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Will online staffing make recruiters obsolete?

This we know:  technology’s a boon and a bane.  If you’re like me, every week you’re reacting to some technological advance with “wow, that’s cool” and at the same time, the pace with which it’s moving is dizzying and scary, especially when you consider it has the potential to wipe out entire industries and functions. 

Newspapers and book publishers are now sunset businesses as tablets enable people to access e-versions in nanoseconds.  And it’s hard to argue the efficiencies created when no printing is required and content can be changed instantaneously.  The school board in my county just announced a decision to move 100% of learning material online within the next two years – joining many others.  

Is the traditional staffing model destined for the same fate as the publishing industry with the advent of online staffing – the newest kid on the block?  There’s no question the model is growing – just this week ODesk and Elance announced earnings with strong double-digit revenue growth.  

And it will continue to grow driven by three factors:

Growth of the free agent workforce  following the disappearance of full-time jobs during the great recession

Millenials raised with a mouse in their hands who have technology skills they can make money using while they’re pursuing higher education

The growing trend of employers breaking projects down into bite-size pieces and outsourcing select tasks

But at least today, online staffing attracts a different type of worker than we commonly see applying with staffing firms.  Typically these are freelancers who already work full-time and are moonlighting to supplement their incomes, or true independent consultants who won’t work with staffing firms because they run a business and are already accustomed to going solo.   These are short “gigs” like editing copy at $1 per page or someone to mine LinkedIn for leads and develop a target list.  While these are tasks that could be performed by someone employed full-time with a company, they’re most commonly “one-offs” that don’t make sense to give to someone on staff who either may not have the competencies required nor the bandwidth to accommodate the extra work.  

By contrast, traditional staffing and search models most commonly match people looking to work 40 hours a week steadily with employers in need of their skills.  

From a strategic perspective, staffing firms will have to decide whether to enter the space themselves with a competitive online staffing service offering or utilize online staffing firms enablers for their success by searching them for hunting potential job orders or for access to broader candidate pools.  Remember when the job boards first hit the scene and we all worried they would make the traditional high-touch staffing model obsolete?  Now we use them as fertile hunting ground for business development.

So I say we all take a deep breath.  Just because online staffing is the newest trend doesn’t mean it’s a long-term threat to the traditional recruiting model.  Recruiters won’t go out of style, because in the end true recruitment is a people-centric relationship business, not a technology business.  

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