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Don’t string me along, U.S. temp workers say

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Don’t string me along, U.S. temp workers say

| architects, architecture jobs, Hiring trends, jobs, recession, unemployed architects | March 03, 2011

Don’t string me along says architecture temp Althea Norwood Roberts

* Quarter of jobs created in past year were temporary
* Temps about 2 percent of overall employment
* Companies still cautious about permanent hiring

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Althea Norwood Roberts gives employers three months to turn her temporary job into a permanent one. Then she looks elsewhere.

That’s as long as a company needs to see if she’s a good fit, the 35-year old single mother from California believes.
Norwood Roberts, currently temping for an architecture firm, is like millions of other Americans who are wondering if she will get permanent work.

“Temping is kind of like dating. It’s a trial-run for the company,” she said. “If they can’t make up their mind about you after 90 days, it’s probably not going to happen, they’re stringing you along.”

Norwood Roberts, who has a five-year old daughter, wants a job with security, good benefits and a pension. “It is not optional at this point. It is a necessity,” she said.

In the past year, about a quarter of all jobs created in the United States were temporary as companies remained cautious about the outlook for the economic recovery.

Over the past three recessions, temps — who are easier to hire and fire — have suffered the quickest and most severe cuts to their numbers at the beginning of a downturn, and then led broader employment gains when the economy recovered. For a graphic see http://r.reuters.com/geb97r

The pace of temporary job creation after the most recent recession — an average of about 25,000 per month — has been faster than in the past two, potentially a good sign for a labor market struggling with a jobless rate of 9 percent.

In the 17 months after the 2001 recession — the same period which has lapsed since the one in 2007-09 — employers added just 1,400 temporary jobs a month and the lag between the pick-up in temp hiring and the economy starting to add full-time jobs was 10 months longer.

But the faster pace of temporary hiring this time around hasn’t yet translated into significant full-time job creation.

“It will be a really good sign when we see those temporary jobs turn into permanent jobs,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said this month.

Peter Capelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says the jury is still out on whether the U.S. labor market is undergoing a structural change towards more temp workers or whether companies are just biding their time until demand for their products picks up and they add more long-term employees.

“It’s probably a bit of both. Another thing may be that employers are using temp work as a more thorough interview process, so it could be masking permanent hiring,” he said.

That is a trend that Randstad, the world’s second-biggest staffing firm, is seeing.

Randstad said more of its clients than in prior recoveries are using a “temp to perm” approach to hiring, to try the employee out before committing to taking them on.

NO LOYALTY BOTH WAYS

Some companies are actively shifting to what they say is a more flexible workforce.

In January, Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, slashed 1,700 middle-management jobs and said it would add thousands of part-time customer service employees.

One of the middle managers laid off was Dean Lutz, 43, from South Carolina. Lutz says the job market is the worst he has seen in his career, with most available jobs either seasonal or part-time.

“Honestly, jobs available out there aren’t very good.” he said. Companies “don’t want to pay benefits or higher wages.”

Lowe’s move is “emblematic of an evolution that took place starting in the late 1970s in which employers showed less commitment to their workers,” said Gary Burtless, a professor at the Brookings Institution.

But he said there is little evidence to suggest that temporary hiring has become more common in the past couple of years, with temporary workers as a share of overall employment peaking at 2.4 percent at the height of the dotcom bubble.

Despite the faster pick-up, the number of temporary jobs is still down about 15 percent from before the recession.

Tom Bonds, vice president of operations at the Huron Valley Steel Company in Anniston, Alabama, said he expects a shift back to permanent workers once there is more clarity about the economic and regulatory outlook.

“We prefer full-time workers, because they are going to be there … with temps there is no loyalty both ways,” he said.

While temporary workers may be high caliber at times of high unemployment, the cream of the crop may be quickly snapped up once the recovery picks up steam.

Norwood Roberts, the single mother in California, is optimistic. She has had two previous temporary jobs in the past 10 years, both of which turned into permanent positions.

“I have been able to juggle things so far. Some people don’t have that luxury,” she said. “I am one of the lucky ones.”

(additional reporting by Nick Zieminski, Dan Burns and Dhanya Skariachan)

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(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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About the author

After working at various design practices on a full-time and freelance basis, and starting his own design firm, David McFadden saw that there was a gap to be filled in the industry. In 1984, he created an expansive hub for architects and hiring firms to sync up, complete projects, and mutually benefit. That hub was Consulting For Architects Inc., which enabled architects to find meaningful design work, while freeing hiring firms from tedious hiring-firing cycles. This departure from the traditional, more rigid style of employer-employee relations was just what the industry needed - flexibility and adaption to modern work circumstances. David has successfully advised his clients through the trials and tribulations of four recessions – the early 80’s, the early 90’s, the early 2000’s, and the Great Recession of 2007.

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