Temporary employment firms last year placed a million people in jobs that earned them more than $10.1 billion in wages.
Compared with the $10.7 billion generated in 1989, the nation's 3,500 to 4,000 temporary service companies saw a 6 percent decrease in business in 1990, no surprise to industry experts in light of the recession.
It's usual for business at temporary agencies to decrease during recessions, says Bruce Steinberg, a spokesman for the National XTC Association of Temporary Services in Alexandria, Va.
However, this recent recession has highlighted a trend in the temporary service business, says Steinberg. "Technical and professional workers are the fastest growing jobs in this industry," he says.
While 63 percent of temporary help employees are still clerical workers, the growth for the industry is coming from skilled technical workers such as engineers, computer technicians, accountants and lawyers.
"We are getting a higher quality of candidates as a byproduct of the recession," said Carl Wright, a partner at Don Richard Associates, a Baltimore firm that has both a temporary agency and executive job-placement service.
In the last several years, technical and medical employee placements continue to grow at 9 and 7 percent annual rates, respectively, according to a recent study by the association.
"Companies are realizing that they may not need the services of those types of people on a regular basis," Steinberg says. "But that means it's fast becoming a market for temporaries. Companies offering workers in these areas will be on the cutting edge of where this industry is heading."
Three years ago, Robert and Carol Tencher started HumaService Connection. The couple saw a need for temporary social service workers as state and private agencies cut back their full-time staff.
On average, Robert Tencher says, they dispatch 30 people a week to work with special education children and severely physically disabled and mentally and emotionally ill patients.
Tencher and his wife relocated to Baltimore from New England, where he worked in the mental health industry. "We saw that there was a need in New England and thought it would be the same in Baltimore," he says.
Initially, Tencher says, clients needed licensed social workers but now they are hiring temporary help needed to work directly with severely disabled patients.
"Last year there were a lot of professional positions but since the recession there are calls only for the most desperate assignments," he says. "Clients are calling in search of help to work with individuals with multiple handicaps. Money is only being spent on the neediest of the needy."
Tencher says most of his temporary workers are people going to school part time or graduate students in the social service field. The wage rate averages $6 an hour in the basic fields and about twice that for licensed social workers.
"We hardly even need to advertise," Tencher says In 1988, Mandy Fuller says, she started a temporary agency for clerical workers but in just a year found a niche in the food service industry. Now, 80 percent of her placements are with hotels, caterers and other food service companies. In any given week she places 100 workers in jobs ranging from chef to dishwasher.
"In 1989, I began to notice a slowdown in the clerical business so I went after food service," says Fuller, who is president of Associated Staffing And Personnel Inc., which runs A.S.A.P Temporaries.
Robert Patterson, who was recently hired as a full-time clerical worker for A.S.A.P., says that while looking for full-time employment he took temporary work as a waiter and bartender. Although Patterson, 24, says he could now find full-time work as either a waiter or bartender, he prefers working on a temporary basis. On average, he says, he earns $10,000 to $12,000 a year.
"It's fun, enjoyable and I like the flexibility," Patterson says.
Fuller says she has more requests from food service clients than workers to fill the positions.
Howard Conaway Jr., who runs Conaway Legal Personnel, says the slump in the real estate market has hurt his business but as a result he recently had to place two lawyers in legal secretary positions. The attorneys had been working for small real estate law firms in Columbia and Towson, he says.
"They are both not happy being legal secretaries, but they are happy to be getting a paycheck," Conaway says. Temporary legal secretary positions pay between $10 and $12 an hour, he says.
Conaway, who started his temporary business in 1979, says that since 1984 he has dealt almost exclusively in placing legal personnel.
"I have seen an upsurge of talented people looking for any type of work," Conaway says.
Wright says that as local defense contractors and engineering firms are forced to lay off skilled workers they turn around and sign up with temporary service companies to bring back workers on a short-term basis.
"Despite the recession, there is a market for technical people who want to work sporadically," Wright says.