Number of temps in the work force has tripled since 1990
|NOT JUST PEOPLE POWER: Rene Kelly, a sales representative with Express Personnel in Bellingham, said her company provides more than just staffing options for local companies. The business also offers testing services that evaluate associate levels of proficiency in various areas, such as computer and accounting skills, or dexterity for physical jobs.|
Sometimes, temporary workers can get flaky with the flakes when it comes to performing duties on the factory floor at the Nature’s Path Foods production facility in Blaine, said Blain Trenary, human resources generalist with the company.
Workers at the 70,000-square-foot facility primarily help to produce organic cereal foods, granola and rice bars for the business, which is based in Richmond, British Columbia. For many facility employees — who often work 12-hour shifts — the cereal industry is not a cinch.
“Sometimes temporary employees aren’t always reliable,” he said. “We’ll get a list of who is supposed to come in, and a lot of times 30 to 50 percent of them may not even show up at all. So that can be a challenge.”
Other workers may leave mid-shift, he said.
What are the tasks that might drive them out the door? A lot of the cereal containers can weigh anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds apiece, and workers are often required to place them on pallets in stacks that can rise approximately seven feet in height, Trenary said.
“Boxes might be coming at you once every 10 seconds,” he said. “Doing that for a 12-hour shift can be very taxing — especially if you haven’t done that kind of physical labor for a while.”
While Trenary said the end result isn’t always optimal for employer and temporary employee, oftentimes it does work out in favor of both parties, he said.
“Some people just don’t realize that (it can be hard work), so when they get a chance to experience it from a temp labor point of view, they can see whether it is going to work or not work for them,” he said. “We also get to see whether they are a good fit.”
Such is the life of a temporary worker, with one foot in the company door and the other foot ready to hit the road. For companies that utilize their services, the workers can be used for a variety of reasons, including as help to fill in for missing regular employees, as people power for temporary projects, or as stopgaps to assist companies in getting through busy times.
A staffing solution
According to 2005 estimates by the American Staffing Association, 2.9 million people per day were employed by staffing companies in the United States last year, and 12.1 million temporary and contract employees were hired by U.S. staffing firms over the course of the year.
One such firm is Express Personnel Services, Inc., in Bellingham. The company helps individuals looking for work (whom they call associates) in a variety of different sectors, including the office industry, general labor, bookkeeping and accounting.
Rene Kelly, a sales representative with Express Personnel, said that historically about 60 percent of the associates who went to work for her company have been general labor workers (such as production and assembly jobs or work on a fishing boat), while 40 percent have worked in office services.
Currently, Express works with approximately 150 associates and more than 70 companies — numbers that have gradually increased over the years, she said.
“Now, the office service (sector) is definitely picking up as the economy continues to grow and more companies are coming into the area,” she said. “Right now we have more job orders than we have people to fill them.”
When she spoke in mid-October, Kelly said that Express had about 70 open positions they were looking to fill with area companies (referred to as clients). Understandably, these numbers fluctuate depending upon various factors, such as the state of the economy, and the time of the year, she said.
“We are in the business of helping people find jobs, and then also helping companies find qualified people to fill those positions,” Kelly said. Options for filling these posts can range from temporary and contract staffing opportunities — which can vary in tenure from a few hours to a few months or longer— to evaluation hires, which allow businesses to observe associates while on Express Personnel’s payroll before making the associate part of the staff.
“Not only is this good for the company to make sure it’s a good fit, but employees like it, too,” Kelly said. “Just as a company is evaluating a potential employee, the employee is evaluating the company. It has to be a win-win situation.”
Express also offers direct hire and professional search services to help companies hire regular staff members.
Kelly said Express doesn’t charge associates for the service, but client companies who utilize associates pay a bill rate to Express Services, which includes among other things, an associate’s hourly pay rate. Kelly said a major benefit of working with Express, from an employer standpoint, is that Express absorbs all liability issues that may occur with associates — a policy that is the industry standard for most staffing services. These issues may include workers’ compensation, payroll taxes or unemployment expenses.
“They are our employees. We are the employer,” she said. “For a company to bring in an employee for three months, then put them on their payroll, and for whatever reason, let them go — that can be very costly to a company.”
If client companies do have work-related issues with associates, Express also offers consultation services, Kelly said.
“We will work with the client company as far as how they want to deal with the issue,” she said. “We give them the option to deal with the (issue), but if (a company) doesn’t feel comfortable dealing with the employee, we will handle it.”
Companies who use Express for direct hire and professional search reasons may find the option appealing, especially in a tight market, Kelly said.
“Finding good, qualified candidates is very difficult,” she said. “Basically, if the client company runs an ad on their own, they spend ‘X’ amount of dollars advertising in various publications. And that can be a lot of money that adds up. A company can get a multitude of resumes … So, they spend the money for the ad, and they spend their time going through all of those resumes. They spend time setting up the interviews to find out they don’t have a viable candidate.”
Express offers testing services that evaluate associate levels of proficiency in various areas, such as computer and accounting skills, or dexterity for physical jobs. Candidates who are sent out to worksites are interviewed by Express, and Express checks on associate references and administers background checks. The company can also perform drug testing at their office, Kelly said.
“Companies do not pay anything until they have somebody start working,” Kelly said. After associates accrue 500 hours of time as Express employees, they can participate in a major medical plan.
She said it is common for Express employees to transform from temporary employees to full-time staff members.
“A lot of our candidates who we send out to client companies, sometimes — even if it’s a temp job — the client company finds out that the person is just a fabulous worker and they can’t live without them,” she said.
There are also times when matches don’t work out, Kelly said.
“We’re dealing with people. We can do things just as if a company was hiring on its own,” she said. “We don’t have complete control over everyone that we send. We can basically do the best screenings that we can, which is better than none.”
Many associates are new to the area, or have been laid off from work, Kelly said. Salaries are based on the client company and the job description, she said.
“At any point in time, it is economics supply and demand,” she said. “People aren’t willing to work for minimum wage anymore, especially if there are specialized skills involved.”
According to the American Staffing Association, the average temporary or contract employee earns around $12 per hour, and the average tenure of those employees over the past decade has been about 2.5 months.
According to studies done by her company, the market for temporary work is expanding, Kelly said. It certainly has been over the past 15 years: In 1990, just under 1 million people per day were employed by staffing companies in the United States — a number that has since essentially tripled, according to the American Staffing Association.
“The indication is that the (staffing service) market is just going to expand,” Kelly said.
‘A good test’
Rachelle Verbarendse, a human resources representative with La Belle, Inc., in Bellingham, said temporary workers are an integral part of her company’s operations. La Belle primarily manufactures animal feed and nutritional supplements.
“I’d say they are an important part of what we do. We don’t have to hire them on as a full employee,” Verbarendse said. “We can just use them for what we need them for, and utilize them for specific jobs, and then they are done when the job is over.”
She said temporary laborers do production work at La Belle, including cleaning duties. The company often uses staffing services to cope with large orders. To help the new employees cope with the transition, La Belle tries to acclimate them to their new surroundings as soon as possible.
“They might feel a little bit lost,” said Verbarendse. “As soon as a temp comes in, we try and make them feel comfortable and let them know who to go to if there are problems.”
Verbarendse said there have been occasions when temporary employees have turned into full-time employees, including “two or three” this past year, she said.
“We’ve found that a temp service is a good tool to try employees out, and see how they work,” she said. “It’s kind of a good test, I guess you could say.”
On-staff employees are accustomed to working with associates at Nature’s Path, said Trenary, as every shift features a minimum of one or two temporary workers.
“Our staff — operators on the floor and other workers — are very used to the idea of bringing in temporary employees, and actually they are very much a part of giving us input on how our temporary workers are doing,” he said.
Trenary has a unique outlook on the issue: The 34-year-old started as a temporary worker with the business nearly two years ago after transitioning from a career as a retail manager.
He was introduced to his company through Manpower, Inc., another staffing service business, to help fill in for the human resource manager at Nature’s Path, who was on maternity leave for a couple of months.
After working and impressing his new employers, a position opened up and Nature’s Path offered him his current job.
“It was a good move for me,” he said. “Even though they said it was a temporary position, you never know. Sometimes temporary can turn into permanent positions.”