January 14, 2010
In defense of temp work
A couple of articles on the recent rise of temporary hires caught my eye. In late December, the New York Times reported that companies have steadily been hiring more temporary workers (including independent contractors, freelancers, and permatemps) since the start of fall.
As the New York Times put it, "...corporate managers have been reluctant to shift to hiring permanent workers, relying instead on temps and other casual labor easily shed if demand slows again."
In fact, the paper reported that in November, the country's workforce added 52,000 temp workers, more new workers than in any other category. "Not even health care and government, stalwarts through the long recession, did better," the New York Times noted.
Although this is good news for workers looking for some interim income -- or those hoping to break into a more permanent gig by "auditioning" as a temp -- the overall message of the Times article is, predictably, that temping is a subpar way to make a living (less job security, little to no benefits, and so on).
This month, BusinessWeek offered a much broader, much more grim take on the topic, painting temps as the nation's disposable workers, big business' golden ticket to smaller budgets, and yet another symptom of the demise of employee compensation and bargaining power. As Seattle's sizable temp population knows, and as BusinessWeek points out, this trend is nothing new.
Most of the nation's 10.3 million independent contractors (including on-call temps, freelancers, and permatemps) would probably prefer the perks, permanence, and prestige that come with employee status. But I'm going to say something very unpopular here: Some seasoned temps, yours truly included, are fans of the fleeting-work model.
For someone who prefers to work gig to gig, a quick trip to temp land can expose you to new skills, technologies, professional contacts, and companies. As a bonus, you get to sit out most of those onerous staff meetings and some of the political turbulence that plague your employee counterparts. For the lone wolf who's accustomed to working at home, a multi-week or multi-month temping stint can be a welcome break from working solo in your skivvies, hustling for new projects each month, and paying self-employment taxes.
To me, temp, contract, and permatemp work have always been a happy medium between running my own show as a sole proprietor and committing myself to one employer indefinitely (or at least until one of us flinches and says sayonara). How about you? Where do you stand on the temp preference spectrum? Has temping or contracting served you well and allowed you to achieve some of your larger personal, professional, and financial goals? Or is it the bane of your existence?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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