By  Updated on Thu Jun 12, 2014

The U.S. Job Market: A Temp Worker’s World

The U.S. Job Market: A Temp Workers World

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According to recent data, 12 percent of the U.S.’s workforce is comprised of temporary workers.

The recent uptick in temp work has emerged as the biggest hiring trend in the economy, finding itself at the forefront of widespread media coverage. Large corporations such as Wal-Mart, General Motors, and PepsiCo have been thrust into the spotlight for relying on such hiring practices; however, these companies are just a few of the many that have been increasingly turning to temp workers, freelancers, consultants, and contract workers to fill their staffing needs.

Although hiring is usually a healthy indicator for the economy, the move towards hiring primarily temp and contract workers has come as an unsettling trend to many. Since the end of the recession four years ago, the number of temps has jumped more than 50 percent, to almost 2.7 million. According to government records, numbers like that haven’t been seen since 1990. In today’s job market, no other sector comes close to the rate at which the number of temps is climbing.

According to economists, the spike in temp work can be attributed to a desire by employers to match their payrolls to their profits, and enjoy the flexibility of adjusting their labor force to work on an as-needed basis. “You have your just-in-time workforce. You only pay them when you need them,” says Susan Houseman, an economist at the Upjohn Institute of Employment Research.

Additionally, some employers are said to be using the tactic to sidestep forthcoming Affordable Care Act legislation that mandates that employers with a minimum of 50 full-time workers must provide medical coverage for them. The trend towards employing temp or consultant workers is reflective of the reality that many employers simply aren’t willing to hire for the long term.

For the unemployed, this news is unlikely to be seen as positive. Temp work is construed as undesirable to most because of the typically low pay, few benefits, and vulnerable job security. What’s more, temp jobs don’t tend to boost the economy the same way permanent jobs do.

While the temp trend has partly been born out of lingering uncertainty about the job economy, a survey of 37 economists conducted by The Associated Press in May found that 75 percent of those surveyed felt the increased use of temp and job workers is representative of a long-lasting trend. “There’s been a generational shift toward a less committed relationship between the firm and the worker,” says Ethan Harris, a global economists at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. (Continued on page 2)

So is there a silver lining to the temp explosion? While many would prefer to be employed full-time, according to recruitment professionals, there is value to be had via working temp jobs, as temp experience can actually reflect positively on a candidate pursuing professional opportunities.

Glenn Bernstein, Partner and President of The Execu|Search Group’s Temporary Staffing division, one of the largest executive recruitment firms in the New York tri-state area, explains how temp work can be beneficial in terms of gaining diverse experience.  “For both the unemployed and for professionals having a difficult time finding full-time employment, taking temporary or contractual assignments is a great way to keep your skills up to date-and-relevant.  Temporary assignments also allow you to work within a variety of different industries, and gain a lot of new and diverse experiences in a relatively short amount of time. As a result, temporary positions not only help you gain new skills, but also show that you’re adaptable, resourceful, and able to rise above a challenge; all important qualities that employers look for in candidates.”

Kristina Pearson, whom we interviewed on a story about extremely costly student loan debt, has now graduated with a Bachelor’s in Speech-Language Pathology from Buffalo State College. She currently lives in New York City with her parents, and has found it difficult to find work. Currently doing temp work through Hudson Gate Partners, LLC, Kristina shares what she’s gleamed working as a temp. “As someone just graduating, it’s hard for me to find a well-paying job that I love. However, that’s the beauty of temp jobs to me. There is no commitment. I can work a couple of months at places that pay well, to save up while I look for that dream career. The downside is, depending on what you get assigned to do, you can really hate your job. I worked for 3 weeks as a receptionist at an investment advisory firm, and I counted the minutes till 6 o’clock. But they paid $18/hour, so I was in no position to complain, considering I just graduated and many other recent grads I know only make minimum wage.”

Though Kristina hasn’t found a temp job she can see herself settling into yet, the firm she works through does provide options for temp workers to find permanent roles. “The way my agency works, they set me up with companies and I work for about 3 months. If by the end of the 3 months the company likes me or still needs me, I have the option of staying permanent and getting a higher salary ($40,000 in my case). Or I can turn it down and look for another assignment. I think it’s a smart way for companies to test out new employees before making them permanent and providing them with benefits.”

Pearson also discusses how she’s using temp work to enrich her resume and her list of professional references. “I learned a lot within that short amount of time, and I cozied up with my supervisor, providing me with a reference for future jobs. Also, temp work looks good on your resume because though you may not necessarily be doing what you want, it shows that you’re still staying being productive, as opposed to just sitting around. It shows responsibility. I feel it’s definitely something to look into if snagging that ideal job after college hasn’t exactly gone the way you had planned.”

While some Americans feel they’re being given the short end of the stick by being confined to the role of a temporary worker without many, if any, benefits, others see the role as an opportunity to embrace challenges, learn new skills, and gain valuable contacts and experience, given that they merely use the opportunity as a short-term career stepping stone.

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