Recruitment Agencies Have Accelerated Digital Transformation in Response to COVID-19

The last year saw a dramatic rise in the number of staffing businesses employing a digital transformation strategy, according to Bullhorn‘s 2021 Global Recruitment Insights and Data (GRID), a survey of more than 2,000 recruitment professionals. Forty-three percent of global recruitment firms now have a digital transformation strategy in place, compared to 25 percent a year ago. Eighty-two percent of those firms with a strategy in place (and two-thirds of all respondents) said that COVID-19 directly caused them to adopt or ramp up their digital transformation efforts.

Matt Fischer, President and CTO at Bullhorn, says: “The leading staffing and recruiting firms today are focused on digital transformation, a three-pronged journey that combines the digitization of huge volumes of data with automation and, eventually, artificial intelligence, to unlock new levels of productivity and truly transform the way businesses operate. The challenges facing firms over the last year has underscored the need for this approach.”

Other Key GRID 2021 Findings:

The majority of firms expect revenue to increase in 2021

Firms are largely optimistic about their performance expectations for the year ahead. Seventy-one percent of respondents expect revenue to increase in 2021, and one-fifth of respondents expect revenue to increase by more than 25 percent. Contract/SOW firms have the most positive outlook (75% expect revenue to increase), while 70 percent of temp and perm placement respondents reported expected gains in the year ahead. The size of the company made no difference in revenue expectations.

This is perhaps connected to a strong finish in 2020. While 43 percent of firms said their revenue went down in 2020 compared to 2019, this represents a strong rebound from the first six months of the year. In June of 2020, 67 percent of respondents said their revenue in the first half decreased compared to the previous year.

The impact of COVID-19 on the labor market

Respondents cited the unemployment rate as the largest impact of COVID-19 on the industry in 2021. Additionally, 63 percent of respondents cited COVID-19’s effects on the labor market as a top challenge for 2021, making it the top challenge overall. However, the majority (55%) still believe there is a talent shortage, and 44 percent said it was a top challenge for the year. The continued prominence of the talent shortage amidst high unemployment rates may be due to a lack of qualified talent in specialized industries. Notably, 72 percent of light-industrial staffing firms reported a shortage. Another possible explanation: respondents reported an increase in challenging job requisitions as their number-two client-related challenge this year.

Candidates and clients still dominate the agenda for 2021

While the industry underwent a lot of change in 2020, the top three priorities for staffing and recruitment businesses remained the same: it’s all about candidates and clients. Candidates and clients account for four of the top five priorities. Fifty-four percent reported candidate acquisition as a top priority of 2021. Winning new clients (45%), candidate engagement (30%), marketing and brand development (22%), and improving client relationships (19%) round out the top five priorities. The biggest debut of the year is optimizing remote work, a top ten-priority that wasn’t on the radar heading into the year.

Remote work is here to stay

When asked about the long-term impact of COVID-19, respondents overwhelmingly pointed to the presence of remote work. Respondents picked the increase in remote jobs as the single-most consequential impact of COVID-19 on the industry (56%) and the increase in remote recruiting (33%) as the most significant impact on how their firm will operate. 

Furthermore, 30 percent of respondents say their business will operate entirely remotely in 2021, and 15 percent plan to operate entirely remotely permanently.

Bullhorn’s Global Recruitment Insights and Data research is the result of a global survey conducted among 2,100 recruitment professionals in November and December of 2020. The findings spotlight the industry’s take on the current recruitment landscape—from financial forecasts and top priorities to persistent challenges and emerging technologies. 

To read more about Bullhorn’s Global Recruitment Insights and Data research, visit the GRID site.


About Bullhorn

Bullhorn is the global leader in software for the staffing industry. More than 10,000 companies rely on Bullhorn’s cloud-based platform to power their staffing processes from start to finish. Headquartered in Boston, with offices around the world, Bullhorn is founder-led and employs more than 1,000 people globally. To learn more, visit or follow @Bullhorn on Twitter.


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