From Temps to Tops
Untraditional workers make major headway.
Dramatic increases in temporary, “free agent” jobs and a related shift away from traditional nine-to-five employment could be precursors to a change in the structure of the American workforce, according to a study by national staffing company Kelly Services, Inc.
Before the economy stalled, a record one-quarter of all U.S. workers were listed as free agents last year. Assuming the economy rebounds and grows to support this trend, 41 percent of all U.S. workers could become free agents within the next decade.
The study initially cited a growth rate in the U.S. workforce for temporary/contract workers of 22 percent, with another 13 percent considering free agency. Today, 26 percent of the survey’s respondents work as free agents, and 17 percent are considering it. The shift is being driven largely by worker dissatisfaction with internal corporate cultures and by the broad recognition among corporations that hiring in specialized categories is not what they do best.
For the Time Being
“Free agents are searching for more job satisfaction with fewer restrictions than with conventional employment,” said Carl Camden, Kelly’s Chief Operating Officer. “This is particularly true among those under 30 years of age. They are the group most interested in free agency and account for the potential strong growth of temporary and contract workers in the future.” Free agents are defined as workers employed outside the traditional labor force in such positions as freelancers, independent professionals, full-time temporary workers, consultants, and contractors.
As specialized technologies and services expand in the free market economy, so do the number of free agents required by business to implement the specialties and so do the number of business managers hired to monitor the free agents. This means that the growth of a full-time temporary work force is occurring at a rapid pace.
“You have to look at companies heavily staffed with specialists in such diverse areas as , insurance, 401(k) planning, and information technology,” says Paula Fleming, Director of Human Resource Effectiveness at Xerox. “It’s often beyond the company’s core competency to manage these specialties as their complexities grow. That’s when the companies outsource to staffing agencies that know the specialties cold. By doing this, the companies create both new opportunities for free agents and a runway for new managers who have to deal with the agencies.”
But there is a downside. “When the economy slows the free agents usually get released first, and thus serve as a safety valve to shield full-time employees from layoffs,” says Steve Armstrong, a Kelly Vice President and General Manager. “But the shoe is on the other foot in good economic times. That’s when the hiring decisions are on the side of the free agents and they can take their time sizing up companies they might like to work for.”
According to Armstrong, home computer use and the explosion of the Internet could add measurably in the future to the general trend toward free agency. “Direct placement websites that work from resumes give free agents the opportunity to monitor openings offered by national staffing companies on a daily basis,” he said.
Uncle Sam Steps Up
The Federal law removing social security disincentives for senior citizens will also have an impact. As of last year, millions of vigorous men and women over sixty-five were free to seek “gold collar” jobs for the first time since Social Security started. These are jobs that pay well and have strong career opportunities, but don’t require a four-year college degree.
The push for gold collar jobs may lead to an even greater work force challenge: ‘platinum jobs,’ according to the Kelly study. These involve professional careers in law, science, finance and information technology that require even more skills and training than the gold collar jobs.
That’s where companies like Volt Information Sciences help, says Volt area manager Francine Pieper. “We’re dedicated to a broad range of highly-skilled disciplines, from supplying the professional services of temporary medical doctors and lawyers to technical printing to office support. All of these areas have seen substantial growth in recent years.
“There’s also growth in the number of retirees who work full-time to augment their incomes and in the number who only work three or four months a year so that they can travel and enjoy themselves,” Pieper explains. “For example, we have a retired fire chief who likes to stuff envelopes just so he can to talk to people and meet prospective golf partners. I don’t think he’s going to alter the structure of the American workforce much, but he’s certainly lots of fun to be around.”