The State of North American Staffing: 2019

What will 2019 hold for the global staffing industry? More than 2,000 industry professionals worldwide weighed in with their thoughts on the top priorities, challenges, and issues that will be top of mind in the coming year. Here’s a look at what 1,168 North American staffing leaders had to say.

Staffing Industry Outlook

Optimism runs high in the staffing industry. Expectations for revenue, budgets, investments, and placements in 2019 are all higher than they were heading into 2018.

How do you expect revenue to change in 2019?

Most respondents anticipate an increase in 2019 revenue versus 2018. Just 1 percent of respondents expect to see revenue decrease in the year ahead.

A Positive Outlook
Learn more about the industry’s outlook for 2019.

Staffing professionals say they expect to see temporary placements increase in 2019. Also on the rise? Operating budgets, investments in technology, efforts to increase workers’ skills through education and training, and the percentage of business done through VMS.

How do you expect the following to change in 2019?

Less than 3 percent of respondents expect to see decreases in temp placements, budgets, tech spending, efforts to reskill workers, and VMS business.

Reskilling on the Rise
See why reskilling workers will be top of mind in 2019.

Staffing leaders have options when it comes to growing their business: expand their agency’s footprint by doing more business with new and current customers; grow quickly by acquiring new companies; or exit their business by being acquired by another company. Here’s how most respondents say they’re thinking about strategic growth in 2019.

What’s your business’ primary growth strategy?

Organic growth is the industry’s primary growth strategy in 2019. Only 9 percent say they expect to grow by acquiring new companies and even fewer (1 percent) expect to be acquired.

Build, Buy, or Exit?
Discover how industry leaders are thinking about their strategic growth options.

Top Priorities for Staffing Professionals

Aside from the obvious—driving top-line revenue growth and increasing profitability—respondents say they’ll be firmly focused on candidates in 2019. Other priorities on which they’ll focus? Embracing digital transformation to improve their operations, developing their employment brand and enhancing their marketing strategies, and working on how they manage relationships with clients.

What are your top priorities for 2019?

Candidates will matter most in 2019, with sourcing (62 percent) and candidate engagement (37 percent) leading the pack. Beyond candidates, take a look at some other notable priorities.

More Top Priorities
See what your peers have to say about their top priorities for 2019.

Top Challenges for Staffing Professionals

While optimism abounds, the outlook’s not all rosy. From hiring and operational challenges to the issues macroeconomic and political shifts present, there are plenty of tricky problems recruitment industry pros will have to tackle in 2019.

What are your top hiring challenges for 2019?

Beyond the perennial skills shortage, staffing leaders grapple with how to get employers to increase candidate pay rates and how to mitigate attrition and turnover caused by a booming job market.

More Top Challenges
Curious about the hiring challenges your peers will confront in 2019? Take a look.

What are your top operational challenges for 2019?

Pricing pressure and margin compression once again rank as the top operational challenge staffing professionals say they’ll face in 2019. Other top challenges include embracing digital transformation and increased competitions from online talent platforms.

More Top Challenges
Learn more about the operational challenges your peers say they’ll face in 2019.

What are your top macroeconomic and political challenges for 2019?

If you’re feeling a bit skittish when it comes to future growth amidst an uncertain economy, you’re not alone. But the job market’s healthy and unemployment rates reflect that, which explains why many respondents say low unemployment is also a top challenge for the year ahead.

More Top Challenges
Discover the macroeconomic and political challenges your peers say they’re up against in the year ahead.

Many parts of the staffing and recruiting lifecycle can be tough to manage. From sourcing and screening to interviewing and onboarding, recruiters frequently feel the pain of these processes.

Which part of the recruitment lifecycle is most challenging?

Respondents say sourcing, gathering requirements from clients, and screening and validation are the trickiest parts of the staffing and recruiting lifecycle.

More Top Challenges
Learn more about the top challenges respondents say they’ll encounter in 2019.

Technology has transformed how people connect and communicate with each other. Gone are the days when recruiters could simply pick up a phone and reach a candidate. Today, they must embrace generational differences when it comes to communication vehicles and cadence and adjust their strategies accordingly to stand out in the eyes of candidates.

Talkin’ ‘bout my generation

Recruiters say Millennials are the most difficult generation to reach and engage followed by Gen X. The easiest generation to reach and engage? Interestingly, North American recruiters say it’s a tie between Baby Boomers and Post-Millenials (Gen Z).

More Top Challenges
Discover the top challenges respondents say they’ll face in 2019.

For years, we’ve been hearing about talent shortages and how they’re a top challenge for the industry. In many sectors, it seems like there simply aren’t enough qualified people with the right skills to fill many modern job openings. But just how troublesome are talent shortages? Are they getting any better or worse?  

For better or worse?

When asked if they think skills shortages are better or worse now compared to 5 years ago, more than half (52 percent) said they’re getting worse.

More Top Challenges
Learn more about the top challenges respondents say they’ll tackle in 2019.

The staffing industry is rife with challenges, but what’s the single biggest issue impacting an agency’s ability to achieve its future growth goals? Overwhelmingly, responses centered on one thing: people. Respondents say finding quality candidates, working with the right clients, and hiring quality staff matter most in running a successful business.

What is the single biggest issue impacting your ability to meet goals?

People are the heart of staffing and they’re at the center of the challenges respondents say they face when it comes to meeting their goals: candidates, clients, and internal staff.

Candidate scarcity. Unemployment is so low, it is very challenging to get good candidates interested.

survey respondent

Availability of quality recruitment consulting staff or staff with the potential to be a quality recruitment consultant - the emphasis being on CONSULTING, not processing!

survey respondent

Client salary amounts, clients' slow response time for candidate feedback, offer, onboarding etc.

survey respondent

Opportunities or Obstacles?

Digital transformation. The globalization of business. The increased mobility of talent. Online talent platforms. Disruptive forces are impacting the global staffing and recruitment industry, all of which beg the question, “Are these opportunities or are they obstacles for staffing businesses?”

Will digital transformation help or hurt your business?

Respondents overwhelmingly believe digital transformation—the integration of technology into all areas of a business for the purposes of improving operations and the way companies deliver value to customers—will be a benefit to their business.

More on Digital Transformation
See how staffing professionals rate their understanding of AI and machine learning.

Thanks to the globalization of business and advancements in technology, workers are more mobile than ever. Increasingly, companies are able to hire qualified candidates beyond their local area and get the best people for the job. So is this an opportunity for the staffing industry or a bigger challenge?

Do globalization and the increased mobility of talent pose a challenge or an opportunity?

Most respondents say globalization and the increased mobility of talent is an opportunity for their business.

Recruiting Beyond Borders
Learn more about how the globalization of business and the increased mobility of talent is impacting the recruitment industry.

With the emergence of online talent platforms, questions have swirled in the global staffing and recruitment sector. Will these disruptive businesses ultimately present an opportunity amidst the rise of the gig economy? Or will they pose an existential threat to the industry?

Are online talent platforms making recruiting for sought-after roles easier or harder?

The jury’s out on whether online talent platforms are helping to make things easier, but sentiment signs point to a belief that they’ll have a more helpful than harmful impact.

Helpful or Harmful?
Explore how staffing professionals feel about the rise of online talent platforms.

United or Divided?

Many factors influence the global staffing industry. Beyond the industry’s outlook for the year ahead, here’s a look at how staffing professionals feel about key topics that could influence the ways in which business gets done in 2019.  

Do you agree or disagree with the following topics?

Respondents overwhelmingly agree: employers must accelerate pay increases, staffing agencies must embrace digital transformation, and reskilling candidates is critical. See where respondents are united and divided.

More on the Industry’s Sentiment
Get a pulse on how staffing professionals feels about key factors impacting the industry.

Learning and Development

Ongoing learning is crucial for staffing industry professionals. See how respondents rate their understanding of machine learning and artificial intelligence, what topics on which they think their peers need more training, and the most interesting trends about which they’d like to continue learning.

How would you rate your understanding of machine learning and artificial intelligence?

Most respondents give themselves average marks when it comes to their understanding of machine learning and artificial intelligence within staffing.

More on Artificial Intelligence
Learn more about digital transformation and artificial intelligence in the recruitment industry.

The staffing industry is continually changing, which means professionals must constantly keep up with new topics and learn new skills. Respondents believe their fellow staffing industry professionals would benefit from having additional training on these topics.


Social media 17%
Search engine optimization 12%
Use of technology to automate manual processes 18%
Staffing/recruitment software (CRM, VMS, etc.) 8%
Data protection and security 3%
Staffing/recruitment marketing 7%
Client management and relationship building 13%
Candidate screening and selection 12%
Candidate nurturing and redeployment 8%
Other 1%

What is the top area your in which peers need the most training and development?

Respondents think fellow industry professionals would benefit most by having additional training on how to use technology to automate manual processes, social media, and how to manage clients and build relationships.

More on Artificial Intelligence
Learn more about artificial intelligence in the staffing industry.

What’s the most interesting industry trend you’re following?

In staffing, it’s important to stay current on trends impacting the industry as well as trends that are influencing your clients’ businesses and the candidates you’re working to recruit. We asked respondents to share the most interesting industry trends they’re actively following.

Most commonly, respondents say they’re interested in artificial intelligence and how it relates to automation and the recruitment industry. The second most common responses relate to social media and how to leverage it for opportunities within recruitment. Other common responses include topics like digital marketing, the gig/freelance economy, and VMS.

Automation of manual processes and integration of various platforms to streamline candidate sourcing and placements.

survey respondent


AI and digital tools to source and engage candidates and deliver candidates to clients faster than competition.

survey respondent


Artificial Intelligence and how it can improve the recruiting process as a whole.

survey respondent


The development of machine learning and AI technology to automate the lead generation and increase the rate of recruiting.

survey respondent


Social recruiting and what ways are candidates most engaged?

survey respondent

The difference between overseas labor usage for recruitment compared to local recruitment.

survey respondent


The candidate driven market-what tools and practices we can put into place to attract the right talent.

survey respondent


The role recruitment businesses can play in the training and development of unskilled/outdated [skilled] workers and placement into new career. This could change the way external recruitment is seen and present a seismic shift in our sector.

survey respondent


Will VMS/digital/AI replace the telephone? Or do they go hand in hand and how?

survey respondent

What trends would you like to learn more about? Let us know and we’ll share relevant insights here on the GRID.

Learn more about the topics recruitment professionals say will influence the industry in 2019. Visit the insights and spotlights sections here on the GRID.