Temporary Work: A Permanent Solution

By Julie Johnson

Nine years ago, I quit my Wall Street job to stay home full-time with my son. It was a blissful (and trying) experience, and one for which I will always be grateful. However, there came a time when I could no longer quell my desire to return to work. I wanted plenty of flexibility, good pay (to cover childcare and then some) and the opportunity to figure out my career direction. I stumbled upon a solution.

Temporary work is a good opportunity for women who are interested in changing their career path or the perfect reintroduction to the workplace for stay at home mothers. Both employer and potential employee benefit (as does the family).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, temporary employment workers are expected to increase by 53 percent between 1996-2006, nearly 1.4 million jobs. Managerial, professional and technical staffs comprise 11 percent of the personnel supply. The stereotypical temporary worker no longer exists.

Today, temporary workers hail from varied academic and professional backgrounds. The Bureau of Labor Statisitics noted that females accounted for 53 percent of the temporary workforce in 1998. Information technology has opened doors for many temporary workers including those affected by layoffs and those seeking alternative work options. Having worked as a temp for two years, I can attest to its benefits:

  • Flexibility: You determine your schedule. The agency presents assignments to you based on your skills and availability. You accept or decline any offer. If you want to work a full week and take off the following week, that's your prerogative. While temping, there were many occasions when I worked one week and others when I worked a day or two. If my son was sick or I wanted to stay home, I did-- no questions asked.

  • Income: Often, part-time jobs don't pay well. As demand for temporary workers increases, so does the pay scale. The more experience you have, the higher your hourly wage. As a temporary employee, the majority of my assignments were administrative. Nevertheless, I earned $15-20/hour. Even after child care expenses I had extra spending money.

  • Diversity: Temporary work offers variety. If you are undecided about full-time work or your career path, temporary work offers exposure to various fields and positions.

  • Skills: Temping strengthens current skills and offers opportunities to acquire new skill sets. According to Tim Brogan, Senior Manager of Public Information at American Staffing Association, 90 percent of temp agencies provide and strongly encourage free training.

  • Networking: Temporary work offers access to hot jobs. Many plum positions are never posted. Temping allows both worker and employer to test the waters before hiring. I was offered full-time positions from several assignments. Brogan notes that 72 percent of temporary employees go onto permanent jobs within one year and approximately 30 percent secure permanent positions as a result of either working a temporary-permanent assignment or making a good impression at an assignment.

  • Hassle-free: You're in the driver's seat. Schedules are flexible and if problems arise, the agency handles it.

However, there are a few factors to consider:

  • Benefits: In the past, benefits were rarely offered, however times have changed though. Brogan says, "The temporary work environment has gotten extremely competitive. There are more than 20,000 staffing firms nationwide and the currently low unemployment rate heightens competition to lure top-flight talent. Most staffing firms offer insurance, paid vacation, personal and sick time and even 401K programs."

  • Security: If you are risk-averse, temping probably isn't for you. Constant assignment changes and new people and procedures are a given. Assignments can be intermittent, particularly if you're discriminating.

These tips will ensure success:

  • Use a reputable agency. Get referrals from friends. Call the Better Business Bureau to check a company's standing. Never pay a fee to get work.

  • Be specific about your likes and dislikes including the type of work you are interested in and qualified to do, minimum pay rate, travel requirements, frequency of work and any special situations that might interfere with work. To save everyone time and aggravation, I told my agency only to call with assignments that fulfilled all of my requirements.

  • Be professional. Your assignment could be your next permanent job. Conduct yourself as if you were a regular employee. Be on time. Upon completion of the assignment, depart graciously. Make your last impression positive and professional. You'll be remembered next time.

  • Be honest. If you're unqualified for an assignment, don't accept it. I turned down several assignments when I felt I wasn't qualified. You're not only representing yourself but your agency.

  • Learn new skills. The more marketable you are, the more money you can make. Keep software skills current. Peruse classifieds or online job boards to see which skills employers seek. Set about acquiring those skills. Jean Ban is Executive Vice President of Paladin Staffing. The national staffing company, with offices in seven major cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, places temporary and full-time professionals within the marketing, advertising and communications fields. She says, "The best advice I can give women interested in reentering the workforce is to jump back in at whatever level you can to keep your skills fresh. Part-time or project-based work is ideal."

There's no better time to venture into temporary work. "Over the last 5-10 years, employers have become more interested in this work option. Paladin has always emphasized flexible employment for the professional. Clients are definitely interested in part-time, project-based, permanent part-time and telecommuting work options," observes Ban. It is a win-win-win scenario for you-family-employer and will keep you tapped into the working world, while maintaining a satisfying and balanced home life.

Also see:
Exploring flexible work options
Finding work and family balance
Secrets of executive working moms

Julie Johnson is a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia. She writes on parenting and business issues for print and online publications. She can be reached at qrjohns@attglobal.net.