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Temporary Workers

The Job

About a quarter of all temporary workers in the U.S. are administrative and clerical workers. Reception, secretarial, and administrative work are some assignments in this category. In the past, collating, answering phones, typing, and filing were the major duties of temporary workers. Today, many administrative temporaries are skilled in word processing, various computer programs, and other procedures. Other administrative workers, such as medical secretaries, legal secretaries, and bookkeepers, have additional training and skills to help them better perform special duties.

Industrial workers comprise 36 percent of temporary workers in the U.S. Assignments may include inspecting, labeling, packaging, and record keeping in factories, warehouses, and docks. Staff shortages or seasonal peak periods are some reasons for contracting temporary help. Most businesses prefer temporary workers to have past work experience, though a majority of industrial assignments do not require advanced training or skills,.

Managerial temporaries come from a variety of backgrounds. This group includes retired businesspeople, recent M.B.A. graduates, and freelance business consultants. Many businesses hire managerial temporaries for short-term projects. For example, consultants may analyze a company's performance record, suggest and implement changes, and exit the project soon afterward. They are also hired to motivate staff or to expedite the release of a product or service. Temporaries hired in this field usually have degrees in business or related subjects; some have advanced degrees. Managerial temporaries with solid work experience or reputable references are highly desired.

Computer programmers, systems analysts, and hardware and software engineers are just some of the information technology (IT) specialists that work as temporaries. Often referred to as "techsperts," they are contracted to help meet deadlines or work on short-term projects. Companies find it more cost effective to hire temporary IT people than to train existing employees on the latest computer technology, especially when deadlines are short. Web designers are also in demand to design and create new company Web sites or tweak existing ones. Help desk specialists are often enlisted to provide support for a company's IT department.

Professional occupations also provide abundant opportunities for those interested in short-term assignments. In recent years, companies have increasingly relied on contracting accounting professionals to compile financial reports, perform audits, and prepare company tax reports. Installing new accounting systems and training permanent staff in the use of such systems are other tasks completed by accounting temporaries. Businesses often hire temporary workers to work on short-term projects or during seasonal peak periods. Smaller businesses, especially, rely on temporaries to provide manpower to their accounting departments. Accounting temps must have a degree in accounting, taxation, or business administration; many are certified public accountants.

Engineers or scientists are often hired to work on special projects or new research. Companies contract engineers to design and develop a new product from start to finish or a portion of the manufacturing process. Pharmaceutical companies need scientists of varying specialties to research, test, and develop new medicines. Temporary workers in this field are highly specialized. All are college graduates; most have advanced degrees and work experience in their specialties.

For special projects or to provide assistance in complicated legal cases, law firms often contract lawyers on a short-term basis to work alongside their existing legal team. Lawyers may be assigned to write and file briefs, take depositions, prepare witnesses for trial, or provide litigation support. Paralegals may also work on temporary assignments to research cases, prepare documents, or provide other legal assistance.

Health professionals are experiencing great growth in temporary services. Nurses, especially, are in high demand. Agencies are actively recruiting nurses for assignments ranging in length from one day to months at a time. Hospitals and nursing homes are often short staffed and rely on registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and certified nursing attendants to work the less desirable night and weekend shifts. Health professionals may also be assigned to care for home health patients. Hospitals in rural towns or remote locations rely heavily on health professionals to work short-term contracts. Physical therapists, radiological technicians, dialysis technicians, medical assistants, and medical records clerks may also work on temporary assignments.

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