Half Full: The Positives of a Growing Temporary Workforce

Drum roll please … we are finally getting a peek at the new economy. It’s slowly unfurling its mystery, with new jobs and new rules. Both employers and employees are watching and waiting to see how it will all play out. When will employment levels be back to pre-recession levels? Will the basic structure of employment relationships change as part of our new reality? Will we ever get back to life as we know it?

Here at Mom Corps we are seeing an increased flurry of temporary staffing activity amongst our professional staffing franchises across the country. It seems we are not alone. U.S. News and World Report recently reported that the temp industry has regained 87 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession and continues to add them steadily. Private employers as a whole have only recovered half the jobs shed in the recession.

This would seem a natural cycle for economic recovery. Temporary work has, in the past, been considered a leading indicator for an improving job market — a harbinger of improved prospects for people seeking permanent work. But in this recovery, there are signs that our new economy will include more temporary positions for the long haul. Just look at the data; temp workers make up 2.3 percent of the nation’s workforce, up from half a percent 30 years ago. While the numbers themselves may seem insignificant, it is a 400 percent increase and indicates a long-term trend. Some labor experts predict that as early as 2020, 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies will be temporary or contingent workers, up from 20 percent now. Some may say this is a bleak outlook for our future. I disagree.

A new economy will have a new measure of success. We will likely see structural transformation in the workforce and its relationship to what deems as healthy. Will the number of permanently employed be a key driver to success? Or will corporate health be measured by a company’s ability to maintain a core group of permanent employees managing essential functions, using highly skilled temporary professionals for business spikes and special projects? With the fast-paced nature of our global economy, I think this is our new reality.

For skilled professionals seeking flexibility, the new economy has a variety of advantages. With an increase of contingent opportunities, those who seek alternative work arrangements in the form of part-time, telecommuting or project work, can find meaningful work-life synthesis. Many enjoy flexible employment comprised of a variety of professional engagements rather than the long-term, relatively permanent employment of the old economy.

Our economy and the way we view employment is changing dramatically. And frankly, it should. The role of the skilled contingent worker is becoming more crucial to corporate productivity. As a society, we need to improve the infrastructure for those not “permanently employed.” Improvements include access to comprehensive benefits and technical accommodations that afford the contingent worker a positive work-life experience. We are evolving in that direction.

Life will never be what it once was—where success meant getting a gold watch after 50 years with one company. But it will have flexibility and malleability that reflects today’s work-life synergies; and to me, that’s progress!

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