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A Guide to Workforce Solutions Terminology

Whether you are new to managed recruitment, looking for a new partner to outsource to or already have an agreement in place, navigating workforce solutions terminology can be a challenge. The lack of commonly agreed industry definitions, with differences occurring between sectors and countries, and even the individual parties involved, presents an additional hurdle.

As part of our knowledge-based library of resources, we have put together a Workforce Solutions Glossary, which provides a guide to assist with the interpretation of the most widely used industry terms*. This guide should assist you in traversing the world of workforce solutions with ease.

*Based on the definitions agreed by the Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA), the Global Advisor on Staffing and Workforce Solutions.

Definitions of key workforce solutions industry terms

For your convenience and understanding, terms have been grouped according to likely categories of usage:


Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO)

This applies where the client’s recruitment activities are partially or completely outsourced to a third-party provider. The external specialist provides the skills, activities, tools and technologies, and processes replacing the in-house recruiting function.

Managed Service Provider (MSP)

Where an MSP is appointed, they will assume the primary responsibility for managing the client’s ‘contingent workforce’ programme. As such they are responsible for end-to end activities from management, reporting and tracking through to supplier selection, order distribution and billing.

Total Talent Acquisition (TTA)

An emerging model of talent or workforce management that includes the management of ‘permanently hired’ as well as ‘contingent’ workers.


Staffing and recruitment companies may also be referred to as ‘suppliers’ by ‘contingent workforce’ buyers (this applies to hiring organisations and VMS or MSP entities).


Covering permanent employees or temporary (contingent) workers, this process is a key element of successful recruitment. On-boarding refers to the fast-track induction and training given to new trainees to equip them with the necessary skills to enable them to be productive from the outset. 

Employee types


Someone who provides services and/or skills to clients on a temporary basis. This includes temporary workers and independent contractors, as well as consultants, outsourcing provider staff and workers governed by a Statement of Work Agreement.

Contingent Workers

Contingent Workers are those employed on a time-limited contract basis or for an explicitly defined role, as distinct from those receiving a direct wage or in salaried employment. This group includes temporary staff supplied by outside staffing agencies and independent contractors or consultants. The term also extends to time-limited temporary work assignments covering workers seconded from an internal work pool, as well as other short-term employees such as summer interns, seasonal workers, freelancers and ‘crowd-sourced’ workers.

Statement of Work (SOW)

Typically applied to temporary consultancy or other similar specialised roles, a Statement of Work arrangement is governed by a document that details the work product and services, including associated activities and deliverables supplied against a specific contract or as part of a project timeline.

Talent Pool

This refers to the group of passive or active ‘talents’ which offers a source of potential future candidates.

Systems and processes

Underpinning the most successful recruitment services is a raft of advanced software systems and established methodologies, including:

Vendor Management Systems (VMS)

A VMS system is a web-hosted application that allows businesses to manage and procure staffing services through third party staffing suppliers (both ‘temporary’ and ‘permanent’ staff) as well as outside contract or contingent labour.

Developed to serve the Talent Acquisition Technology Industry, the latest VMS systems can now also be extended to include the management of Statement of Work (SOW) consultants and outsourced services within their scope of coverage. Typical features of a VMS include supplier management, order distribution, consolidated billing, risk mitigation, headcount tracking and significant enhancements in reporting capability over manual systems and processes.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

ATS software facilitates the electronic handling of corporate recruitment needs. Most incorporate a company website, enabling companies to post jobs onto their own website to attract candidates. Acquired candidate data is stored in a database which allows effective searching, filtering, and routing of applications. Some vendors use a different description for ATS software e.g., talent management software (TMS), candidate management system (CMS) or recruitment management system (RMS). ATS can also be used as the basis of recruitment process outsourcing programmes.

Alternatively, there is a separate type of ATS which acts as a module within a staffing firm front-office software solution. However, these products are normally sold by different vendors with functionality to meet the workflow requirements of staffing firms rather than corporate recruiters.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

CRM software enables customer or prospect contact information to be managed centrally and with improved accuracy. Customer contacts captured by the system can be supplied to the organisation as tailored or ad-hoc reports for consistent tracking, while providing fast access to data on demand.

Freelance Management Systems (FMS)

The FMS is a technology platform developed to allow users to build and directly access their own database of available workers, to include private contacts, as opposed to obtaining contact lists through staffing vendors. Organisations can activate, manage, complete, and pay freelance workers through the FMS, with core functions typically including vetting, curation, compliance, and the creation of custom talent pools.

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