Hugo Traeger and I talk about the sunny attitude shining through the staffing industry, gearing up for Executive Forum, how fastest-growing staffing firms break through to success, and how much staffing technology has changed (next time you see him, ask Hugo about being sued for $5M for taking his Rolodex with him after leaving his job).

StaffingHub: So, we’re here today talking to Hugo Traeger, Director of Advertising Sales of Staffing Industry Analysts. Thanks for joining us today, Hugo.

Hugo: Well, thank you, Caitlin. It’s great to be joining you.

StaffingHub: We were talking a little bit before the show. You’ve spent the past three months traveling around the U.S. and Europe at many different staffing events, from our own StaffingHub Live in Boulder in September to your Executive Forum Europe just last month. And I thought it would be a great kicking off point to share with our listeners some of the things you’ve learned, some of your top takeaways from this whirlwind trip.

Traeger: Yes, it has been. It’s been a busy fall, particularly with events, almost entirely with events, starting with our own CWS and GigE. I was at StaffingHub Live! obviously a great event Boulder. Had a European trip in there that was not for conferences. Staffing World, a great few days. Back for our Healthcare Staffing Summit, Executive Forum Europe.

The one thing that I saw across all the events is that there continues to be a very upbeat attitude in the staffing market.

And I think it was probably at its zenith at our Healthcare Staffing Summit. You know, it’s kind of a cliquey crowd in a way. So they network, they see their old friends, but everybody’s business was strong and they were really interested in the content. Very interested in the sponsors, particularly some of the new technology that they were getting a look at — whether it was texting or referrals or AI bots. There was just a lot for them to see in this area of new technology.

StaffingHub: I’m really interested in how technology can be a differentiator for staffing firms, not just in the traditional way you think about it, as in making your team more efficient or more effective, but also in really setting firms apart in terms of the candidate experience or higher level differentiators. What have you seen in your experience with the tech that really makes that kind of difference for firms?

Traeger: Well, one of the things that we see is that some of the fastest-growing firms at all sizes are really beginning to employ technology a lot and making it a part of their infrastructure, part of their recruiting process. I’ve been at SIA a long time and actually I came to SIA from technology media. I was kind of appalled at a point which was 15 years ago on how behind the curve technology-wise staffing was. And it certainly caught up.

I remember at an Executive Forum not too many years ago when LinkedIn was just starting to penetrate the staffing market. And there was a discussion during the Q&A session was, what happens to a recruiter’s LinkedIn network when they leave the company? So, that people were putting a LinkedIn network, they were treating it with the same mindset as a Rolodex, if anybody remembers what a Rolodex is. I was once sued for $5 million for taking my Rolodex with me from one job to another. And that that’s a story for another time.

We’ve now seen these new recruiting tools put to work over the past couple of years, and I think the best recruiters are not seeing them as a threat to their existence, but as tools that can make them better recruiters.

The best recruiters are using the tools most effectively.

StaffingHub: Yeah. And along those lines, and maybe this will spark something else for you, but SIA puts out the list of fastest-growing staffing firms every year. And from your observation, what do you think really sets those firms apart?

Traeger: Well, you know, Barry [Asin] wrote his book, Breaking Through, about the roots of the fastest-growing staffing firms and what sets them apart. And they’re all a little bit different. But if there’s a common thread that winds through all of them, it’s strong leadership. It’s usually a founder or somebody that’s evolved right behind the founder that’s currently running the company.

And strong company culture. You can look at different firms and find different things, but strong leadership, strong culture, definitely cuts across all of them.

StaffingHub: And it seems like what makes a strong culture within a staffing firm is changing a little bit. The old standbys will hold. You know, strong leadership. It’s a people business, so building off of relationships.

But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you think… there’s been a lot of attention recently on diversity and hiring, both internally within staffing firms and in paying attention to a broader range of candidates. I wonder if you could talk about how you think those initiatives sort of change the culture in staffing firms?

Traeger: Well, there’s no question that diversity’s a top-of-mind issue. And I think that here at SIA we really took a hard look at diversity because of some discussions we were having with clients because of… actually some editorial work that we did in the area. And we think it’s better to think of it as inclusion as opposed to diversity. And you know, it’s… if you look at it from the point of view of anyone that’s bringing new people into the market, into their company, they want to have their candidates, their employees feel included. And the feeling of inclusiveness is… it seems to almost be a better attitude than thinking about it as diversity.

StaffingHub: Yeah, absolutely. So you are, now that you’ve come out of this big conference season, sort of ramping up for Executive Forum North America, which is just around the corner in March next year. What’s new this year? What can we expect?

Traeger: Well, yes, Executive Forum North America sure does feel right around the corner to us. We’ve got the conference program posted, which you could find at the website. The theme for the event and the theme of Barry’s opening keynote is Strategies for a New World. And you’ll see that some of the things that we’ve done with program are… really take a couple of different paths.

One is to really speak with the most senior management in firms and the other is to take a hard look at technology.

You’ll see from a management point of view that we have one of the strongest CEO panels that we’ve had. It includes Bert Beam, Karen Fichuk, Jonas Prising, and Peter Quigley. They’ll be wrapping up the content on Tuesday afternoon of the Executive Forum.

And then Wednesday morning we’ve got a TED-Talks style executive perspectives with Patrick Beharelle from TrueBlue, Jerry Bostelman from Vaco, and Corinne Ripoche Van Hecke from Pontoon.

So you know, great executive lineup for the senior executive theme that will run through Tuesday and part of Wednesday.

And then you’ll also see through Wednesday and through Thursday morning a very strong focus on technology and the keynotes as well as a track of break off sessions that you can kind of track through the day on Wednesday. You can see a very strong technology focus.

The conference will wrap up on Thursday with two deep-dive sessions. One will be on Breaking Through, which we had touched upon before, which looks at the growth of the fastest-growing staffing firms, what it is that sets them apart.

And the other is tech stack 2020 which is going to be a deep dive into technology. The fine-tuning of that part of the program is still going on, but it will be released very, very soon. And I think you’ll see something unique that day. So that senior executives, growth, technology are going to be themes that are going to jump out from the Executive Forum program.

StaffingHub: Thinking about this theme of Strategies for the New World that it sort of holds all these pieces together and looking ahead as everyone is into 2020, what are some of the strategies that you think staffing executives need to pay attention to, to remain future-proof?

Traeger: Boy, that’s… it’s not an easy question to answer. But you know, I think that some of the things that come out of our research and Barry’s research surrounding breaking through are a strong management, are the culture angle that we had mentioned before. And we do see technology as a differentiator. Not just for the sake of technology, but in terms of seeing that your staff is employed with the best tools, that they have tools to make their job easier, to make themselves more efficient. That recruiters have the tools that can make them the best recruiters. So it’s going to go a long way toward making a difference.

StaffingHub: And what’s on the horizon for SIA after Executive Forum, if you can think beyond the forum?

Traeger: I have a hard time thinking beyond Executive Forum. But you know we’re looking at new ideas all the time. And in terms of our schedule for the rest of 2020 after Executive Forum, we roll very quickly into our CWS Summit Europe in London, that will be in April. And then we have a little bit of a break until our fall events.

I don’t think you’re going to see any dramatic departures from what we were doing, but I think that you’re going to see SIA executing the best we can to make all of our events and everything we do better.

If you look at SIA research today versus a few years ago, not only is the quantity of research better, but the quality of research is better than it’s ever been. You’ll see more use of technology tools on the part of our analyst team to provide interactive research. And you’ll see that continue to grow throughout 2020. So even though you know, for me, conferences are top of mind, the research credibility that we have and the ability for us to command such an audience with our research is part of what makes our conferences as successful as they are.

StaffingHub: Well we’re a part of your audience and always excited to see what you’re doing next. Big fan of all the work that you do. So thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today and for your insights.

Traeger: Okay, well thank you, Caitlin. I’m really glad to be able to join you.