[Video] - Improving Onboarding for the Contingent Workforce

About 40% of organizations fail to adequately onboard and integrate newly hired independent workers, according to research by industry analyst, Josh Bersin. And it’s not like businesses don’t have processes for their onboarding that they can borrow from employee onboarding. Tools such as organizational charts, company mission statements, and other handbooks are usually available, but speed is prioritized over worker satisfaction. 

This deprioritization of the extended workforce frequently leads to higher turnover or productivity loss. Instituting structured onboarding, regular communication, and socialization with other employees can be simple steps to make contingent workers feel at home. To dive deeper on this topic, Erika Novak, Head of Client Services at Utmost, chatted with David Sun, Strategic Sourcing Manager at Salesforce. 

Key Insights

  • The human factor is missing in most onboarding programs for contingent workers. Regardless of who does the onboarding whether it’s the staffing supplier, the MSP, or the employer, the current processes are very tactical. They’re going down a checklist of sharing benefits, time-tracking, company assets, etc. The focus on speed can be dehumanizing for workers who don’t get a sense of the company culture.

  • Legal concerns and a transactional mentality are the primary reasons for why contingent worker onboarding is overlooked. Co-employment is a valid concern for many legal departments so that often pushes companies to treat contingent workers with minimal support. But also a focus on procurement metrics like right time and right cost can treat people as cogs in a machine. Unlike sourcing software or other supplies, though, contingent workers are humans.

  • Successful onboarding requires collaboration between all partners. Contingent workforce is complex because a recruiting agency, a staffing partner, a managed service provider (MSP), the client team, and the hiring manager are all involved. It’s almost like a hot potato of one group passing it to another with nobody caring once they’re out of the picture.

    To improve the onboarding experience, the MSP can take a more active role in collaborating with other groups because they have the most communication. Additionally, once the worker is onboarded, client teams can play a role in checking-in to show the worker they have support. And collaborative software can also help facilitate interactions between different organizations.

  • Onboarding is a branding opportunity for the staffing partner and the client. The onboarding process gives staffing partners the opportunity to tell candidates that they have relationships with key companies in the region. And how they make the candidate feel can have impacts on if they want to keep working with that supplier. Similarly, the end-client will have that worker for a specific duration so it’s just as important that they feel the employer brand during their experience.  


HubSpot Video


Erika Novak: Hey everybody, I'm Erika Novak. I've had about 15 years as a CW practitioner in the contingent workforce industry. This is kind of my love, my world. So I'm really excited to chat with David today and really get into what onboarding experiences could be, versus what they are. So David, why don't you introduce yourself a little bit and we'll jump in.

David Sun: Hi, Erika and Saad. Thank you for having me. I'm really happy to have this conversation with you and all of our listeners joining this call. I've had more than a decade of experience in sourcing procurement and consulting. But last year I found my new passion in staffing and contingent labor, which really was not something that I expected, but really brought a new excitement. I felt like it rejuvenated my career. So I'm really excited to be here to have this conversation.

Erika Novak: You're one of us. We never expect to have the love for contingent. For those of us, we can't get rid of it. So welcome to the club. But one of the things I'm excited to chat with you is based on your experience, being you've had a solid career in procurement and sourcing, but you've actually had an experience that not a lot of people do. 

You've been on both sides of the coin. You've been a contractor and an independent contractor through a couple of different programs and then have helped build a program. So I'd love to hear a little bit more about your experience as a contractor. What was it like through recruiting, through the selection and then through the onboarding? So give the listeners a little bit of an idea of what it was like and what was good about it.

David Sun: Absolutely. I'm happy to share. My experience has definitely been very unique, right? Having been on both ends of the spectrum, I understand and experience the entire inner workings of this business model. I've been a 1099 contractor, as well as W-2. So I've had experience in both independent, as well as a W-2 employee. 

I would say the entire experience, it really varies, all right? It's all over the place and there's no one right answer. There's no one way to do it. But I think the most, regardless of companies, the biggest focus is the quickest way to get someone ramped up, to be able to perform, right.

Because a company's goal is: I have a project usually with a finite amount of time, a defined deadline. So the clock start ticking from day one, from the minute that you walk in the door as a worker. So my personal experience has always been, there's been some different variations, but the majority is that it's very tactical. It's just get started and get in your seats so you can start working.

Erika Novak: Talk to me a little bit because when we were chatting earlier, you had mentioned how surprised you were about some of the good communications that you got from your staffing supplier and some of the bad communication. So talk to me about your experience in what the good communication feels like and what it did for you, versus the bad.

David Sun: Yeah, sure. Again, it's very much about speed. So it's, the focus is on, we have an opportunity, we'd like to talk to, we'd like to, oh, to do that screening process to see if there's a good fit. Then a step-by-step right from that going to interviewing, a phone interview, on-site in-person interview. 

Then the communication goes out to what to expect from day one. How a thing started, and then a quick introduction into how the time-tracking works, hours, benefits and everything. That, again, it's just very tactical things, things that need to be done in order to onboard a person. 

I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but I think what really is perhaps missing is more of a human factor where we're talking more about a company culture or just if you're a staffing supplier, build that relationship with the worker.

Erika Novak: No, I love it because I agree that there's two different ways. One, and I think some people miss on all parts, right? Like, "Hey, you're starting, go talk to them," and then you're right. The tactical, "Hey, here's what you need to get paid. 

Here's how you log your time." But then there's what to expect, right? If you're working in a technology company versus, a marketing company, versus insurance, versus finance, those day-ones and expected behaviors are very different. 

So you also shared that an MSP has driven an orientation for you, versus the actual company has driven the orientation. Talk a little bit about orientation and what you mean by adding that human factor.

David Sun: The orientations are typically managed by... In my experience, I've seen all of them. I've had no orientation where it's really just, they walk in, "Here's your laptop." You start working with a quick introduction to the team. 

I think that's one end of the spectrum. The other end, where it's more focused on who we are with the company and what you can expect and what are some values and missions that are important to the company.

So I think that what distinguishes that side, that end of the spectrum is that human factor, the feeling welcomed into the company. I don't think it really makes it a very big difference who's delivering the message. 

It can be the MSP, it can be the staffing supplier, but I think it really feels like you're not just for the workers, not just, "Oh, I'm here to do a job for six months and after that, I leave." So I think that is the part that is really not being emphasized as much today.

Erika Novak: I agree. I think I'm going to steal Stephen Clancy's line from SIA. It's like the ghost of co-employment. Right? Everyone's so fearful. Don't know these people come in and they're going to think of their employees. 

Kind of dehumanize and say, "We hope you figure it out on yourself because we don't want to be sued. That's not really the right tone. Right? The idea is it's actually to help them get productive. There's nothing wrong with enabling your entire workforce to understand what's expected of them on the first day, how to play within the rules. Right?

If we speak about contractors, versus independent, versus outsource. Let's think about contractors and staff augmentation, specifically. You want them to know how to operate, right? Amazon is different from LinkedIn. 

A Farmer's Insurance is different from a Citibank or so. So, when you talk about the culture and values, I think it is something that's important and that whether it's a a company like again, with Salesforce, their team doing it, versus the MSP, versus staffing supplier, I think it is important to share what your, what type of culture and tone you're coming in there.

I know folks who are very email-first, they want no meetings. It's just all email. That's an important thing to share. Then I know other folks, and I think about my background at LinkedIn, it was all about collaboration and relationships matter. 

So that meeting of chatting and sharing minds and then getting to email, was really important. You go in and are doing the exact opposite of something of it. It affects who you are and your performance. They're going to stay, "Not a culture fit," or ask, "The performance was okay," and that's something that can be corrected.

So I think when you were sharing about your orientation onboarding experience, it was here's how to set them up right. So you set them up on a level playing field of what's expected, but also how to get them moving with the team than why you hired them in the first place. 

You had mentioned a little bit about speed versus quality, sorry. You had attended a conference right? Where the facilitator said, "No one really cares what a contractor's point of view." Why is it overlooked?

David Sun: Yeah. I think there's a couple of factors and you touched on it right then and that's a great point, it's about co-employment right? The fear that it's not completely irrational. Right? I mean, I think there's enough that's happened in the business world that makes Legal concerned, right? The potential risks that that company could take. 

So I think, and from a staffing side and when I think about this, it's really ironic because without the workers, none of us would be here, right. This industry would not exist because the workers are actually the one, right. If there wasn't a need for contingent staffing, we would not be really having this deep discussion. So I think it's often overlooked because of the co-employment factor.

Then also from a business model perspective, right. I work in procurement and supply chain. We're about the right place, right time, right cost. So it's all that data, all those numbers are driving this, right? People are not a machine. Right? So these are human beings, they're living and breathing and they have feelings. 

So I think when we overlook that, we just treat them as, "Oh, there's a vacancy at company XYZ," and the MSP, in a traditional model, the MSP would send out the requisitions to the suppliers and network and supplier like, "Okay, I'm competing with 10 other suppliers to fill this requisition and I got to get moving quickly."

Right. So, and today the biggest advantage a supplier has is still how many recruiters they have, how big their network is, how fast they can find a candidate and be able to submit that candidate. 

So it doesn't allow time to really think about the candidate and just like I need to plug it in. I need to find... Being that it's like a professional matchmaker. Right? Find that person and be able to fit in that role. So I think those two are probably the biggest reasons.

Erika Novak: No, and I agree with you. I think what the recruiting industry has gone through is it used to be, "My little black book. You don't know about them. Right. I have these relationships," and then comes democratization of the internet, things like LinkedIn or whatnot, becoming like everyone could find these people.

And so then it became about speed, but you're right. Because it became about speed, the connection and relationship are gone. Right? So you had mentioned before, when you had been recruited, you got ghosted. Someone submitted you and then you didn't hear back from them. 

Then it became a big race because then they did hear back, but you kind of didn't trust them anymore. Right? So you see these recruiting firms and consulting firms attempt to balance, hey I have these rules within a CW program of how quickly I have to get people in, or what my numbers are. 

But then you see the actual contractor push back and say, "I don't want to be submitted by you anymore. You left me. There was no reason for me to work with you. You said I wasn't important and now I'm your most important thing?" There is a disconnect between what that relationship is. What are your thoughts on that?

David Sun: Absolutely. I think the trust factor is important, right? Again, because there's so many, there are multiple layers, and I did not know this when I first got into this when I was a contractor, when I was first into this world. I started talking to the recruiting agency and staffing agency and then, of course, working with the end client. 

But then I did not know this whole world of MSP existed, right. Until I stepped into that world, I was like, "Oh wow. There's another group of... There's another key function that exists to make this all, to make this work, to make this machine go." But going back to the human factor and really building up, developing relationships, I think that would create a lot of benefits and value, add a lot of value to this supply chain because it's important to have that network, right.

It's important to develop personal relationships. For example, another personal example was that when I was a contractor, that at no point... So the communication was great up to the onboarding time. 

But once you're part of that client's, that company's organization, the staffing agency, other than doing payrolling and tracking the hours, basically steps away. You never interact with the MSP of course. 

So you're really, I think workers do feel like they're not being supported by anyone really, because the client's worried about co-employment. Right? The client's not going to really work that closely beyond what's on the requirements of the project right? 

So I think it's that disconnect, even at regular check-in or a few weeks, or months before the project is ending, a check-in like, "How was your project? How was your experience at company ABC? Is there anything that we can do? Are there any opportunities you're interested in?" 

Or, I mean, the agency has another opportunity that they can potentially offer for the worker. So those, I feel like that's one area that I don't think is done well there today and could be improved.

Erika Novak: Yeah. No. I hear a couple of things on that. Right. One is you're exactly right. The handoff between staffing, a staffing partner, we're trying to get things to staffing partner, right? Not just staffing firms or staffing suppliers. 

Staffing partners sets you up, but then they have to do like you know about the CW program team and whether it's branded as the contingent workforce program team, nebulous to whether it's an MSP or not, or it's, we're handing you off to  MSP, letting them know who's responsible for them.

Then the, "But I'm going to check in on you at the end of your first week or the end of your first month," or you're exactly right. Making sure they recognize that, hey, someone is caring after them. There is another person that they can always count on. 

Right? What do you think the CW programs teams can do to help encourage that relationship between whether it's the staffing partner or the MSP? What could you potentially recommend to say, "We should be doing this so our staffing suppliers know what's expected as far as onboarding throughout the entire engagement."

David Sun: Yeah. So I think because it's such a complex system, there's a lot of... We have hiring managers, we have the program sponsors, we have MSP, we have the staffing partners, right. So there's multiple layers and it really takes everyone working together to make it work. 

If the hiring manager is not exploring clearly what he or she is looking for in the role, then we will not be able to... the staffing partner is not going to be able to produce the right fit, the right candidate. 

I think that's number one, it's very critical. That's where the MSP plays a very critical role, right. Because MSP is the one that talks with all the parties, with exception of the worker, but they do see the resumes and they may be responding or shortlisting candidates submitting to the hiring manager, or even to some extent may do some interviews. That may vary from place to place.

But I think so cooperation, collaboration among the different parties is very important. I think from a program management perspective, it's very important to be very clear and consistent with policies and procedures and make it…

I remember when I attended CWS last year, there was a session that talked about the different programs, basically. And the key takeaway from me from that meeting was just seeing the spectrum, right? 

The one end you have very compliance, very hard rules, very strict. You can't do this, you can't do that. Right. The other end it's enablement, right? Enablement meaning how do we make this basically allow the managers to be successful, allow everybody to be successful?

So I think finding that right balance and working with the stakeholders internally to create the policies and procedures and things that would make it most, the easiest for the hiring manager. Remember, they're the ones that actually make the hiring decision, right. So they need to be happy and a staffing partner to be able to bring the right candidates. So it's the connect those two dots, I think that's the most important thing.

Saad Asad:

I have a question from the audience, somewhat separately though. So the attendee asks, "We just received notification that we can't test for THC in drug tests in New York city. Do you see that trend extending across the country?

Erika Novak:

I think it's an interesting time right now on privacy and drug tests are used more commonly in light industrial and manufacturing versus technology. I think going back to work with COVID, people are starting to wonder what the line is like, what is allowed to be tested or asked of me? I think THC is interesting, right? 

Across the comp... Sorry, across the country, people have had questions about, "What is weed okay, versus not, and what position is it okay to ask or not?" So my guess is, is yeah. I think especially as more states have legalized it, there's what's illegal versus what's compliant for your role.

My guess and assumption as we had to fight around what's privacy versus not, is that people will say if it's COVID related and feverish, you're allowed to test for it. If it's recreational, unless it's against what your job, and we've already had this infect, right. 

This shouldn't be like, "Now I can add this test," to be, if it was a test that you were tested for now, or be, sorry before, then go ahead. You can't sneak it in as like, here's a new rule that I can now do. So my guess is it's going to vary state by state. It's going to vary industry by industry. 

But I think folks are going to push back if they start to see new regulations or privacy things that they think aren't adhered to for their actual role. I mean, David, what do you think?

David Sun: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. It's definitely a balance between what is the business's need and then the local regulations, right? So it starts with what the government policies and how they, what direction they're going and business do have an opportunity to influence and certainly make recommendations to help steer a certain direction. 

Again, in this environment, I think it's just more, the priority is absolutely making sure that employees and all workers, regardless of classifications, are safe. So I think that will take, that'd be more prioritized over things like certain drugs, right. If it doesn't impact work performance. Right? So I think that will be all of the factors that are going to be going into this.

Erika Novak: I agree. All right, David. No, I appreciate the conversation. We're almost out of time. I think I learned a lot, heard you talk about staffing suppliers and I know our partners here have heard this communication: relationship matters. Don't want to drop, you submit a candidate, follow up, let them know if they're not selected once they're onsite. 

Continue monitoring that engagement because you can easily ideally redeploy for you, but also redeploy for the contractor and for the CW program owners. It's important when we think about orientation and onboarding, how to set them up. 

Not just on the tactical things of submitting time within a VMS, but how they work actually within the company, right? Do they have an IT, a FAQ? How do they get help? What are common URLs? What are cultural and values? The last thing I heard you say was really around policies, right?

Erika Novak: The manager's actually the one who's doing a lot of the work with them. So the staffing suppliers should know what's allowed, versus not. The CW for the manager needs to be helping share that of like, "This is what your excitement here is going to look like. Here's what you can versus can't do," because they're the ones who are really responsible and making sure that the worker actually adheres to them or not. So again, I go back to it's about communication and consistency. So I thank you for your time.

Saad Asad: Sorry. There is one more question, but if you guys have a hard stop, then we can close it.

So the attendee asked, "We also view the onboarding situation as a significant branding opportunity. Do you agree with this? That would be why we feel it's so important to partner with the client to make onboarding a special experience."

David Sun: I agree. I would say it's a great opportunity. It's actually for everyone, I would think, for every party involved here. Obviously the end client is the one that works closely, that's going to be working the closest with that worker. So it's definitely an opportunity to brand your company, right? 

Because they're going to be spending time, whether it's six months, 12 months, or more at the company. But it's also an opportunity... I feel, again, I didn't didn't say this earlier, but I alluded to it earlier, the staffing partner should build a relationship with the candidates. I think they should absolutely use it as an opportunity to brand that as well. Look, we are one of the biggest staffing suppliers in the Bay Area, we have opportunities at these companies.

So I think we all talk about the gig economy and the trend that this market is going, especially with the current economic climate, that there will be more and more gig workers or independent workers. So I think this is an opportunity to build those relationships and because you want to be able to, again, the speed is very critical, right? 

So to have that opportunity to expand your network even bigger and be able to meet the needs of the client even faster. So I think absolutely, anytime anyone can talk to a candidate, it should be a branding opportunity, regardless of what. It's not just stuff for the end client, but every party here.

Erika Novak: I think just to round that out, I totally agree, because it's a competitive market, right? You have a choice to join someone. You have a choice to join Google or Facebook right. Costs the same, roles the same, excitements the same. How they made you feel, I think the last time we talked, David, you had quoted Maya Angelou. 

It's like, they'll forget the things you told them, but they won't forget the way that they made you feel. So when we think about context for branding and what's in your orientation and how you welcomed them in and brought them in, I think it becomes a differentiator. 

Whether it's to join your team or to use your product, because exactly to what you were saying is there's a consumer brand as well as an employee brand. Those things can't be different, right. If it feels really bad to join, then I probably won't want to buy and so it absolutely matters.

Saad Asad: Well, thank you. Thank you guys for answering that last question and going a little over and yes, let's close it out. Thank you again all for joining. Apologies for the earlier little difficulties, but we'll have the full recording sent out to you shortly. 

We'll be back again in about two weeks with another session. So be on the lookout for that, and if you want to see any of the previous transcripts, you can go to and we have previous transcripts from our time with Stephen Kekich, our time with Erika and our time with Gillian from the law firm Shearman and Sterling. So please go check that out if you would like some more resources. Other than that, thank you all and take care.

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