Gary Brooks had a brand-new daughter and needed to make sure he had a steady paycheck. He had just moved to Baltimore and didn't know the area and didn't have time to spend looking for a permanent job. His solution? Signing on with S.E.S. Staffing Solutions. S.E.S. sent him to U.S. Can where Gary was hired as a bodymaker/feeder. A year and a half later he was promoted to quality technician, and another year later was made quality assurance manager. He was hired full-time by the company in 1993 and, with the help of U.S. Can's tuition assistance program, just graduated from UMUC (University of Maryland University College) with a B.S. degree in business management. "I knew once I got my foot in the door, I'd make a name for myself," says Gary. "It was just a matter of getting in so I could get a steady paycheck and support my daughter. Being a temp helped get me started."

Gary is not alone. According to Mary Kraft, president of Mary Kraft & Associates, being a temp is a great way to get started in the business world. "You can build your resume, take the opportunity to expand your area of expertise, and see what's available and what would be a good career move for you," says Kraft. There are a number of misconceptions surrounding being a temporary worker, says Kraft. Among them...just what is temporary and what is permanent these days? "A lot of people think that if you're a temp, you go from place to place every few days," she says.

"Twenty-five years ago, the average assignment lasted two weeks; today it averages nine weeks." In fact, says Kraft, she has placed employees in positions that have lasted as long as three years on a full-time basis. "The idea of what is temporary and what is permanent has changed through the years," Kraft observes.

Another misconception is that temps don't enjoy the benefits that permanent employees do--health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and so on. Not so, says Kraft. Of course, each company has its own rules, but by and large, being a temp is no longer akin to being relegated to the bottom of the employee heap.

Still another illusion many people labor under is that temps temp because they can't find a "real" job. That is also not the case.

People temp for a number of reasons...they enjoy the freedom, flexibility, and constant challenge, says Kraft, they have personal or family commitments they would like to attend to at various times, they'd like to make extra money and gain extra experience--like the schoolteacher who works for Kraft every summer, earning an extra paycheck and taking her "real world" experience back into the classroom with her. And then there are the students who might start out in their freshman year of college and temp all the way through graduate school.

Just what kinds of jobs are available for temporary workers? "Any position that can be handled on a permanent basis can be handled on a temporary basis," says Kraft, from unskilled laborers to tradespeople, retail sales staff, manufacturing personnel, even to CEOs. "After all, the top job in our country is really a temporary position," Kraft remarks.

Temps also can earn good money. Salaries are not the minimum wage many might have believed. What temps earn is commensurate with their skills and experience. While Kraft's temporary staffing service, which specializes in office support, secretarial support, and administrative positions for the medical administration field, does not have entry-level positions available, there are staffing agencies who provide training or internship programs.

In fact, ninety percent of staffing companies provided training at no cost to their temporary employees, according to a quarterly survey conducted by the National Association of Temporary and Staffing Services. In 1997, an estimated 4.8 million temporary workers received specific training in a wide variety of career-building skills.

Much of the instruction occurred in training centers, classrooms, or personal tutorials, but the majority of companies also supplied computer tutorials. Most offered training on data entry and basic computer skills as well as on word processing, spreadsheet and database software. Staffing companies also helped workers with education in math, reading, English as a second language, resume and cover letter writing, interviewing skills, telephone etiquette, dressing for success, stress management, Internet applications, bookkeeping, collections, sales, and customer service.

Hiring on with a temp agency helps ease the job-seeking process, says Dick McGee, Jr., executive vice president of the Abacus Corporation. "A lot of people find it difficult to go from interview to interview," he says. "This is a wonderful one-stop opportunity." McGee adds that the benefits work both ways. Companies turn to temp agencies for their staffing needs because "they can then concentrate on what they do best, and we can concentrate on what we do best." Which, in Abacus' case, means finding employees in the light industrial, administrative, and hospitality industries. "We know the market, we're a large regional player, and we can find the right employee, do a drug screen, a background check, and get them to work as quickly as possible."

Written By: Carol Sorgen
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