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Temp services offer work, if only for a time

Having a temporary job is like being a pinch-hitter in baseball. You don't get much attention, and the pay could be better. But if you perform well, there's a chance of cracking the starting lineup.

Most temporary jobs last less than a year, the pay may not be much above minimum wage, and when it comes to benefits like health insurance and a pension fund, that's usually out of the question. Then there's the adjustment to a new work environment where you and everyone else know you probably won't be there long.

Unless a person has specific skills or lots of experience, most temporary jobs pay less than permanent positions of a similar level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2004, the average temp worker earned $5.27 an hour less than the national average wage.

But every day, tens of thousands of Floridians are willing to sign on.

More than 5 percent of Florida's workers, some 590,000 people, were classified as temporary or contract workers in 2007 by the American Staffing Association.

Nearly 80 percent of them worked full time, the average job lasted about four months, and about a third of all temp workers moved on to permanent status.

A vital role

There are two forms of temp jobs — the ones where a person is placed in a company by a temp service for a fee, and the ones where the company itself hires temporary workers. Ed Peachey, president and CEO of WorkNet Pinellas, the county's employment service, sees both kinds.

The job offers are for production workers, computer programmers, insurance reps and IT specialists. But the numbers aren't soaring.

"Once you start to see a lot more activity from temp services,'' Peachey said, "that's an indication the economy is turning around. A lot of time companies will work through a temp agency first.

"In a down economy,'' Peachey added, "a lot of folks are just looking for income and a temporary job that at least gets them back into the work force again. For the most part, people are told it's a temporary job and what the time frame is for that job, and then they have to make a choice.

"Temporary staffing companies play a vital role in placing people in jobs.''

The jobs are there

Bethany Perkins, a spokeswoman for Manpower, one of the largest temp services in the country with more than 400,000 workers on its roster, said overall business is up. And she thinks she knows why — record layoffs, plus the fact that her company offers health insurance and a 401(k) plan to its employees.

Also, about 40 percent of the people Manpower places are later hired as permanent workers.

Perkins said the jobs range from janitorial, office clerical and call center work, to mortgage underwriters and scientists. The key to securing a permanent job, she said, is to ask a lot of questions and take a position that will challenge you.

David Shankman, a Tampa attorney who specializes in employment law, said the benefits for an employee include the possibility of getting 40 hours of work through a number of different employers, and a central place to seek employment. The benefit for the employer, Shankman said, is that the company doesn't declare the worker as an employee, thereby saving such costs as workers' compensation. Those costs are usually figured into the fee the temp agency charges the company.

The negative, Shankman said, is that employers can misunderstand the impact of using a temporary employee. "The employers believe that because the temp employee is coming from a staffing company, they (the employers) are not obligated to comply with federal and state laws governing things like discrimination and disability accommodations.

"That's a mistake, and employers have been sued because they thought a staffing company employee would be treated differently than their regular work force.''

The jobs are there. Janelle Weaver, the St. Petersburg-Tampa manager for Kelly Services Inc., another temp giant with 650,000 U.S. workers, said her company currently has 400 job openings for customer service reps and support staff at Ceridian, a St. Petersburg-based benefits services company. Many of those jobs, she said, could become permanent.

Weaver's best advice: "Be on time every day, come prepared, and put your best foot forward in any direction possible.''

So you want to be a temp . . .

• If you work for a temporary agency, full or part time, you are considered a temporary worker. Your employer is the agency that gave you the assignment, not the company where you are working. Your paycheck will come from the temp agency.

• If you were hired by a company (not a temp agency) for a limited amount of time, then you are a temporary employee of the company that hired you. Your paycheck will come from the company.

• Temporary employees have many of the same rights as permanent workers, including the right to be paid at least the state minimum wage, to be paid overtime, and be eligible for unemployment and workers' compensation benefits. Discrimation laws also apply.

• Most temporary workers are paid on an hourly basis and are not entitled to company benefits such as extended vacations, company pension and profit-sharing plans, and health insurance.

• About 2.6 million Americans are employed by staffing companies every business day.

Sources: Employee Rights Center, American Staffing Association

Temp services offer work, if only for a time 03/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 11:15am]
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