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More Americans search for quality part-time work

Demand from mothers and older workers for such jobs exceeds supply.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 25, 2008

Moving on: Workers head down a busy New York City street. Many professionals are seeking part-time arrangements. But offers are scarce.

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Part-time work is undergoing a quiet transformation, gaining a more polished image in the process.

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Once confined primarily to entry-level or hourly-wage positions – retail, clerical, fast-food – it is also slowly becoming the province of professionals, as more parents, retirees, and young people seek flexible schedules.

More than 25 million people hold part-time positions in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Yet demand for higher-level part-time jobs still outstrips supply as many employers remain wary of alternatives to the 40-hour week.

"We have 16,000 people in our database," says Liz Norwood, cofounder of 10 til 2, a placement service that specializes in part-time professional jobs. "Unfortunately, we don't have 16,000 jobs."

Although her database, like those of similar placement agencies, includes men, it is women with children who are leading the charge in demanding good part-time jobs.

"Our typical candidate is a mom who wants a little more flexibility and balance," says Ms. Norwood, of Denver. "She wants to put her child on the bus in the morning, work several hours, and meet her child's bus in the afternoon."

That work can range from administrative positions to those in IT, sales support, graphic design, engineering, law, and finance. Most positions involve working four to 30 hours a week, Norwood says.

Kathi Tabrizi, now managing director of Part-time Professionals, a placement firm in Orange County, Calif., earlier parlayed a full-time position at Coca-Cola into part-time work after her twin daughters were born. "A lot of companies use it as a strategy to retain valuable employees," she says. Some businesses also allow job-sharing, in which two people split a full-time job, although that remains a scarce option.

Also scarce are good part-time jobs for older workers. "The need for part-time positions is becoming more acute because we have so many retirees now," says Robert Trumble, director of the Virginia Labor Studies Center at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. "It can be very difficult to get a good part-time job. Make sure you have it in hand before you retire."

This month, AARP and RetirementJobs.com began an online collaboration at aarp.org/jobs to help age 50-plus workers search for jobs from age-friendly employers. Workers in this age group account for 28 percent of the workforce.

Satisfying part-time jobs also represent a goal for many in Gen-Y. "They value personal time a lot higher than baby boomers do," says Joe Kilmartin, managing director of compensation consulting at Salary.com.

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