Demand for temp agencies grows during economic recovery

Monday, July 1, 2002

By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

Adding permanent workers doesn't make sense right now to employers who are nervous about the nation's fragile economic recovery.

Their answer: temp help.

Staffing companies say they've seen demand for temps escalate in recent weeks, after slumping from late 2000 through early this year during the recession.

"Things have really picked up since the first of the year," said Danielle Farrow, a client supervisor at the Cape Girardeau office of Spherion, which provides temporary assignments as well as direct-hire placements for all sorts of jobs.

She said that Wednesday morning's orientation was a full crowd of folks eager to work.

"More businesses are wanting temporary help, and more people looking for jobs are considering temp work," Farrow said.

Many believe a longer-term trend toward more use of temporary workers will continue. The number of temporary workers employed has increased steadily from early 1992, when 907,000 worked for staffing companies on an average day nationwide, until the third quarter of 2000 with 2.646 million, according to the American Staffing Association, a trade organization.

Unsure of economy

Peggy Gates is the district manager for Manpower Inc., one of the nation's largest staffing services, which has an office in Cape Girardeau. Employers let people go, she said, because of how poor the economy was and are now bringing in temp workers because they're not sure if it has righted itself yet.

"People are uncertain right now," Gates said. "So when they're looking to add people, they know that using an agency like ours can be a solution until they see what the economy is going to do."

The recent pickup in demand for temps probably will fuel the long-term growth of temporary work and the broadening of such work beyond traditional clerical fields.

More workers in areas such as computer programming and engineering have been turning to temporary work to find some way to earn a paycheck. Gates -- who said Manpower has seen a 50 percent increase over last year -- said local manufacturers are using more temp help.

Some businesses that traditionally have not used temp help, like lumberyards and home improvement centers, are now using temp agencies as well, she said.

"Businesses are taking on jobs and taking orders that they may have not taken before," Gates said. "Now they're taking smaller orders because they need the work, and they're using our workers to fill those orders. That hasn't happened before."

Using temporary agencies during rough economic times is not a new phenomenon, said Joe Rozier, vice president of Workforce Inc. in Cape Girardeau.

"It's always been that way," he said. "Depending on the state of the economy, it changes."

Temporary agencies provide flexibility, like it did during the boom of the 1990s, when fast-growing businesses turned to temp help to keep pace.

"It's not that employers are conservative," Rozier said. "But they're realistic in their needs. Business is not as predictable as it was a few years ago."

In a world of needing orders filled or jobs done immediately, temp help has become vital no matter what the economy is like.

"It's market-driven like anything else," Rozier said. "They're not using it as a way to eliminate full-time employees. It's an evaluation tool to meet needs in a kind of uncertain economy."

'They're on assignment'

The image of the temporary secretary is also extinct, he said. At Workforce Inc., they promote an image of a full-time worker who is placed on temporary assignments.

"I don't think the term temp creates the value that is there," Rozier said. "We don't see any employee as a temporary employee. When they're on assignment, they are representing that company."

Steve Byrd, a human resources instructor at Southeast Missouri State University and member of Cape Area Personnel Association, said there are other factors that could be driving the success of temp agencies locally.

"In the Cape area, the availability of those workers is kind of a new phenomenon," he said. "Several years ago, we only had one agency, now we've got several. It's a new option, one they didn't have a few years ago."

He also said that the agencies are competitive, and all are trying to provide quality workers. That quality means companies are having a lot of success with their temp workers, causing them to want to use more.

"They're getting good people," Byrd said. "So it's becoming more desirable to use them."

Some labor groups object to the trend because temps sometimes receive less pay, fewer benefits, less job stability and control in the workplace, though local staffing agencies say companies here generally pay their temporary help the same wages as full-time workers.

Temp agencies are optimistic that the industry will recover in coming months. Until recently, gloomy expectations meant companies were reticent to spend even on temporary workers.

"We're excited by this, and we hope it continues," Gates said. "It looks like it's going to be here a while."

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