4 Differences in Today’s Temporary Worker

Today’s temp workers aren’t your grandparents’ temp workers.

The industry initially took off in the United States post-World War II, employing housewives in part-time clerical positions or to fill in for permanent employees on vacation or sick leave.

However, that is no longer the case. Staffing agencies employ temp workers of all ages, races and sexes in a vast array of industries, with about 13 million people working as temporary or contract employees each year, according to the American Staffing Association.

Here are four ways temporary workers today differ from temporary workers in days past.


  1. Temp workers aren’t just laborers or secretaries anymore. There are any number of industries that supply temp workers, including:


  • Human resources
  • Customer service
  • Medical
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Advertising
  • Accounting
  • Manufacturing
  • Information technology
  • Transportation


It’s not just bigger companies that are using these workers, either. Smaller companies are also using temp workers for special projects, employee absences or to meet seasonal demands.


2. Temp workers are more educated. As the number of industries using temp workers has grown, so has the demand for more educated workers. This reflects the fact that more people are attending college; in 2012, one-third of those ages 25 to 29 reported earning at least a bachelor’s degree, up from one-fifth in the early 1970s, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some staffing agencies even specialize in placing C-suite and vice president-level temporary workers.


3. Temp workers stay in their positions longer. While temp workers have traditionally been associated with one- or two-week stints, the average temp assignment in 2010 lasted 13.8 weeks, up from 9.6 weeks in 2000. Temp turnover was at a record low of 277 percent in 2010, as opposed to 441 percent in 2000, according to the American Staffing Association. In addition, many companies strike a deal with a staffing service to use an employee on a trial basis, and if that works out, the job can turn into a full-time position. Temp employees are also staying in jobs longer as companies hire them to cover an increased seasonal workload, a stint often lasting months.


4. Temp workers enjoy flexibility. Temp workers like the fact that they aren’t tied down to one place day in and day out, and they enjoy working for different companies. This reflects an overall desire by employees for more workplace flexibility. In the mid-1990s, 10 percent of Americans worked from home at least some of the time, while in 2012, that rose to 24 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Temp work can offer those work-from-home opportunities, especially in the customer service and IT industries.