'Temporaries' find short-term jobs offer experience, variety

Karen a recent college graduate, works as a temporary worker to help support herself until she lands a job in her field. Dean is retired from his job as a car salesman, but he likes work and enjoys the extra money he brings in as a temporary worker.

Both Karen and Dean get work through a temporary service that hires employees and sends them out to various firms that need help during vacations and busy seasons.But retirees like Dean and recent high school and college graduates such as Karen make up just a part of the ranks of temporary workers.

"Temporaries" include teachers and students seeking summer employment, recent transplants to a city testing the job market, persons between jobs, displaced homemakers about to reenter the job force, mothers who only want to work a few days a week, moonlighters who seek additional income, and persons with careers such as painting that don't always mean full-time employment.

Temporary workers make up 7 percent of office workers and 2 percent of the total work force, according to the National Association of Temporary Services (NATS). And there seems to be plenty of jobs for temporary workers; most services report more jobs than workers. Changes in the field of temporary work have helped it to blossom.

"Ten years ago the accurate perception of a temporary job was one of office and clerical work," says Charles Deale, director of public affairs for NATS in Washington, D.C. "Only 12 to 15 percent were industrial [or other] jobs."

Today, although clerical work still makes up around 60 percent of temporary work, health care and data processing are growing fast as areas where temporary workers are needed.There is much more specialization. This is evidenced by the listings under "Employment contractors -- temporary help" in the Yellow Pages. There are temporary services specializing in secretarial, designer consulting, technical services, housecleaning and party assistance, homemaking, health and child care, industrial, data processing, executive, legal work, accounting and bookkeeping, truck driving and warehouse, and insurance jobs.

And every temporary service tells of unusual jobs, such as sorting screws from a huge pile or spending weekdays as department store Santa Clauses. Adia Temporaries recently provided people to demonstrate the advantages of kiwi fruit in supermarkets.

The breadth of the temporary assignments has changed somewhat. Not all are merely one day or one week -- they can last one month or more.

"People are hired temporarily for special projects, such as tax preparation or inventory," says Mr. Deale. In fact, some temporary services say they sometimes have a hard time getting work for people who only want to work several days a week.

"We can assign them to one- and two-day jobs, but we can't predict how much we will keep them busy," says Evelyn Cook of Adia Temporaries in Valley Forge, Pa.

Pay varies with skill and the market.

"In the higher skills jobs, pay is excellent, if not equal to an equivalent permanent job," says Mr. Deale. "In the lower skills jobs, a person will get somewhat lower pay than an equivalent permanent job."

Most temporary workers do not mind. While some do temporary work to get themselves out of financial tight spots, one survey indicates more people do temporary work for the freedom it offers than for any other reason.

"People know they can take off time to travel or go back to school," says Charles Deale. Others say they like the variety of work.

"I just like to be doing something a little different," says a social workers who does temporary work on his days off.

Some come for the experience they gain.

"These people want to build up skills and feel more confident before they look for permanent jobs," explains a representative of one temporary service.

Sometimes temporary work can lead to a permanent job. One man got a job at a consulting firm after working as a temporary and a woman landed a job at an accounting company.

But others have given up temporary work. Some women complain they never get career direction from a temporary service, because assignments for women are almost always crelical jobs. One career seeker, who knows she doesn't want to do secretarial work, quit "temping" after deciding she just didn't like many of the assignments. She lasted four days as a cashier at a university book tore and turned down an offer as a temporary model at a camera company.

People who do not have good typing and office skills find they are at a disadvantage. One temporary worker found the service couldn't always place him because he was not a good typist.

Others resent the fact that temporary workers are expected to know everything right from the start.

"I was given five minutes training on the telephone, and then expected to run the whole operation," says one woman who worked a switchboard. And although some temporary workers get assignments that last several months, others find short-term assignments do not allow them to build friendships or job contacts.

Though agencies say they have more jobs than people to fill them, most admit that the reason is because people do not have the training for the specialized jobs that companies now want filled temporarily. As a result, some agencies, such as Kelly Services, are putting more and more emphasis on free training and education for temporary workers. This attracts workers while helping to solve a shortage of technically trained workers.

Another carrot that a few services are begining to offer is increased benefits. Adia Temporaries recently began providing both health and life in surance after a survey indicated temporary workers were more interested in benefits than higher pay. Temporary Inc., a national firm, offers health insurance, paid vacations, and a credit union for temporary workers along with the mandatory social security and unemployment insurance coverage. None offer retirement plans.

Both Karen, the college graduate who is job hunting, and Dean, the retiree of who enjoys part-time work, say they will continue to do temporary work. Dean likes the chance to meet new people and earn pocket money, and Karen enjoys financial security while she searches for a good job in her field.

"I'd rather get a job I feel good about than have to scramble to take the first one that comes around because of economics ," says Karen.

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