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Temporary jobs.

Temporary Jobs

Temporary workers employed by temporary help firms--companies that send people from job to job--have become much more numerous in recent years. Their number almost doubled from 1982 to December 1985. In fact, the temporary help supply industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in recent years, growing at 8 times the rate for all nonagricultural industries. Although still small compared to such giants as the restaurant industry or local government, the temporary help industry now provides jobs for 735,000 workers. In addition, large numbers of workers hold temporary jobs without being employed by the temporary help services industry. Indications are that the rapid growth of the industry will continue through the mid-1990s.

How the Industry Works

Temporary workers in these firms actually only work for, and are paid by, one company, but their duties take them to various companies. Firms in the temporary help supply industry primarily engage in supplying other businesses with workers for periods ranging from a single day to several months. They recruit and screen applicants for temporary jobs, check references, administer tests to help determine qualifications, and sometimes provide training. They hire and fire, issue paychecks, withhold taxes, and make required employer contributions to programs such as unemployment insurance and social security. They also are liable under laws intended to protect the health and safety of workers and assure equal employment opportunities. The customer --the client firm where the worker actually performs the job--pays the temporary help supply firm and supervises the worker.

Many temporary help companies are very large firms, especially in the segment of the industry that places office workers. Customers need to have extremely quick action on the filling of clerical and other office jobs. Typically, orders are placed at least 1 day in advance, but some job orders are for personnel to report in a few hours. This quick turnaround necessitates a large and current file of clerical help available for almost instantaneous referral to customers' work sites.

Why People Become Temporaries

Workers choose to work for temporary help supply companies rather than regular employers for a variety of reasons. For some people, temporary jobs are a stopgap until they find a permanent job. Others seek temporary jobs because they want the schedule flexibility that will allow time for activities such as taking care of children or attending school. These jobs also attract retirees and others who want more leisure time. In addition, they can be a way of keeping skills up to date or trying a variety of employers.

Although people seeking temporary jobs often deal directly with employers, they may benefit from using the temporary help firm as an intermediary. Finding a job on one's own can be costly in terms of time and money; the cost may not be worth a job that lasts only a few days. Using a temporary help service can mean more time working and less time looking.

Why Companies Use Temporaries

When a company's business increases or an organization grows, it usually hires more workers. In many situations, however, hiring a new employee for a permanent position is not in the best interest of the organization. For example, employers frequently need extra workers because of seasonal surges in business. The absence of regular employees because of vacation or illness may also create a need. Uncertainty about the economic climate also causes employers to prefer temporary workers in some cases. The use of temporaries may also be more efficient than overstaffing, the practice of employing a sufficient number of workers to meet peak demand.


People usually seek temporary employment in one of the following four markets: Office, industrial, medical, or engineering and technical. Although a particular local office may serve both office and industrial workers, it is more likely to focus on a single market, especially if it serves medical or engineering and technical workers. Some of the large firms in the temporary help industry are involved in more than one market, but they usually have separate subsidiaries or divisions to deal with each.

Of these four markets, office is clearly the largest, according to the data available. Office occupations accounted for more than one-half of total employment in personnel supply services, industrial occupations almost three-tenths, and medical occupations about one-tenth. Only a small proportion of the employment was in engineering and technical fields. These data are only approximate, however, and may not reveal the full size of each market. The amount of temporary employment in engineering, for example, may be much greater than the data imply because many establishments that furnish temporary help in engineering and technician occupations are apparently classified in the engineering and architectural services industry rather than in the temporary help industry.

Office market. This market consists mostly of clerical workers such as secretaries, typists, receptionists, computer operators, and general office clerks. However, it also includes accountants and marketing and sales workers. Most industries use temporary office workers.

Many office jobs can be filled by temporary workers because the basic skills needed for particular occupations do not vary much from one employer to another. Customers usually are very specific about requirements for assignments. For example, in placing an order, a company may specify that it needs one typist skilled in preparing statistical tables to assist on a rush project and another who can type more than 60 words per minute to substitute for a regular employee who is recovering from an illness.

Many workers with office skills are not looking for regular full-time employment and are probably willing to trade slightly lower wages for increased flexibility. A large number are mothers who want to schedule work around family responsibilities. Some are school teachers who supplement their income by working during the summer. Others are recent college graduates who need some income until they find employment related to their studies. Temporary help firms try to accommodate preferences for particular days or hours of work and the frequency or duration of assignments. Some employees of temporary help firms, however, are seeking permanent jobs, and their temporary assignments sometimes lead to these jobs.

Workers placed by temporary help firms must usually pass a series of tests of their clerical skills first. Experienced workers are especially sought after because customers usually cannot afford the time needed to train people for short assignments. In general, the temporary help firms do not train applicants either. However, when the local labor market is tight, some firms will sponsor clerical training classes in order to increase the pool of trained applicants. Some firms also provide basic and advanced instruction on word-processing equipment and personal computers.

The demand for temporary workers in office jobs generally is less sensitive to seasonal and cyclical changes than the demand for industrial workers and engineering and technical workers.

Employment in office occupations is expected to grow about as rapidly as total employment in the temporary help industry. As the industry's customers automate offices, however, temporary help firms should receive relatively more requests for such workers as computer operators, peripheral equipment operators, and secretaries and typists who can operate word processors and personal computers. At the same time, office technology may result in relatively fewer orders for file clerks, mail clerks, and data entry keyers. Some temporary help companies see potential in home-based offices for selected employees. Computerized equipment in the homes of these workers would enable them to transcribe material and produce printed copy in customers' offices miles away.

Industrial market. Helpers, laborers, material movers, and service workers, such as food and beverage preparation workers, make up a large proportion of the employees in this segment of the temporary help market. Other occupations include truckdrivers, machine operators and assemblers, and craft workers.

Little, if any, work experience is necessary for most of these jobs. Temporary workers in the least skilled jobs, however, frequently have much lower pay rates than regular employees in the same kinds of jobs, primarily because the temporary help firm must cover the costs of high turnover.

Although many of the industrial employees of temporary help firms are interested only in occasional employment, others see temporary assignments as stepping stones to higher paying regular jobs with the most desirable companies. Employers do hire temporaries who have demonstrated that they are good workers, but the demand for unskilled workers usually is much smaller than the number of people seeking the jobs. The demand for temporary workers in these occupations is also much more sensitive to seasonal and cyclical influences than is the demand for other temporary personnel.

Industrial jobs are expected to grow more slowly than temporary help employment as a whole. The demand for workers in these jobs depends significantly on orders from manufacturers. Employment in manufacturing is projected to rise at one-half the average rate of employment in all industries during the 1984-95 period. Some rapidly growing firms in high-tech fields may favor using temporaries because demand for their products can change very quickly. The long-term prospects in manufacturing probably are not favorable, however, since industrial workers generally have the kinds of jobs most susceptible to laborsaving technology. An increase in the demand for industrial temporary workers is expected to come mostly from other sectors of the economy such as construction and wholesale and retail trade.

Medical market. Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses account for most of the medical employees in this relatively new segment of the temporary help industry. Some employees also are nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants.

Temporary help firms generally hire only registered nurses and licensed practical nurses who have a year or more of work experience in their occupations. Nurses may want to limit work in order to care for children, attend school, or simply to have more leisure time. In some cases, they work primarily to keep their skills up to date instead of for the income. On the other hand, there is a small number of nurses who have full-time jobs and moonlight through temporary help firms to supplement their income.

Data concerning the pay received by temporary workers versus permanent employees in the medical market do not indicate a regular pattern; in some occupations, temporaries appear to have higher wages than permanent employees, but they earn less than permanent workers in others. Some temporary help firms provide health insurance, life insurance, and other fringe benefits, but the benefits are less generous than those provided by hospitals and other institutions for their regular staffs.

The principal users of medical personnel supplied by the temporary help industry are hospitals, private households (for home health care), and nursing homes. The kinds of temporary workers needed and the period of their employment differ somewhat for each setting.

Temporary workers are needed by hospitals to fill in for regular employees-- especially registered nurses--who are on vacation, ill, or absent for other reasons. A surge in a hospital's patient population as a result of an epidemic or disaster would increase the need for temporary personnel, too. In addition, temporaries have been used to alleviate shortages of registered nurses. Assignments may be for as little as one work shift, but they are more likely to be for 2 or 3 days, and some for even longer. Temporaries may get the least desirable shifts--evenings, nights, and weekends.

Medical workers are needed in private households to care for patients who have been released from hospitals to recuperate at home or who have become too sick or frail to care for themselves. Thus, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, as well as nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants, may find temporary employment with private households. An assignment in a patient's home can be long term.

Nursing homes are similar to hospitals in their need for temporary workers and in employing them for only short periods. They are similar to private households, however, in the types of workers needed: Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants.

No matter the setting, the demand for medical temporary personnel is greatest during the summer, when many regular staff members take vacations and patients schedule elective surgery to coincide with their vacation time.

Future increases in the demand for temporary workers in medical fields are expected to be concentrated in nursing homes and private residences. The number of elderly and disabled people in need of long-term care is rising rapidly, which is increasing the demand for nurses in these settings. In addition, the early discharge of patients from hospitals means that more people will need medical assistance in nursing homes or their own homes. Many of them will need special equipment, such as respirators, that requires the supervision of a registered nurse.

Private residences are likely to account for more growth than nursing homes. Some temporary help firms have developed comprehensive programs for delivering a package of services to the home patient, including periodic visits by a registered nurse and basic care by licensed practical nurses and nurses' aides. Competition from visiting nurses' associations, nurses' registries, and other industries that provide home health care services, however, may limit the growth of temporary help firms in this market. Expansion may also be limited by a lack of employees who are willing to work in the evening, at night, and on weekends.

The outlook for temporary registered nurses in hospitals is not clear. Hospitals may become more dependent on temporaries in order to contain costs; many large hospitals, however, may prefer to operate their own temporary nurse pools.

Engineering and technical market. Engineers, designers, and nonmedical technicians such as drafters, engineering technicians, and computer programmers are employed by businesses that specialize in this segment of the temporary help market. A large proportion of the customers are in aerospace manufacturing, electronic manufacturing, ship building and repairing, and other industries that depend heavily on defense work. A variety of other manufacturing industries-- including producers of automobiles, industrial machinery, and chemicals--and firms that contract to perform engineering services also are customers.

Firms in this segment of the temporary help industry are frequently called job shops or contract service firms. They usually seek to hire experienced personnel. Many job shoppers are single people in their late twenties and early thirties. Married workers, particularly those with children at home, are less likely to seek these jobs.

The need for engineers and technicians on a temporary basis usually arises as a result of major projects to develop new products or facilities. An aerospace company may need additional personnel, for example, to help design a new aircraft and get it into production on schedule. An engineering services firm may require extra help on a contract to design and build a new plant for a customer. Employers also may turn to temporaries when they are unable to recruit enough regular employees to staff a project. Relatively few engineers and technicians are employed temporarily to fill in for absent workers.

Engineers and technicians frequently can earn more take home pay in temporary jobs than they can in regular jobs. Fringe benefits, however, are usually limited to paid vacations, holidays, and medical and life insurance at group rates. Temporary workers also have less job security than regular employees.

Although high pay probably is the main reason engineers and technicians seek temporary jobs, the variety of assignments and geographic locations also may be an attraction. Not all of these workers are geographically mobile. "Freeway' or "subway' job shopper is industry parlance for the person who goes from one assignment to another in the same metropolitan area. A "road' job shopper is a person who is willing to relocate.

Engineering and technical firms are frequently able to anticipate their need for temporary personnel well in advance and can usually estimate how long they will be needed. Assignments are of a relatively long duration--6 months to 12 months is typical, and up to 2 years is not uncommon.

Job shops differ from the companies that provide office, industrial, or medical workers in the scope of their operation; they often place workers throughout the country or around the world, rather than concentrating on local markets. An office in Boston, for example, may recruit engineers from New England for a customer in Los Angeles. They also differ in that job shops generally do not select a particular worker for the customer; instead, they provide several resumes for the customer's consideration.

Employment of engineers and technical workers in temporary assignments may rise faster than total employment in the temporary help industry, at least through 1990. A large part of the growth in these jobs is expected to result from increased investment in capital equipment. An investment boom is projected because of expected lower real interest rates, the prospect of a stable economy, and the desire of manufacturers to take advantage of new technologies, purchases of which were postponed during the low-investment years of 1980-82. Growth also is expected in defense-related industries. Purchases of defense goods and services in constant dollars are projected to increase 5.3 percent annually between 1984 and 1990 and then taper off. This spending should increase the number of temporary jobs for product design and related activities in the aircraft and guided missiles, ordnance, shipbuilding and repair, and communication equipment industries.
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Title Annotation:employment with temporary help firms
Author:Carey, Max L.; Hazelbaker, Kim L.
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1986
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