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Will Temp Workers Work for You? [Office Solutions magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Office Solutions magazine
February 2000

The Milken Family Foundation needed help. The Santa Monica nonprofit organization that gives money to fund educational and medical research, co-founded by infamous junk bond king Michael Milken, was working on a project that required the skills of a graphic designer with several years of experience.

Only, the foundation didn’t want to hire a full-time employee to do the job. The foundation was in the market for a temporary employee. So the organization’s director of design, Gary Panas, turned to Paladin, a 10-year-old Chicago-based staffing company with offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, San Francisco, and a number of other cities.

About half of its roster of 7,000 associates have creative skills related to art or writing disciplines, including art directing, graphic design, digital art and production, copywriting, corporate writing, speech writing, and public relations writing; just what Panas knew the Milken Foundation needed.

“We knew that Paladin would have the quality and variety of people to fit our needs,” says Panas. “The breadth and depth of Paladin’s associate rosters gives it the ability to pinpoint the right person for our specific needs.”

Within a few days, Paladin helped Panas find the right person for the job. When the assignment was complete, the foundation continued to use the same designer, as well as other Paladin professionals, on additional projects.

“Companies have come to realize the value of hiring highly skilled professionals on an interim basis [while] keeping their core staffs at levels that maintain the company’s’ daily operations,” says Jean Ban, executive vice president and cofounder of Paladin Inc. “The growth potential in the professional segment of this industry is phenomenal.”

In fact, a recent report by the American Staffing Association (ASA) illustrates the trend. In the first quarter of 1999, it found an average of 2.69 million people were employed daily as temporary help and were paid more than $10.7 million in wages.

Further, ASA reports that staffing companies helped create 300,000 new jobs in 1998. That year, temporary help receipts increased by 16.6 percent to $58.6 billion.
Although not every company is in the market for a short-term employee, temporary staffing has become a common practice for many U.S. business es, says ASA’s vice president of communications, Steve Berchem.

“No one can predict what will happen in the future, but we are definitely seeing a trend of continued opportunity in our industry as more people want flexible employment,” he says.

The concept of the “temporary employee” has been around for more than a century. According to industry lore, one of the first temp opportunities was provided by an entrepreneur in Milwaukee who regularly hired stevedores in the warm weather months of the late 1800s to load and unload ships.

Temporary employees were also used heavily during World War 11 when American men left jobs to fight and the women filled in. The industry has had its biggest surge, though, during the decade of the 1990s as big corporations started downsizing and skilled professionals found themselves unemployed. Many turned to temporary employment agencies to find work.

The way most temporary staffing companies operate is that professionals from a variety of industries are hired outright by the staffing company, paid a salary, given health care and life insurance benefits, and many even receive training opportunities to advance their skills. The staffing company collects payment directly from the jobs that each employee completes. That payment includes the hourly wage of the employee plus a percentage markup for the placement efforts provided by the staffing firm.

The largest group of temporary help professionals are clerical employees. Because of the swelling ranks of jobless middle managers, however, many temporary positions are opening up that offer high wages in nearly all industries—including telecommunications, engineering, science, marketing, technical, professional, and health care.

Some staffing companies have carved out a niche, such as those specializing in placing doctors and lawyers into temporary positions. Other firms concentrate on placing industrial employees into lower-level jobs. And still others focus on placing artists and writers into advertising or creative companies that need employees to complete project-based work.

Basically, the days of the temporary employee who fills in for a secretary on maternity leave are gone, says Kathie Hanratty-Masi, who in 1976 co-founded Jaci Carroll Staffing in Waterbury, Conn., with her mom (for whom the company is named).

“Today, staffing companies are placing professional women and men who are college-educated professionals and have decided they want to segue in and out of the job market by being a temporary employee,” says Hanratty-Masi.

“Their choice is often motivated by having to juggle child-care or because they want to pursue an advanced educational degree. Increasingly, though, they work for a temporary staffing firm simply because they want more flexibility in their lives. They want to be their own boss, avoid office politics, learn new skills, and meet new people by working in a variety of temporary jobs.”

Many employees work for a temporary staffing firm while they’re searching for full-time employment. Often those temp jobs lead to permanent positions. The ASA reports that 72 percent of temporary employees are hired for permanent positions.

Additionally, ASA has found that 25 percent of temporary employees polled said they held the same job for 52 weeks or more, and 48 per cent of temporary workers reported they haven’t changed jobs in six months.

At Express Personnel Services, a large international staffing firm based in Oklahoma City, Okla., 84 percent of the temporary employees placed stay at the job in which they started as temporary workers, says Robert A. Funk, founder and CEO of Express.

“The statistics reveal that the American workforce is changing and becoming more flexible,” says Funk. “Temporary work allows companies and employees the flexibility to prioritize their needs at any given time and staff their companies accordingly.”

Tracey Sperry, 43, is a case in point. Last August, she walked into the Waterbury office of Jaci Carroll because she wanted to get back into the full-time workforce. A single mother of two, Sperry had taken eight years off to raise her kids. During that time, she had started her own crafts business. Last summer, she decided it was time to put a business suit back on and get a regular paycheck.

“My kids are 11 and 12 now and in school full-time, and I felt it was time to go back and get a 9-to-5 job,” Sperry says.

“I wanted to ease back into it, though, so I decided to work with a temporary employment company to test the waters. Jaci Carroll sent me on a few temporary assignments, then this fall I had the opportunity to work for a few weeks on a project at Bozzutos, [the third-largest wholesale distributor on the east coast]. After the project was finished, they offered me a full-time position as human relations coordinator, and I went for it.”

The job is working out great, Sperry says.

“My kids seem to be handling the transition well, and I can’t describe how good it feels to be working full-time for a company again. My self-esteem has skyrocketed, and having a temporary job while I was looking for full-time work enabled me to stay confident. The worst thing I could have done would have been to sit around and watch TV while I sent out resumes and hoped for the best. This way, I got back into the job market and learned new skills until the right job came along.”

Now that she’s working full-time, Sperry says she has a new perspective on the job market. “A flood of resumes go across my desk every day,” says Sperry. “I bet that if I’d sent in a resume to Bozzutos, I’d have been another piece of paper. But because I was placed on temporary assignment, they got to know me and I got to know them. I think that made all the difference in my getting this full-time position.”

Experts agree that success in the temporary employment industry is a matter of matching the right person to the right job. One of the biggest factors in finding the perfect match is having a legion of workers who are well trained.

At the giant global staffing firm Manpower Inc., which places 2.1 million employees worldwide and earned $11 billion in sales last year, somewhat of a virtual university was launched in June 1999. Called the Global Learning Center, employees log onto the company’s Website, www.manpowernet.com, and from there can gain access to more than 1,000 training courses, which are free to Manpower employees.

The courses offered include training in computer program languages and network technologies such as Java, Oracle, and Windows NT, among others. There are also lessons in how to write a resume and how to prepare for an interview.

“When you are looking at a trend of a shortage of qualified workers, you have to decide how you are going to retain good employees, and we’ve found that providing training programs is the best way to help employees succeed,” explains Lisa Morgen-Barrientos, an information specialist at Manpower’s corporate headquarters in Milwaukee, Wis.

“Companies are requiring that an employee walk through the door with all the skills needed for the job,” she says. “Therefore, it’s essential that our employees have advanced skills. Employees want to learn and grow too. Taking a training course online allows them to advance their skill set so they can build a career, not just go from job to job.”

HOW TO CHOOSE A PROFESSIONAL STAFFING COMPANY

Choosing the right staffing company is fundamental to finding the best temporary employee for the job, according to Jean Ban, executive vice president of Chicago-based Paladin Inc.

“You should match the personality of your company with the staffing company,” he says. “you need to be comfortable with how they do business—and be sure they do it the same way as you do.”

Ban suggests asking the following 10 questions:

1. What do you need to know about my company and the assignment?
2. Can you stay within my budget?
3. Can you provide references?
4. Where and how do you find temporary professionals?
5. How do you screen people seeking to register with your firm, and how current is your information about them?
6. How quickly can you identify candidates for msy assignment?
7. What type of confidentiality agreement is offered?
8. What type of contractual commitments do you require?
9. What tax or benefit liabilities do I have if I use one of your people?
10. What happens if the individual doesn’t work out?

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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