Increasing number of temporary jobs might become permanent

When he was laid off from an Augusta trucking company a year and a half ago, Scott Finley took to odd jobs -- becoming a handyman -- to pay the bills.


After months of searching, the 49-year-old found steadier work just seven weeks ago as a temp-to-hire at RBW Logistics. If all goes well, he will make the transition to the permanent position as the company's transportation manager.

"The only downside is that you're nervous about the economy," Finley said. "Any transportation-related field is one of the first industries to feel the pinch when the customers start tightening their belts. When a recession starts happening, they feel it first."

The U.S. Labor Department reported last week that payrolls in the temporary-help services sector increased for the fifth straight month, rising 47,500 in February to a total of 2 million people.

Temporary hiring is also on an upswing in Augusta, according to staffing agencies.

Traditionally, economists say, increases in temps are a sign that businesses are becoming more optimistic about their financial picture and that a rise in permanent hiring might not be far behind.

Finley is among the more fortunate. Most temporary workers don't have a set path to permanent employment, reflecting a company's desire to maintain as much flexibility as possible in case more jobs must be shed, said Robert Kelly, a staffing specialist at Augusta Staffing Associates.

"We're leaving the nastiness of 2009, but still it's not all the way back where we should be," he said.

In Augusta, manufacturing is the brightest spot for temporary work, according to agencies. Other fields that have seen an uptick in temp hiring include medical, engineering, information technology, accounting and defense.

With the planned expansion of Plant Vogtle in Burke County, there is a demand for industrial construction jobs, such as welders and fabricators, said Tammy O'Tyson, the branch manager of staffing for Sizemore Staffing in Augusta.

"You're seeing an increase because with the jobs coming to town people want to use temporary workers so that they can have the extra staff but they don't have to be faced with the unemployment (insurance)," she said. "You have all these companies that have been through these big layoffs."

Augusta Staffing has about 60 to 70 job openings a month, Kelly said. The temp job market probably bottomed out last spring or summer and started to pick up steam in the fall, he said.

January marked the fourth straight month that employers added temp workers to their payroll.

Although the temporary hiring outlook is improving, that doesn't mean a full-fledged economic recovery is under way, said Randall Hatcher, the president of MAU Workforce Solutions.

The current downturn is different from the 2001 recession because employers laid off permanent and temporary workers alike, he said. The 2001 recession saw more temp workers lose their jobs, he said.

Now, as companies begin to add to their payrolls, they will probably rely on a higher percentage of temp workers and try to outsource functions that they deem "nonessential," Hatcher said.

"Everyone is realizing that you can't predict a lot of things," Hatcher said. "There needs to be a lot more flexibility and variability in how they respond."

Still, some workers see a temp job as a good way to get a foot in the door and hope for the best.

Sandra Rodriguez, 35, began a temporary job at Augusta Housing Authority about two weeks ago.

She previously worked in property management before moving to Augusta in 2008.

The upside of temp work is the flexibility it provides a worker if a job doesn't seem to be a good fit, said Rodriguez, who previously worked as a temp for Blue Cross Blue Shield.

"The downside of things is not having the medical (insurance) and having children," she said.

And after a string of months unemployed, getting back in the regular work force can be nerve-wracking, Finley said.

"At first I was a little nervous because I have 30 years in transportation and logistics," he said, "but I had been out of it for almost two years.

"It's like getting on a bicycle and learning to ride again."

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