Driving Workforce Strategy Forward: A CWS Recap

Staffing Industry Analysts’ (SIA) CWS Summit North America recently hosted its highest attendance in history. On this month’s Subject to Talent podcast, Dawn McCartney, vice president of SIA’s Contingent Workforce Strategies Council, recaps some highlights from this year’s event, including topics that elevated motivations, excitement and a keen interest in the future of staffing and how the way work gets done, moving forward, will continue to evolve.
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Bruce Morton:  Welcome to Subject to Talent, brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to workforce and talent experts from around the world, covering market trends, technology and our ever-evolving, dynamic industry.

Hi, I'm Bruce Morton, the host of the Subject to Talent podcast. Today, I'm joined by a very good friend of mine, Dawn McCartney. Dawn is vice president of the Contingent Workforce Strategies Council, lovingly known as CWS at Staffing Industry Analysts. Dawn leads and oversees the CWS Council, SIA Certification and Training accreditation programs, and is responsible for identifying, developing and implementing cutting-edge research for the end users of contingent labor. Dawn's a highly regarded industry speaker and frequently shares insights, thought leadership and best practices across the workforce solutions ecosystem. Dawn, welcome.

Dawn McCartney: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm excited.

Bruce Morton: Thank you so much for being here. Now, regular listeners will know, we always ask our guests the same first question. That is, how did you get into the workforce industry, and what was your journey to get to where you are today?

Dawn McCartney:  Yeah, it's interesting when I started to think about. It's been a long journey. So, 25 years ago this year, I am extremely grateful to a gentleman by the name of Bob Kloss. I was born and raised in Chicago, and he has a small IT recruiting firm there, and I actually went into interview for a front desk receptionist and after the interview he actually asked me, he said, "Hey, I know you're here for the receptionist position, but is there any chance you'd consider being a recruiter?" He said, my personality aligned really well to successful recruiters. And I thought, "Sure, I'll give it a try." And I have to say that one opportunity changed my entire life. So, I had the opportunity to continue on with recruiting, which I loved. Then I think [I followed] a normal journey for a lot of folks, right? You start out as a recruiter, then you go into account management.

And then I had an opportunity. Another staffing organization contacted me. They were going to open up, or try to recharge, an IT branch that they had in downtown Chicago. So, I jumped at that. I thought, "How exciting would that be?" And then unfortunately our world had quite an impact and that was 9/11 happened. I'm sure many of us remember things absolutely changed. And so, with that, the organization decided they did not want to go forward. They didn't think it was a good time to move forward with that branch. So, I found myself having to contemplate my next role. And I am a big believer that there is a reason for everything, and there is a plan. And all of a sudden, my husband and I learned we were expecting a child. And so very different than with my two older sons. I had the opportunity to not have to work. And so, I became a stay-at-home mom.

And I think after two and a half years of being a stay-at-home mom, I had to come to probably one of the most difficult conversations I've ever had to have. And that was when my husband came home one night, I said, "I love being a mom. I love the opportunity that it's given me to be here and be home with her, but I need to work again. I need to have a purpose outside of just being a mom and a wife." And that's really hard to do and to admit, and I'm so grateful my husband was very supportive, and he said, "Hey, we'll figure it out. What do you want to do? Is there something maybe you could do even from home?" I had a great rapport with a lot of my old candidates and clients. And so, I actually decided to start my own little recruiting firm.

It was done out of my house. I was having fun. I had a handful of clients and one day I got a phone call from the McDonald's Corporation, which for folks that know, McDonald's is located in the Chicagoland area. And they had said they had heard about me, and they wanted to know if there was any chance I could help them out for about three months to cover a maternity leave for one of their IT recruiters. It was at that point I said, "Hey, if you don't mind, you're not going to be my only client. I have other clients. And they said, "No, that's exactly what we're looking for. All of the staffing companies want us to be able to guarantee 40 hours, and we can't." And I said, "No, then this will be perfect." So, we had the opportunity to start working with McDonald's, and three months turned into 18 months.

And at that point they came to me, and they said, "Hey, is there any chance you'd consider joining us full-time?" And for those that know McDonald's, it is a phenomenal organization with great benefits. It was a great opportunity. And so, I decided that it was going to be something I would do. I contacted my clients, I closed my little firm, and I started to work there. And that's what really led me into my current role. So, at McDonald's I had the chance to put in place a contingent workforce program. We had nothing but Excel spreadsheets and Lotus Notes folders, for those of us that remember those days, and I got the opportunity. And when you think about it, Bruce, back then when you'd Google "contingent", you didn't get the plethora of information you get now. And so, I found myself, all of a sudden I was deemed the expert internally at McDonald's, and I thought, "Oh, that's kind of scary because I'm no expert."

And one of my peers said, "Hey, you should probably look into Staffing Industry Analysts. They've got this council, and they've got a lot of great information and insight." And so I did. And then I became a member, and then I became fully ingrained. I started doing panels with them, and then also got more opportunities. They used to have a group called SIAAG. So, it was Staffing Industry Analysts Advisory Group, and it was buyers and providers that came together. And we kind of talked about challenges that were happening in the industry, things that we thought about moving our industry forward. And I had a chance to help create what is now our CCWP (Certified Contingent Workforce Professional). And so, once I did that and remained involved in that, they had an opportunity that opened. They asked if I’d be interested, I jumped at the chance, and 10 years later, here I am.

Bruce Morton:  Great, great. So, most of us in this industry, we sort of stumbled into things. I had the same experience, “Can you find me a job?” And they’re like, “Well, you sound pretty sharp. Can you start Monday?” And that’s how I got into the industry 42 years ago. That’s something in common there. But yeah, I too believe in the power of the universe. So, great story. Thank you for that.

Dawn McCartney: Absolutely.

Bruce Morton: Here we are recording on the heels of the CWS Summit North America, which was a well-attended, big understatement, a very well attended, sold-out event, and the first one in person since 2019, of course.

Dawn McCartney: Yeah.

Bruce Morton: Can you set the scene for our listeners as to what the CWS Summit is and its place in the industry? And then we can dive into some of the themes that came from that.

Dawn McCartney: Yeah, I’d love to. And I appreciate you said that, right? So, you said CWS Summit North America. We actually have two CWS Summits. So, we do one in Europe in May. And then we had the infamous one that we’re going to talk about today for our CWS Summit North America in September. And so CWS Summit, it’s the largest event of its kind. We bring together qualified attendees from HR, procurement, legal and then what we would deem to be other business leaders inside enterprise buyer organizations. And these are folks that have responsibility for the contingent and the extended workforce programs, but they also are policies or the supplier base and the VMS and the MSP relationships, so that is our audience that we're focused on. And you asked about this year, and I'm with you, Bruce. One, I think it was exactly what our industry needed.

Like you said, it had been two years since we were completely in person. There was an absolute hunger, not only for the interaction and being live and that big reunion that we had, but a heck of a lot has changed in the two years. And a lot of the program managers and the enterprise buyers found themselves [missing out because of] that two-year gap with the changes that happened with the technology and risk and all of that. They wanted to be back in person. And so you're right, largest event, we've been doing these for 18 years, we had over 1,200 attendees, which was awesome.

Bruce Morton: Yeah, that's great. Well, I certainly enjoyed my time in Dallas and am very thankful to SIA for bringing people together to reconnect, to network, as you say. And we certainly are, I mean, perhaps we're guilty of saying a buzz and a moment in time, but I truly believe that we are in a moment of time in our industry and that does create an opportunity for change, which is exciting. But also, anything that is to do with the extended workforce right now, I think organizations are truly starting to understand the strategic value of that. This is not a need-to-have anymore; it’s a want-to-have. So what are some of the things that you heard during the week there? What are some of the themes that came out of that and the key takeaways?

Dawn McCartney: So, I would say a couple of the key takeaways, which I think, and I’m hoping you experienced the same thing, I really felt like this year our attendees came with a focus and many of them came with an agenda. They were willing to engage, not only with other attendees, which we always see, but with peers, individuals that were there and I think even with the sponsors as well. I even went into what we deem our exhibit hall there and saw so much activity and buyers that were willing to go up and talk to the different sponsors. And I think a big part of that was, I think we took for granted our different events in the Summit. And so, this time they didn't want to be caught off guard. They didn't want to get caught in a pandemic again where we don't get to see each other for two years. So, they wanted to get all their questions answered and to find out about the latest and greatest.

 Bruce Morton: Yeah, and there were several keynote speeches, obviously including your own. It was a great speech to kick the event off that really created buzz and discussion amongst the attendees. Can you tell us a bit about the topics that were covered?

Dawn McCartney: Yeah, absolutely. So as you shared, I had the opportunity to kick off the event. And one of the things when I do a keynote or I have an opportunity to talk to an audience is, I always try to give them something to take away, maybe possibly something to do. What I had seen over and over again is, and again, I lived it when I was a program manager, I would come to an event like this, I'd get very excited, I'd see all the changes, the things that I wanted to go back to implement within our program. And then I'd go back, and I'd start to go down the journey and then all of a sudden it would fall off the tracks. All of a sudden we would get moved to the back burner. We'd get frustrated as the enterprise buyers. Sponsors, providers would get frustrated. All of a sudden you think you've got a new client and then you get the infamous email or a phone call that says, "Hey, this is going to be delayed, and we're putting it on the back burner."

So, one thing I wanted to do is to give them some things to think about, and so I talked about having a strategy. So as they learn about the different changes they wanted to implement, how to create their strategy to help support not only the change happening, but then to also ensure that they get buy-in and, more important, that they get adoption. So that was the kickoff keynote. And then we were very fortunate. We had Kim Lear, who was phenomenal. She did a keynote, Prepare for the Future [Workforce: Building Next-Generation Workplaces and Communities], where she focuses on us having the four different generations that are part of the workforce. So baby boomers, the Gen X, the millennials and then the Gen Zs. And if you remember, she talked about how each of those look very differently at everything from promotions and recognition to compensation to even their personal expectations regarding work is different. So that was extremely insightful.

Bruce Morton: Great.

Dawn McCartney: And then I know we haven't talked about it yet, but we also had on the tail end of our CWS Summit, we host what we call our, Collaboration in the Gig Economy. And we had a phenomenal keynote speaker there as well, Heather McGowan. She talked about workforce convergence and transformation, and it was interesting. She also talked about the generational differences, but what she spoke about, which I found extremely interesting, is how much has changed since the pandemic. And she referenced it, or she stated, "The pandemic removed the factory default settings on all aspects of work." And I thought, "That is so true."

Bruce Morton: Yeah.

Dawn McCartney: But the one thing that she also brought into the conversation was the importance to the workers and the workforce in regards to a company's governance and their environmental and social stance. And then also about diversity, equity and inclusion. So, it was really, really two great keynotes, again, talking about the different generations, but also different aspects of it as well. Bruce Morton: I want to come back to the Gig Economy comments in a second. But sticking with CWS for a moment, beyond the keynotes and the sessions, what were the hottest topics that were discussed? Well, either in a panel or a presentation or perhaps at the bar or over a coffee. What were the hot topics? 

Dawn McCartney: Yeah, it's interesting, right? So, Bruce, we've been doing this a while. I don't think we'd be surprised. Direct sourcing, it's still a very hot topic, not only from what direct sourcing is, but also is it the right option for us? Is it right for our organization? And then, which I really loved, was a lot more in-depth conversation about, all right, if we really want to do this, how do we do it? What if I have an MSP? What if we have a VMS? So, a lot more in-depth conversation about that. Again, another one, an oldie, but a goody, SOW. Still, very much part of the conversation. And it was not only how do we start to get this as part of our scope, but what do we bring in? What do we not bring in? Is the effort and the cost worth it?

What are we trying to gain here by doing this? And then we had conversations about if we do decide to manage it, what do we manage? And again, if we have an MSP, what should they be responsible for? What do we remain responsible for? So, I loved that those two are still not only part of it, but I really felt like we're getting more in-depth. We also have some success stories, case studies, that others could share about that. And then I'd say the one that we've been talking about, again, for a long time, but really started to have what I'd felt were truly moving conversations like, we're going to see this happen: total talent. And so more around. And I think part of it is the pandemic. It absolutely opened the C-suite's eyes too, it's not just our employees. We've got this whole other workforce. What are we doing with them? How do we use them? What's the right roles for them to be in? So, I do believe that that's going to be one we're going to hear more and more about. 

Bruce Morton: Yeah. And as you mentioned earlier, the audience is a, generically speaking, a mix of HR and procurement. Do you see those two cohorts having a different view of how they should think about direct sourcing services, universal workforce? We call it total talent. Is their thinking starting to come together or are they still looking through different lenses, do you think?

Dawn McCartney: I think we're hitting a unique time, right? Our economy has got a lot of challenges right now. So, procurement folks are going to do what procurement folks are supposed to do, right? They're going to focus on that cost piece, I think.

Bruce Morton: Right

Dawn McCartney: And we all know. We live this every day, all day. It's hard to put cost when we talk about talent. So, I think there's always going to be that pull and push in regards to that. But I do believe that we are starting to have more, and we're even seeing it through our Council members, more programs that have a procurement representative and an HR representative. And there truly are starting to be more, of what I would deem to be, partners on this, right? 

Bruce Morton: Right.

Dawn McCartney: "Hey, I'm HR, I'm going to focus on that talent, and here's what we need and here's important and this is the type of work that we need to get done. And I need you, my procurement partner, to support me. But I need you to be responsible for the things that you're really good at. And that's helping me find those suppliers and helping ensure we've got the right agreements and the right pricing," that sort of thing. So, I do think we're starting to see more of that, which I love. I'm a big proponent of, we need both. I'm an HR person. I'm not good at agreements and all the stuff that is really critical to ensure we're protecting, not only the workers, but our company and our proprietary information. But at the same time, talent is not the same thing as purchasing, as we kinda joke, pencils or widgets.

Bruce Morton: Great. And so yes, we've been talking about CWS, but then you touched on the Gig Economy conference, the Collaboration conference that follows directly on from that, which has been, in my mind, a massive hit these last few years, preCOVID and post-COVID. But can you just explain to our audience what are the differences between the two conferences from a subject matter, but also from an attendee perspective?

Dawn McCartney: Yeah, absolutely. So I referenced right earlier, CWS Summit's enterprise buyer, stakeholders. What we found is there was avoid and a need for us to have an event that, not only the enterprise buyers could be part of that core audience, but also the sponsors and the providers as we started to see our industry evolve, right?

Bruce Morton: Right.

Dawn McCartney: There was absolutely a need for there to be this partnership, which we didn't always have. And so, Collaboration in the Gig Economy was the perfect event to be able to do that. And what it does is it brings the provider side of the ecosystem, and we come together in more of a collaborative environment, and we get to talk about, "Hey, I was just at CWS and I saw these cool things. Now I get to actually sit here and talk to the different technologies and the providers. And be able to find out what do you do? What are the services and the offerings that you have? How do we use it?" So, it really is a unique opportunity to take what we learned and start to learn more about how to put it into action in more of, like I said, this collaborative way. It also is pretty awesome that this was our largest Collaboration in the Gig Economy, as well.

Bruce Morton: Oh, right, great. And do many people go for the whole week? What does that look like? 

Dawn McCartney: Yeah, it's funny. In the past, we probably did see where we wouldn't have as many of the enterprise buyers stay on. I think, Bruce, part of it was, right, "If I got the opportunity to travel, I'm going to travel. I haven't done it in so long, I'm going to be out of the office the whole week," which was awesome. But I honestly believe, I think this is going to be something that we will continue to see. And the reason for that is, enterprise buyers, we're in this predicament where we are looking at what's best for the organization, the workers, how do we get the work done? But there's so much changing and it's the idea of many times they find themselves responsible for not only knowing all the HR, the legal, the regulatory, but also all the technology and the services and the products. And it's hard to do that in between your 60 hours a week that you're running the program. So being able to come to events like this, especially the Collaboration in the Gig Economy, I think we're going to continue to see that this will be one that individuals will remain on for. Absolutely. Because it is just so extremely insightful.

Bruce Morton: Yeah, it's interesting. We were asking some folks who recently went, now that the conference season is back post-COVID, the motivation to travel, is that something because you're frustrated you’ve sat at home, or is it your partner saying, "Hey, have you got a conference to go to, honey? Happy you're here, but is there anything on the calendar, where you might go away for a few days?" Dawn McCartney: Yeah, exactly. Hey, and that's all right. I'll take it as long as they come to our event, I'm fine with it.

Bruce Morton: That's right. A bit of both probably. Well, I know I'm certainly already got next year, both events, in my calendar. So looking forward to that already. Really, really great show you guys put on. Truly.

Dawn McCartney: We can't do it without folks like you.

Bruce Morton: Thank you.

Dawn McCartney: Honestly, so appreciative of you being a sponsor.

Bruce Morton: So, we like to end our episodes looking a few years in the future. So here it comes, the crystal ball question. If you had a crystal ball a few years out, and you can pick your own timeline, do you think we'll still be talking about how work gets done and challenges acquiring talent in the same way? Or do you think that the conversations are going to move on a great deal in the next few years?

Dawn McCartney: Ah, good question. I think our industry and what we do is all about getting work done. So, yeah, we're going to still be talking about the topic. As for acquiring talent, I do think we'll be looking at work very differently and the way work gets done very differently, especially as we have to start to appeal to these new generations that are starting to enter the workforce. And it's interesting, I referenced when I was younger and I had to get a job, it's because I needed a paycheck, right? There was no option. You got a job. That's what you needed to do. And there is a very different approach to this in attitude about, "Why do I work, and what do I want to get out of it?" And they're looking at it as, "I'm only going to take jobs that I really enjoy doing."

And so with that being the case, we're going to have organizations that have to start to look at taking a whole job description, and you're going to have to break it into particular tasks, because you're going to have folks out of those 10 bullet points, they really like to do three of them. We got to find someone else to do those other seven.

Bruce Morton: Right. Yeah.

Dawn McCartney: And so I think we're going to have to look at the way work gets done very differently. But I do. I think it's going to be a pretty awesome time to be a part of this. And then I also think, I referenced it earlier, I think we will see in the near future case studies around how organizations also got to actually officially reach total talent, which I think will also be pretty incredible, as well.

Bruce Morton: Yeah. Yeah. Exciting time. Exciting time indeed. So, Dawn, thank you so much for joining us today. Really enjoyed the conversation. And what should listeners do if they want to learn more about SIA and your events and perhaps even joining the Council or accessing your insights and research?

Dawn McCartney: Thanks, Bruce. I appreciate... They can just go out to our website, staffingindustry.com and you will be able to get to our homepage and all the information is available to you out there.

Bruce Morton: Fantastic. Well, Dawn, thanks again. Been a real pleasure. I look forward to seeing you soon. 

Dawn McCartney: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Take care.

Bruce Morton: Cheers. To learn more about AGS, please check us out at AllegisGlobalSolutions.com. You can also send questions for me or our guest. Just tweet us here @AllegisGlobal with a hashtag #SubjectToTalent, or email us at SubjectToTalent@AllegisGlobalSolutions.com. And if you enjoyed our podcast today, please subscribe. Rate us and leave a review. Until next time, cheers.