The Rise of the White-Collar Temporary Employee

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Although the term ‘temporary employment’ has gained popularity only in recent years, it has been the predominant form of labour throughout history, with origins dating back to the dawn of commerce. It continued into the early years of the 20th century, with some changes, when the advent of assembly lines and growing complexity of industrial machinery led companies to acknowledge the benefits of a trained, stable workforce in the form of permanent employees to meet their production needs.

Growth of Temping Agencies

While temporary work dates back millennia, temping agencies are a relatively new phenomenon going back only to the Second World War. The first candidates they assisted were American homemakers and daily wagers, but these days it deals with a wide range of workers and industry sectors—from housekeeping staff to managers, and IT to healthcare.

Meet the White-Collar Temp

The rise of the white-collar temporary employee can be traced back to the 1970s and 80s when recessions impeded the growth of permanent employment through the downsizing of workforce. This had the effect of a burgeoning temporary labour market with a special focus on white-collar workers. Globalisation in the 1990s, characterised by the movement of jobs to offshore locations such as India and China, further accelerated the trend as permanent employment was negatively impacted in the developed nations, with a commensurate effect on the growth of high-end temporary workforce.

These days, temporary employment has moved into the mainstream as companies increasingly opt for this type of arrangement as a hedge against economic volatility and an unpredictable business environment. The fact that temporary labour now encompasses a wide range of job levels and industries has popularised this work model making it possible for all types of organisations to benefit from it.

Temps nowadays are capable of filling many mission-critical roles, including:

  • Software Developer
  • Operations Manager
  • App Developer
  • Management Analyst
  • Registered Nurse
  • Accountant/Auditor
  • HR Specialist

Specialised Temping Agencies

Arguably the clearest indication of the evolution of temping agencies comes from the rise of niche concerns catering to specialised industry segments like IT, finance and banking, law, engineering, healthcare etc. Hiring these firms brings many clear advantages for clients including expertise, speed, efficiency, accountability, along with agency employee benefits. Such firms are specially geared towards delivering qualified manpower to companies with a focus on technical roles.

Why Do White-Collar Employees Temp?

It is true that many candidates opt for temporary work due to their inability to find permanent jobs. But there is also a growing breed of highly talented white-collar workers that prefer temping to permanent work. The reason is that they value the freedom, excitement and flexibility that temporary work affords which is unavailable in permanent positions. For example, they may choose to work only for a certain part of the year which is only possible with temping.

These factors make temporary employment more attractive to certain sections of professionals compared to permanent work, where perks and benefits are being consistently whittled down anyway due to economic pressures. Employees associate themselves with an agency for extended periods of time allowing the agency to understand their temperament and capabilities so they can be swiftly contacted when a suitable job opportunity arises.

Future Implications

Covid-19 has led to a spurt in the demand for temporary workers, with Gartner estimating that 32% of organisations could be replacing their permanent staff with contingent employees with the objective of cost-cutting. As the report states:

The economic uncertainty of the pandemic has caused many workers to lose their jobs and exposed others for the first time to nonstandard work models. Many organisations responded to the pandemic’s economic impact by reducing their contractor budgets, but there has since been a shift.

Gartner analysis shows that organisations will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to maintain more flexibility in workforce management post-Covid-19, and will consider introducing other job models they have seen during the pandemic, such as talent sharing and 80% pay for 80% work.

In a situation of economic downturn and ambiguous economic future, it could be advantageous for organisations to opt for a temporary workforce due to the flexibility factor. Businesses can easily access proven and reliable white-collar talent on a temporary basis by tying up with a reputable staffing agency.

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