New York Times  Mar 28  Comment 
Nick Swaggert, the veterans program director for a technology staffing and services firm, sees firsthand the battles that veterans face when they look for jobs.
Forbes  Mar 25  Comment 
Google's chief People Officer sat down with Forbes to discuss his forthcoming book, why you don't need a special strategy for recruiting millennials, and what's still on Google's to-do list.
Forbes  Mar 13  Comment 
Next week I will be keynoting the Staffing Industry Analysts Conference and the focus of my talk is going to be the freelancer economy. This is perhaps one of the most exciting and impactful trends that is going to disrupt organizations over the...
Forbes  Mar 12  Comment 
Forty percent of employers report difficulty in securing talent, according to a recent report by HR consultancy and staffing firm Manpower Group. There's a lack of hard skills, there's a lack of soft skills, there's a lack of suitable candidates...
Wall Street Journal  Mar 11  Comment 
Adecco reported a 6% earnings increase in its latest quarter as the world’s biggest staffing company benefited from further strength in U.S. hiring and indicated that most of its markets had started 2015 with growth.
NPR  Mar 3  Comment 
Administrators are trying new recruiting tactics and offering bonuses to make up for the shortfall. But for now, open shifts in some states have to be covered with mandatory overtime.
The Economic Times  Mar 3  Comment 
Staffing firms face the challenge of helping their units in every country combine flexibility for customers and providing security to those getting hired, says Lanzi.
The Economic Times  Feb 28  Comment 
Staffing firm TeamLease, which focuses on third-party contracts, junior and middle management, said the main hit will be at the junior level, just after appraisals.
Reuters  Feb 26  Comment 
* Headline earnings fall 53.5 pct, middle of expected range (Recasts with details on staffing)


The staffing industry places individuals into temporary, contract, and permanent positions into firms around the world. In the US, staffing companies placed about 2.96M people per day and the total US market generated $91B in 2007.[1] Other major staffing markets include Japan, Italy, France, Spain, as well as many emerging markets. The vast majority of staffing revenue comes from temporary staffing, for example, 80.8% of US staffing revenues in 2007.[2] Temporary staffing has been growing around the world, but the US temp market has been essentially flat since November 2006.[3] The major challenges facing the staffing industry are strict labor laws and shrinking workforces in major markets due to low birthrates. The staffing market is also highly influenced by economic cycles because yunemployment rates and labor productivity both have a large impact on a firm's hiring rate.

Major Staffing Companies

The staffing industry is a highly fragmented industry - the US has 100 national staffing firms and about 10,000 local firms.[4] The following chart compares some of the larger staffing firms.

Staffing Company Comparison[5]
Company Staffing Revenue from last four quarters before 2/8/2008 Staffing Revenue from previous four quarters Average Number of Temps on the Payroll Number of Client Companies Industry/Occupational Specializations
Adecco SA (ADEN-VX) $30.6B $29B 700,000/day 150,000 Finance, legal, engineering, technical, IT, medical, science, sales, marketing, restructuring
Manpower (MAN) $19.6B $17.6B 4.4 million/year 400,000 administrative, industrial, IT, engineering, finance, accounting, contact center, skilled trades
Robert Half International (RHI) $4.5B $4B 242,000/year Accounting, finance, technical, legal, design/creative, clerical, administrative
Kelly Services (KELYA) $5.7B $5.5B 150,000/day Office services, accounting, engineering, IT, law, science, marketing, creative services, light industrial, education, health care
Volt Information Sciences (VOL) $1.97B $1.97B 40,000/week 10,000 Accounting, Finance, administrative, call center, creative/design, legal, light industrial, sales, marketing, technical, engineering, IT
Hudson Highland Group (HHGP) $1B $1B 8,800/day Legal, IT, finance, engineering
MPS Group Inc. (MPS) $2.17B IT, finance, accounting, healthcare, workforce automation, engineering
Spherion (SFN) $2.01B 300,000/year 8,000 Clerical, light industrial, finance, accounting, IT, engineering, administrative, legal, marketing

As you can see in the graph showing staffing employment, the staffing market follows the ups and downs in the economy. There is a drop off in employment shown both during the recession in 2001 and the economic slowdown in 2007. The majority of staffing placements are for low skilled labor positions, primarily in the Industrial segment. However, several firms specialize in specific areas such as Robert Half International (RHI) in finance and accounting, ATC HEALTHCARE (AHN) in healthcare, and COMSYS IT Partners (CITP) in the technical and IT staffing market.

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Trends and Forces

How Economic Cycles Affect the Staffing Industry

The staffing industry is highly influenced by economic cycles. In down cycles firms start downsizing their workforce and there are less jobs for the staffing companies to fill. With majority of new graduates coming out of colleges and universities, temporary agencies have secure reputation in the work place. Temporary workers will continue to challenge the work place with new implementations of multiple software apps performing the same tasks. They are usually the first to be cut in down cycles, but also the first to be hired in up cycles. A major reason for the growth of the temporary staffing market is because of the flexibility between firms and clients. Labor productivity is another factor that affects the staffing industry. When labor productivity increases, firms need less workers to achieve a similar amount of work, therefore there is lower overall employment demand.

Clearly, the Employment industry has been sold off by the market due to recession fears reducing the demand for temporary hiring. The nature of this business is very low capital, relying more on human resources than capital resources. However, this is not a field with many natural moats. There is no lock-in effect here as there is in some other business services - a client can just as easily switch to a competitor for contractors. The only true competitive advantage to be gained here is reputation, which famously "takes a lifetime to build and a moment to destroy". Still, cheap is cheap, and many employment providers trade with the job market, making them decent cyclical plays.

More Flexibility Means More Demand for Temporary Workers

Labor markets as well as laborers, are demanding flexibility more and more. This means that temporary workers are in high demand. The ASA has shown a correlation between falling unemployment rates and a growth in temporary workers over the past 20 years. [8] Temporary staffing growth in the US has been flat since late 2006 in part due to the economic slowdown, but other foreign country temporary staffing demand is has been on the rise. For example, as of January 2008, over 33% of workers in Japan are considered temporary workers, this compares to 23% in 1997.[9] Employers like temporary workers because it gives the company more flexibility in its employment options and it is a good way to find quality permanent employees down the road. In a 2006 American Staffing Association survey of human resource managers, 91% of the managers said that flexibility in staffing was important and 95% of those managers said that this flexibility was coming from temporary and contract workers.[10] The managers also cited three reasons the flexibility was so important: 1)To fill in for absent or temporarily vacant employees, 2)To provide extra support during busy times, and 3)To staff special short-term projects.[11]

EU Directive Makes Effort to Reduce Labor Laws

In June 2008, the EU made a directive that addressed the positive impact temporary staffing has on the labor market. The directive requires countries in the EU to make at least the minimum requirements specified by the directive. Some of these actions include banning all laws that discriminate in any way and adding a law against disability discrimination.[12] These discrimination laws are becoming more and more influential given the increasing amount of labor importation to Europe, in particular Muslims, due to decreasing birthrates shrinking native workforces. France has already lifted restrictions on permanent placement; however, restrictions are still prevalent in other countries. In Spain, temporary staffing is prohibited in the construction industry, as well as public services (Belgium does not allow temporary staffing in public services either).[13] A report by Eurociett, the European Confederation of Private Employment Agencies, stated that if only two of the recommended actions of the directive are adopted by six EU countries, then by 2012 about 570,000 more jobs could be created.[14]

Low Birthrates Threaten to Decrease Workforces

Staffing companies do better when a country's population is younger, as a younger population means more consumers and workers. However, populations in many major staffing markets are getting older and birthrates are low. A birth rate of 2.1 is what is needed to maintain a population,[15] anything below that means that the population is below replacement and is shrinking. Several major markets have this problem: France = 1.6, Italy and Spain = 1.2, Western Europe = 1.5, and Japan = 1.3[16]. A birthrate of 1.2 means that in 20 years the working age population will shrink 30%.[17] Many European countries are importing labor, in particular muslims, to make up for these low birthrates. Over 50% of all births in the Netherlands will be non-European in 12 years.[18] However, there are countries like Japan, that will not import workers. As a result, by 2020 about 20% of the Japanese population will be over 70 years old.[19]

The companies that stand to lose the most from this trend are companies like Adecco SA (ADEN-VX) and Manpower (MAN). The industry leading size of these companies, paired with their focus on the commoditized low skilled staffing market, makes them vulnerable to a macroeconomic trend such as this.


  1. American Staffing Association, Staffing Statistics
  2. American Staffing Association 2008 Annual Economic Analysis pg.7
  3. Bear Sterns Equity Research, Business Services/Staffing pg.9
  4. KELYA Morningstar Analyst Research, Thesis
  5. 2008 Top Temporary Staffing Firms
  6. American Staffing Association 2008 Economic Analysis, pg.5
  7. American Staffing Association 2008 Economic Analysis, pg.11
  8. American Staffing Association
  9. Temporary Employment in Japan
  10. American Staffing Association
  11. American Staffing Association
  12. EBU Newsletter #49
  13. Adecco Welcomes Compromise in EU Agency Work Directive
  14. More Work Opportunities for More People
  15. What in the World is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs by Herbert Meyer
  16. What in the World is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs by Herbert Meyer
  17. What in the World is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs by Herbert Meyer
  18. What in the World is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs by Herbert Meyer
  19. What in the World is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs by Herbert Meyer

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