Insights

Has COVID-19 Accelerated the Shift to Contingent Staffing?

September 29, 2020

If you look around the workplace of fall 2020, it looks a lot different than it did six months ago.  Companies have embraced the already-happening shift to remote working, which has gone from a perk, to a necessity for safety, to a strategic advantage that allows them to save on office space and become more flexible and nimble. Business strategy has shifted remarkably, from a focus on efficiency to a focus on resilience in the face of increased risk. Even at the physical level, the workplace has transformed: temperature screenings, masks, distancing, and other safety protocols have changed our relationship with the office.

In 2020, everything is on the table. The companies who succeed are those who can adapt, and see that adaptation as a source of innovation instead of a hassle or temporary state of affairs. In a lot of ways, these trends are accelerated versions of shifts that were already happening before. Okay, not the masks – but think about these other trends. Companies were already warming up to remote work. They were already beginning to take a more holistic view of employee wellness. In a lot of ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the workforce five or ten years into the future from where we were before.

Today, we want to talk about one trend that’s defined the 21st century workforce, and how it’s also picked up speed during this period:

The transition to contract (contingent) staffing for high-skilled roles.

Prior to COVID-19, more companies were adopting contingent models in their staffing. Rather than putting resources – and financial risk – into hiring permanent employees, they were increasingly bringing on contractors who earn higher hourly pay rates for shorter term assignments. We’re not talking about Uber drivers and Warehouse workers here. We mean for high-skilled, senior positions, where there are slates of candidates who actually prefer working on contract for the lifestyle advantages and diverse experiences it can provide. Think IT experts, or strategic Procurement professionals who prefer to work on a variety of contracts, or change management projects, rather than one long-term role.

As we detailed in our recent infographic, companies were using this contract staffing for a myriad of strategic benefits, rather than just for leave coverages, as it was in years past. This model allows companies to hire for business transformations, new product launches, strategic consulting, or other project-based work. It allows them to hire more flexibly, and faster, finding individuals who can hit the ground running, complete projects, and implement new technology and process, without growing the department’s budget for years into the future.

In the new normal, this trend appears to be picking up steam.

According to Gartner’s recent Future of Work report, most companies contracted their contingent labour forces in the initial wake of the pandemic – but since then, there’s been a large uptick in companies adopting this model, with 32% of companies considering replacing full-time employees with contingent staffers.

In our corner of the business world – Supply Chain and Procurement, more companies are turning to this model as well. At the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wrote about how contingent staffing could be an effective strategy for Supply Chain functions around the world as they adapt to challenges related to COVID-19.

We were struck by this great recent article in Forbes about this shift. In short, in a market where businesses are trying to reduce risk, contingent staffing represents an attractive alternative to full-time permanent hiring for some key strategic roles. The article focuses on contingent staffing through staffing firms, which allow companies to maintain an arms-length relationship from the consultants hired.

Here are a few of the reasons why the transition to staffing is speeding up in the current environment:

  • Uncertainty. This business environment offers more uncertainty than almost any in memory, both in terms of supply and consumer demand. Some companies have had layoffs, while others have had increased needs as massive demand has caused inventory shortfalls. Some companies are reluctant to hire on a perm basis, and contract assignments of 6 or 12 months allow rapid scaling up and down of the workforce based on the needs you can identify today.
  • Skills needs are shifting fast. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed crucial vulnerabilities in many Supply Chains, from a lack of diversified supplier bases, to inability to effectively plan for demand, or – as with some cases in the retail or Consumer Goods sectors – inefficient eCommerce or logistics networks that threaten brands when they don’t provide a good experience. As the situation evolves, companies need to bring on new specializations and competencies on the fly, not only to fill in the gaps, but to modernize their Supply Chains for the future. Contingent staffing for these roles represents the best way to bring in top performers for project-based transformations.
  • Companies save on recruiting costs, while avoiding risks – especially when using a skilled agency/payroll provider. Contingent staffing is based on quicker time-to-hire, as the candidate pool is often drawing from candidates who are on the market (either dedicated to working on contract), ready to jump into a new role and hit the ground running. This shortened timeline helps save on recruiting costs, especially when companies use agencies who have qualified candidate bases ready to go. In addition, agencies can help companies avoid employee misclassification. In short, the government punishes companies for having contractors on their payroll who are effectively full-time employees. Companies need to be able to show that a contractor is actually independent, with self-directed work. 3rd party staffing and payrolling agencies can help ensure that arms-length relationship, lowering risk in the contingent staffing model even further.

COVID-19 has sped up many workplace trends that were already underway. The shift towards contingent staffing may not be the most pervasive of these shifts, but it might be the most strategic one for companies.


In case you’re not familiar with Argentus, here’s a little bit more about us:

Argentus is the premier Supply Chain recruitment firm for contingent staffing in Canada. We’ve successfully filled contract roles up and down the Supply Chain, on short notice, for some of the top companies in industries including Food, Retail, Consumer Goods, Pharmaceutical, Logistics, and more. Our network of Supply Chain professionals includes a solid base of dedicated contractors who are experts at getting in and making an impact quickly. So please reach out if you have a need for short term staff in the following areas:

  • Demand Planners, Supply Planners
  • Supply Chain Analysts
  • Production Planners
  • Logistics Analysts, Transportation Analysts
  • Warehouse Associates, Supervisors and Managers
  • Inventory Planners, Inventory Analysts
  • Buyers, Strategic Sourcing Specialists
  • Procure-to-Pay Coordinators, ERP Analysts
  • Customer Supply Chain Managers

Reach out to us to fill these roles on a short turn-around. Our agency specializes in Supply Chain. It’s all we do. So tap our extensive network and industry expertise so we can help keep Supply Chains moving in this critical time. Call 416-364-9919 or send an email to recruit@argentus.com today!

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