Choosing a Temp Agency

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

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.

Since 1990, the temporary work industry has grown five times more than national employment. In 2004 alone, the country has seen an increase of 230,000 jobs since this time last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Uncertainty about the economy is diminishing, consumers are getting onto firmer ground, and businesses are hiring more," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Wells Fargo Bank. This being said, there are many valid reasons to sign up at an agency, and just as many ways to go about doing so.

The Labor Market Recovers After 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. More than a half a century later, the Kelly Girl is no more, but the industry commands up to 2 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.

In October 2004, U.S. firms laid off 101,840 workers, the second month in a row that announced job cuts topped the 100,000 mark. However, figures released this month by the Labor Department show positive signs, especially for temporary positions.

As the country moves away from an economic slowdown, 28% of U.S. employers said they have plans for additional hiring in the 2004 fourth-quarter, while 7% expect staff decreases, according to a survey conducted by temporary labor firm Manpower Inc. This represents a shift away from the fourth-quarter survey last year, when Manpower reported that 22% of respondents were planning to add staff while only 7% forecast reductions in their staff. Manpower also showed the net employment outlook to be 21%, an indication that employers intend to keep hiring steadily through the end of the year.

Temp Work 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. For recent college graduates unsure of their career ambitions, it may be a choice line of work. Temping also allows for a flexible schedule and a variety in the types of jobs assigned. It is a chance to try out several lines of work without looking like a job-hopper on a resume.

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 for many depending on personal and professional objectives.

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. 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."

Finding 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.

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. 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. While companies turn to agencies to avoid the pain of hiring and firing long-term employees and costly unemployment insurance and worker' compensation, they often take on temp workers who are already familiar with the job responsibilities and company environment, said Pegi Wheatley, owner of McCall Staffing. This also saves 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.