Jobs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are short-term, and focus on completing a specific project. Others last until an employer decides that the help is no longer needed. And some jobs allow employees to work just two or three days a week, or telecommute from home.
In the parlance of the business world, these are “contract” or “temporary” jobs, and people holding them are known as “contingent” workers.
Right now, contingent employees compose about two percent of the entire workforce, reports Jim Link, managing director at Randstad, a national staffing firm that helps prospective workers find temporary to permanent jobs.
According to a recent Randstad survey, nearly one-quarter of all companies in the United States plan to increase their share of contingent workers in the next twelve months.
It’s typical for companies to hire contingent workers during the recovery from a recession, according to Heidi Shierholz, economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. “They’re the first hired [when business conditions improve] and first fired [when demand drops],” she notes.
Given the tenuous nature of contingent positions, it’s hard to believe anyone would prefer them to a more secure, traditional job.
Unfortunately, “There is a lack of hiring overall across many industries,” says Shierholz.
Getting hired – for a contingent job or a traditional one – is the only concern for many jobseekers. Moreover, the Randstad study finds that high-performing contingent workers often land a permanent offer.
However, notes Link, Randstad research shows that many contingent employees like the flexibility a contingent job provides, Some like that it allows them to be in charge of their own career, and some say the compensation is better.
Here’s a closer look at this corner of the job market:
The American Staffing Association recently announced a 2011 college graduate as their 2013 National Staffing Employee of the Year. In making that announcement, the ASA stressed that contingent work is especially valuable for today’s young workers.
“Staffing agencies are a great way for a current or recent grad to test the waters of various types of roles within a desired industry,” agrees Daniel Newell, job developer with San Jose State University.
Adds Dorothy Graham, manager of the career coaching center at Bellevue University, “Scan the job search sites and look for staffing agencies that tend to hire in [fields you’re interest in].”
Staffing firms won’t take on everyone, however, says Kimberley Fischer-Kinne, director of career services at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. “They will interview candidates to ensure they’re qualified.”
Since so many workers have been impacted by the rocky economy, a resume with month-long unemployment streaks doesn’t carry as much stigma as it did, says Dana Leavy-Detrick, a Brooklyn, N.Y. career and small business consultant.
Still, she notes, “I believe having a temporary position, even if it’s not entirely related to the type of work you’d like to be doing, is a better substitute than doing nothing at all.”
But a string of several different types of temporary positions may not reflect well to some employers, warns Fischer-Kinne.
While contingent work is a bright spot in a down economy, a career job that comes with generous benefits gives a worker the financial security he or she can’t find on a contingent basis.
A key reason Fischer-Kinne sees employers hiring recent graduates through temporary staffing firms is that they don’t have to invest a lot upfront in benefits.
Some staffing firms do, however, offer workers benefits after they complete a certain number of hours, Fischer-Kinne acknowledges.
Indeed, the Randstad survey shows that 61 percent of contingent workers are offered health insurance.
Ironically, one of the downsides to temporary jobs may be that a worker stays in that mode for longer than he expected, notes Fischer-Kinne.“You could wind up in a temporary position for longer than you thought or you may move around to a few in a short period and that may not reflect well with another prospective employer.”
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