Time Hop: The Evolution of the Staffing Industry

By Kristen Harris

A relatively new industry, the current concept of “staffing” has only been around for several decades. Even so, it’s evolved over that time.

Let’s jump in the way back machine…

The first temporary staffing firms started just after World War II, tapping into a growing market for part-time help. These early firms mostly focused on filling part-time or intermittent needs, especially in offices and secretarial pools. A combination of a few national firms and lots of local firms providing these services continued to grow throughout the 1950s and 60s. This type of work was especially appealing to women, allowing them to work outside of the home on their terms. In 1959, of the 150,000 people per year who found work through the top five firms, 85% were women

By the late 1960s and into the 70s “temporary help firms” were placing people with a broader range of talents and skills beyond the traditional office or clerical roles. Engineers, executives, financial controllers, and other professionals liked having more control over their work opportunities and schedule. This became especially attractive to people who were retiring but wanted to continue to work in some capacity.

In response to attempts at regulation of this new and growing industry, The Institute of Temporary Services was formed in 1966 to defend and advance the interests of their members. Now called The American Staffing Association, this industry organization continues to be the leader in support and advocacy for the staffing and recruiting industry.

Today American staffing companies employ more than three million people in an average week, adding up to nearly 17 million people per year. No longer just focused on office or clerical roles, there are staffing and recruiting firms to serve virtually any occupation and fill roles at any level. While there are plenty of firms that accept requests for any type of role, there are many firms (like ours) that have expertise in a niche. Instead of all jobs for all people, niche firms focus on specific jobs for specialized people.

Candidates who work with a staffing or recruiting firm gain access to more short-term, long-term, or full-time opportunities, based on their career interests and personal needs. Schedule flexibility is still a top reason people choose to work with staffing firms. However, half of the staffing employees see it as a route to a permanent position, with 9 out of 10 saying they felt their staffing assignment made them more employable.

As the needs of business and employees evolve, the staffing industry continues to evolve as well. Acting as hiring experts and consultants, firms partner with their clients to solve workforce needs and are often seen as a critical piece of a company’s hiring strategy. 

Want to know more about the staffing industry? Check out the American Staffing Association’s online timeline and historical archive.


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