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Jobs Market: Check with contract staffing agencies

May 23, 2013

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The temporary staffing industry offers a variety of story ideas to dive into. Photo by Dreamstime.

If you’re casting about for a fresh take on jobs and the employment scene, pull up a seat for my annual suggestions for mining the temporary and contract markets.

As well as being fertile ground for a variety of stories, from career and personal finance how-tos, to colorful features on quirky and unique job niches, to a leading economic gauge of hiring in your market, the temp and contract categories also appear to be a harbinger of how employment will work in the future for many Americans.

As this January piece from the New York Times, “The Rise of the Permanent Temp Economy,” points out, the temporary jobs market has been growing faster than the permanent jobs market for several years – and as this NPR piece points out, it’s not just about clerical work any more: High-skilled jobs in fields like engineering, IT and accounting are being filled through staffing agencies these days, as well.   This Today.com story is several years old but worth a read for leads to sources and story angles.

Most business and economy stories portray the rise of temporary and contract jobs as a negative– and in many ways it is, as workers are forced to cobble together short-term assignments, and to make do at lower wages and skimpy or non-existent benefits.  Note this story about a recent Teamsters contract allowing for the subcontracting of some truck-driving jobs and this NewsObserver.com story about the use of “nomadic” temporary workers in North Carolina’s emerging energy sector.

Still, temporary work can also be a boon to people with portable skills, from nurses to construction workers, who wish to incorporate travel or flexibility to help with family members into their work-life balance.  I wouldn’t overlook these upsides in reporting on the temporary trend.   Call centers, food service, marketing and day labor all are represented in temporary work and you can find plenty of colorful occupation-related tales to tell.

I think an overlooked angle is temp-to-hire; some people stumble into long-term jobs or careers by clicking with employers during a temporary or contract stint.  A personal finance/careers piece on “How to turn a temp gig into a full-time job,” with anecdotes from hirees and advice from employers and managers might be a useful reader service.  Here’s an example from Forbes; it’s good but I’d beef it up by including advice and examples from non-office-oriented occupations from construction to health care.  And as I reported recently in another blog post, some pundits think the upcoming full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (health care reform) is going to prompt an even greater demand for temp workers by employers who want to evade offering health care.  Note the staffing association has just released a statement of principles intended to guide employment agencies in ACA compliance.

Also, keep in mind you can report this story from the business-owners side, too.   While the juggernaut agencies like Kelly Services and Manpower are publicly traded and global, there still are plenty of regional and local staffing firms.  What’s it like to run what, how have the economic changes of the past five years affected these firms’ business model, profits and competition.  Here’s a Milwaukee Business Journal story about trends facing that region’s Top 25 staffing firms.  The American Staffing Association, the industry trade group, is a source of statistics and monthly reports.  And here’s an interesting angle; Bloomberg reports that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is increasing scrutiny of workplaces where temps are employed. The story says that workplace deaths prompted the move — you might talk with state OSHA reps and other worker advocates about any incidents or perceived problems in your area.

Also, I have to wonder about the investment potential of the public staffing firms.  Here’s the Yahoo! Finance portal to it’s Industry Center: Staffing and Outsourcing Services — in addition to industry trends and news, it’s a shortcut to find firms that might have a presence near you.  And here’s an Investors Business Daily piece about a recent rebound in staffing company shares.


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