En español | Some of Elaine Pinches’ temping jobs have lasted for months. Others ended after a few days.
And then there was the assignment for three weeks of data processing work for her and two other temps. “We finished in three days,” recalls Pinches, 57, of Boston. “They were thrilled—and then we were out of a job.”
So it goes in the world of temporary jobs, which now include everything from book editors to senior managers to software engineers. With the recession causing many employers to hold off on hiring for permanent jobs, temporary employment is a rare growing sector.
While most job seekers want a permanent gig, temp jobs can offer real advantages—quick cash, new skills and a foot in the door at a target company.
The temp sector added 26,000 new jobs in April alone and a total of 330,000 since September 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a significant chunk of the economy as a whole—temp agencies and contract staffing firms employ an average 2 million people a day.
Many economists see the sector’s growth as a leading indicator of recovery—employers who are taking on more temps will switch to permanent hiring when the future looks better.
A good thing
Cynthia Metzler, former president of Experience Works in Arlington, Va., which places seniors in training and jobs, says temp employment can be a good thing for many older people. “It gives them more experience,” she says. “They earn an income, learn and refresh their skills.”
Some staffing firms—you work for them, not their clients—now offer benefits such as health insurance and paid training.
Joan Freeman, director of the Gray Matters Coalition in McLean, Va., a group that supports the rights of older workers, adds another perk: Experienced individuals can land a temp job without facing age discrimination that can occur in the full-time market.
As Freeman sees it, many employers use temping to “try it before you buy it”—a way to see if the person could be a good fit for a permanent job. “It’s an audition,” she says.
A survey by the American Staffing Association found that more than three-quarters of the temps questioned said their assignment was a good way to obtain a permanent job. More than two-thirds said temping strengthened their resumé or added work skills.
But some workers wind up getting stuck in long-term temp assignments, some even for years, and resent that they get fewer perks, fewer career opportunities and less money than full-timers in the next cubicle. They miss the camaraderie and stability—as well as health insurance and retirement plans—that come from permanent employment. Or they tire of being handed the less interesting work that is sometimes farmed out to temps, whether they’re attorneys or administrative assistants.
Because of the limited investment by the hiring company, low-income, unskilled temp jobs may have another drawback: They may reduce a worker’s income and career prospects over time, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist found in a study of 37,000 workers from 1999 to 2003.