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Choosing a Temp Agency

Over its history, the temporary employment industry has evolved from using gopher-type seat-warmers to fill in for vacationing administrative assistants, to placing highly skilled, valued, and courted contractors into managerial positions.

Over its history, the temporary employment industry has evolved from using gopher-type seat-warmers to fill in for vacationing administrative assistants, to placing highly skilled, valued, and courted contractors into managerial positions. Although job descriptions and qualifications have changed, temps are still considered part of the fringe labor market, since the temporary work force is just that: temporary.

The temp industry employed a record 4 million people nationwide last September, and subsequently lost a half-million workers as the economy began to slow over the following four months, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's 12 percent of an industry, gone. While the timing might not be the best to join the contingency workforce, the history of the industry indicates that it's here to stay. There are many valid reasons to sign up at an agency, and just as many ways to go about doing so.

A labor market revolution that suffers slightly in a slowdown
In October 1946, entrepreneur William Russell Kelly opened the doors of his temporary staffing agency and sparked a labor market revolution. Intended to augment clerical staff in a pinch, the company grew swiftly under the "Kelly Girl" ideal. Half a century later, the Kelly Girl is no more, but the industry commands up to 5 percent of the national workforce. No longer a squad of clerks and light laborers, the temporary staffing industry boasts a presence in professional, white-collar fields including law, banking, and information technology.

But as the country enters an economic slowdown, a survey conducted by temporary labor firm Manpower Inc. projects a parallel slowing in hiring plans for the second quarter of this year. In a poll of nearly 16,000 public and private companies, 28 percent of employers said they have plans for additional hiring, while 8 percent expect staff decreases. That represents a shift away from the second-quarter survey last year, when Manpower reported that 32 percent of respondents were planning to add staff while only 6 percent forecast reductions in staff.

A flexible schedule that appeals to many types of workers
So, who temps and why? A parent looking to rejoin the workforce part-time may take on temporary assignments. Entry-level college grads are also getting into the game. According to a March 2001 survey by, college students and recent graduates value a flexible schedule above other perks - more than 45 percent of all respondents listed flexibility as their number-one concern.

It has not always been this way. In generations past, a young adult would enter the workplace directly from high school or college. An entry-level position would last for a few years, allowing the worker to get a feel for the environment and then move up in the company. Workplace loyalty meant 30-plus years on the job. Now, present and future generations can expect to change their careers and lifestyles multiple times during their adult lives. The temporary staffing industry is well suited to cater to these growing legions of job-hoppers and workers-in-flux.

Greg Booth, CEO and cofounder of Net-temps, an online recruiting source, advises people to try temping - if only to get a feel for a field. "Find an industry you're interested in and take a job at whatever level you can for a three-month assignment," he advised. "By being a part of that industry, you get a taste for it."

Booth said that, due to the advancements in the industry, a more diverse pool of talent has been drawn to temping. "More and more people are choosing this as a working lifestyle," he said, adding that an increasing demand for temp workers has subsequently created a new sense of security for those considering joining the field. "A lot of people who have families are no longer fearful try this kind of lifestyle."

Booth even suggested that because of this increased stability, people might find the contingent workforce to be a lucrative alternative to traditional employment. "They want the premium pay, varied assignments, new challenges, and a way out of corporate America, that 25-years-only-give-you-a-gold-watch kind of culture. Most people find it refreshing."

Create a winning relationship with the right agency
There are two ways to start temping. The traditional route is to locate agencies in your area through the telephone book or online. Then, interview with a number of agencies to get a feel for the jobs, rates, and benefits they offer. Some agencies share contracts, so you may get a better rate for the same job at a different agency - it all depends on the agency's markup. Agencies make their money by taking a commission on the rate contracting companies pay their temps. For highly specialized positions, temporary workers are harder to come by so they can command higher hourly wages. It's a simple case of supply and demand - the agency can charge a given company more for a contingency worker who's an IT whiz than for a standard-issue temp who does clerical work.

To get the best placements and wages, Jacqueline Johnson, who has more than 10 years of temping experience, recommends registering with as many agencies as possible. She believes it's the best way to keep busy. "The more the better," she said. She doesn't worry about finding assignments: Johnson said she has been able to make a living by temping because she's chosen not to limit herself. "If you are a responsible individual, if you go in and do your job, nine times out of ten they will keep you busy. You don't ever have to worry about not working."

The second way to find temp work is to contact companies you'd like to work for and ask if they carry a contingency work force. Even in the current market climate, temporary agencies are increasingly seen as recruitment firms for many large corporations. Companies often contract temp agencies to find entry-level workers, which the agency then trains and places according to the workload.

These entry-level positions may ultimately lead to permanent placement, saving the company money on recruitment, training, and additional personnel. This movement toward out-of-house recruitment is fairly new, so if you're temping and looking for a permanent position, tell your agency.

- Regina Robo, News Editor

Copyright 2000-2004 ©, Inc.

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