Industry differentiation

Clerical and light industrial staffing is particularly sensitive to economic uncertainty like we are facing today. Inflationary pressure and a continued tight labor market against the backdrop of lower manufacturing demand makes staffing and labor planning more challenging. How are firms faring today and what are they planning to help weather what comes next? Our 2023 GRID Industry Trends Report and our most recent GRID Talent Report delve into these questions.

What is top of mind for light industrial firms in 2023?

After the boom of 2022, light industrial staffing firms are facing a tougher 2023 as economic uncertainty continues, causing them to focus on efficiency and worker retention. Light industrial firms are driving greater efficiency through digital transformation and preserving margin through diversification. Read on to learn more about the topics light industrial staffing firms are focused on in 2023.

How do light industrial trends differ from other industries?

Although the top three trends in light industrial are the same as those across the staffing industry, the order is slightly different, with a stronger focus on digital transformation and automation (45% vs. 34% among all survey respondents). With fully three-quarters reporting no or early stages of digital transformation, focusing future investment on automation and efficiency makes sense, especially since 68% of light industrial workers in our Talent Survey reported abandoning a job opportunity because the process was taking too long.

Industry outlook

Light industrial staffing firms experienced solid growth in 2022, with 57% reporting year-over-year revenue gains, slightly behind the average for all industries (62%). In spite of economic uncertainty, these firms remain cautiously optimistic about the remainder of 2023 but are proceeding with caution in the face of slowing demand.  

Compared to the staffing industry as a whole, light industrial remains more focused on technology and automation than other verticals. 61% of light industrial firms expect to increase their technology investments in 2023 versus 50% of firms across all industries.

As is true across the board, the tight candidate pool is top of mind for light industrial firms with 70% reporting this as their top business challenge and fully 82% saying there is a shortage of qualified workers. Reduced demand related to economic uncertainty combined with inflation and pricing pressure from clients is making margin compression a major concern for light industrial firms in 2023.


Light industrial firms remain heavily focused on automation and efficiency as well as strengthening their customer and candidate base. While digital transformation is the top priority, light industrial staffing firms are also incredibly focused on winning new clients to maintain volumes, even more than the rest of industry given the decline in demand in the light industrial staffing in 2023.

Light industrial firms that saw revenue growth last year and expect the same in 2023 are paying particular attention to automation (47%), especially when compared to those firms reporting that revenue decreased or remained flat last year (28%). And these highly successful firms are also prioritizing expansion into new markets and service lines — 24% of the top performing firms list this as a priority as compared to 17% of light industrial firms overall (and just 9% of those who have seen revenue decline or remain the same). Moving into a period of economic uncertainty, the highest-performing firms seem to be protecting margin and increasing market resiliency through strategic diversification — an approach that can also be a springboard to rapid growth when the economy bounces back.


Although the tight talent pool is a top challenge for the entire staffing industry, it is particularly pronounced for light industrial firms, with 27% more listing it as one of their top three challenges in the coming year. Light industrial firms need to deploy technology and strategies to source, retain, and enhance the experience of workers.

In addition to the extreme worker shortage, light industrial firms are somewhat more likely to be dealing with pricing pressure and changing job requirements than the industry as a whole. Nurturing strong customer relationships and specialized industry expertise may help mitigate both these factors even in the face of continued economic uncertainty.

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Digital transformation

Digital transformation is critical to the speed and efficiency required to succeed in light industrial staffing. One in four firms are ahead of the curve, reporting that they are heavily leveraging digital data, process automation, and even self-service technologies to improve the customer and worker experience.


By and large, light industrial firms are embracing digital transformation to automate and streamline tasks that are highly standardized or require particular speed and accuracy. This allows firms to source and place candidates more quickly and free up recruiters to focus on building relationships and supporting clients in ways that require a human touch.

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Leveraging technology is already paying off for the firms that have made the shift. The light industrial firms that saw the biggest revenue gains in 2022 were significantly more likely to have committed to digital transformation, particularly with respect to talent sourcing and payroll. These firms find themselves well-positioned to face the challenges of 2023 and beyond.