It used to be that employers thought of temp agencies as the place to go solely if they were looking to find a fill-in secretary, office clerical worker or warm bodies to perform unskilled labor.
But more and more, temporary employment agencies are being counted on to supply companies with two other types of employees – older workers and those with college degrees. Among the reasons: knowledge and experience.
"There are plenty of people out there who want to work, but not as many who are qualified to work," points out Steve Bercham, vice president of American Staffing Association, a Virginia-based staffing industry advocacy organization. "We are continuing to hear growing demand for highly skilled people."
Bercham notes that many employers recognize that a talent shortage is looming in some areas and that better-educated workers and those over 50 can help fill that gap.
Realizing this, the American Association of Retired Persons has become more proactive in helping members find temporary full- and part-time employment. Recently, the AARP launched a featured employers program, under which members are connected with companies committed to recruiting and retaining mature workers. Among the 13 companies currently participating in the program are four personnel staffing agencies.
The trend toward skilled temporary labor is becoming more the rule than the exception. Economically minded companies use temporary employment services to reduce the rising costs of supporting full-time salaries.
Often, companies are outsourcing entire departments with temporary employees in order to reduce operating costs and accelerate their business on an as-needed basis. They’re looking for highly trained and educated temporary personnel to replace full-time positions with high salaries not essential to the basic operations of the company.
And as for the workers themselves, in many cases, Bercham adds, better-educated temporary workers aren’t looking for permanent jobs.
"A growing proportion of people, particularly those in the technical industry, seem more loyal to their career than their company. It’s especially true in the IT area," he reports. "People will work different projects to increase their knowledge in their field and their marketability."
Some professionals even prefer being full-time temps. "Working through a staffing agency allows them more flexibility, so they can do other things, like spend more time with their family," Bercham explains.
Recent studies predict that the temporary workforce will double within the next six years. At the end of 2004, on an average day about 2.7 million people went to work as temporary employees, up nearly a million from a decade earlier.
But as the pool of temporary workers grows, the field becomes more competitive. These days, it isn’t enough for office-worker temps to be limited to a few skills. They need to possess a multiplicity of talents that go way beyond filing and typing.
Though there is growth in all sectors of temporary work, demand for help is weakest in office clerical skills, Bercham reveals. This means that companies can be more picky in whom they choose to keep on permanently.
Employers are looking for workers who are knowledgeable and literate in a variety of common computer programs, notably Microsoft Office. In order to compete for these general staffing positions, many agencies have developed programs to test and train each temporary candidate on selected programs before they’re deemed eligible to work.