three out of five say their experiences with staffing firms have been good or excellent. This approval rate is consistent across all worker types and industries.

In a landscape with an abundance of options for talent, how do candidates feel about staffing firms and the value they provide?


What do candidates like about working with recruiters? When we asked candidates to select the reasons for a favorable opinion, the top three responses were that recruiters save them time in the job search process (45%), provide access to better opportunities (40%), and are easy to work with (26%).


But firms need to step up to meet candidate needs

Although general talent sentiment is positive towards staffing firms, that’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement. Candidates cited numerous and varying problems that have plagued their experiences with firms, covering the entire lifecycle of the talent journey from sourcing to redeployment.

While candidates with a positive experience cited recruiters as efficient and helpful, those with an unfavorable opinion view them as inefficient and uninvolved: top reasons for unfavorable opinions were poor communication (43%) and inefficiency (34%).


Even those who reported positive experiences with staffing firms overwhelming view the process as more cumbersome than they’d like. A near-unanimous 92 percent of all respondents wish the process of finding jobs through staffing agencies was easier. Additionally, half of all talent reported abandoning a job or placement midway because the process took too long.

Poor experiences with recruiters are often driven by issues stemming from the candidate-recruiter relationship. When temp workers were asked to cite the reason for their last poor experience, they were more than twice as likely to cite relationship-dependent challenges like expectation-setting (23%) or poor communication (22%) than placement-related challenges like job quality or shift flexibility.

Firms that leverage technology like digitization and automation to streamline the placement process and put time back into candidate relationships have a tremendous opportunity ahead of them.


Perfecting the entire talent journey

The top priorities for talent stem throughout the talent lifecycle. Among temp workers, getting paid on time is the most important step for firms to get right, with the exception of healthcare workers who value shift flexibility above all else. The quality of jobs and assignments is a top-three priority for all temp workers.


The overwhelming majority of temp workers want more feedback from their recruiters, but the content of the feedback varies. The number one request for feedback concerns additional information about what the job entails, with pay and assignment duration coming in a close second and third place.

Candidates are increasingly mobile-first...

Nearly half of candidates use their phones to apply for jobs primarily through their phone and more than half cite the ability to apply their phone as an essential offering when applying for jobs online.

Nearly half of candidates use their phones to apply for jobs primarily through their phone. Unsurprisingly,  the majority of talent look view mobile functionality as must when it comes to applying for jobs online.


But they don’t want their experience limited to an app

While candidates increasingly use their phones and apps to apply for jobs, very few wanted their contact limited to an app. Additionally, only half of talent working with staffing firms have been walked through how to use the app to find jobs or placements.

Has your staffing firm explained how to use their website/app?

1 %


1 %



Furthermore, talent still want regular human interaction during the process of searching or selecting jobs with agencies, including freelance workers who use online talent platforms.


The human touch is as important as ever

While the findings reveal a strong desire for a technology-driven experience, candidates are overwhelmingly clear that they don’t want this to come at the expense of the personal touch provided by staffing firms.

As mentioned, seventy percent of respondents want interactions with a human during the job placement process. In fact, the findings reveal that most candidates want more contact with recruiters.

When asked to cite the value that recruiters can add to their experience, respondents cited skills connect to recruiter expertise and experience. Notably, respondents cited providing advice ahead of landing a higher pay (21%).


The dual desire for an efficient process that is still relationship-driven is especially pronounced in the findings for freelance workers. A staggering 93 percent of freelance workers said that it is easier to work with online talent platforms than it is with staffing firms. However, 60 percent of those workers said they actually prefer working with staffing firms and would make the switch if it was easier to work with staffing agencies.

Looking Ahead: Leveraging Digital Transformation to Meet the Moment

Staffing firms face a tremendous opportunity in 2022. After a challenging 2020, which saw two-fifths of staffing firms reporting year-over-year losses, the staffing industry witnessed a tremendous rebound performance in 2021. According to Staffing Industry Analysts, US staffing revenue will grow by 16% in 2021 to a record-high total of $157.4 billion. The industry is projected to grow an additional 4% year-over-year in 2022. 

How can businesses position themselves to take advantage of the growth in the years ahead? The ability to find and attract talent will be a tremendous differentiator for firms that want to compete in the years ahead. 

Firms that leverage digital transformation to automate, digitize, and empower the candidate experience will be in the best position to take advantage of this unique opportunity. Staffing businesses with a digital transformation strategy in place are 44 percent more likely to anticipate significant revenue gains in 2022 and 30 percent more likely to report above-average candidate sourcing performance. 

The talent survey findings reveal that workers want to work with recruiters, but they will only work with firms that provide an efficient, effective process. Firms that leverage technology to streamline the stages of the candidate placement process that cause dissatisfaction and automate manual tasks to invest further in relationships will be well-suited to win candidates and meet their goals in 2022 and beyond.