In the recession, are employment agencies hiring?



As the world's economic outlook becomes more dismal, it gets easier and easier for many of us to turn off the TV, ignore the newspaper or log off the news websites we usually frequent; the news is just too depressing. People are losing jobs left and right. But are employment agencies hiring? The answer is somewhat complicated, but overall the news is good for those looking for temp jobs.

For the job market as a whole, employment agencies are the classic canary in a coal mine: That is, the temp market exhibits signs that can show economists what's going to happen in the long term. In the dot-com bust of the early 2000s, the temp industry saw a drastic increase in requests for new workers -- followed by a quick and brutal downturn.

The translation: Employment agencies -- and therefore temps -- did well as the economy began to falter, and firms were reluctant to bring on new permanent hires. Timidity ruled the market, and temps thrived. But after the bulk of the recession hit hard, the need for temps decreased, as many firms didn't even have the budgets for weekly temp services. In the current market, things look a bit grim; in Japan, for instance, 2008 saw over 30,000 temp workers losing their jobs.

The good news is that employment agencies also presage the improvement of the job market, as employers test the waters by hiring new temps (to whom they won't have to pay severance packages if their instincts turn out to be wrong). And more often than not, hiring managers have good instincts. After hitting a slump in 1989, the temp market started picking up again in the final quarter of 1991 -- and economic recovery was right around the corner.

But even when times are slow, there are some bright spots. Don't despair -- while employment agencies are indeed a good indicator of the market as a whole, a recession doesn't mean you won't be able to find a decent job as a temp.

For one thing, many companies implement cost-control measures dictating that a temp can't be hired for less than a week -- for many companies, hiring a temp only for a few days isn't cost-effective. So in many cases, you'll know that if you have a job, it won't only be for today and tomorrow. A week isn't the best job security, but it's better than nothing.

And if a temp agency knows its business, it'll capitalize on the trend of firms who test the market by hiring temps. Many temp agencies have "temp-to-hire" programs, which prevent hiring managers from simply letting go of temps when the economic outlook turns out to be good. Good temp agencies know it's best for everyone if a firm hires the best possible employee -- then holds on to him.

But overall, it's important to remember that, while temp agencies might feel the strain as the job market hits a low point, that doesn't mean they aren't a good bet for finding a job. In many ways, temporary workers are more attractive than permanent hires -- firms need only pay a flat fee to temp agencies. Hiring their own workers might mean setting up health care plans, pension funds, and other costly benefits. It's also cheaper to farm out human resources tasks to employment agencies.

Overall, it's still generally easier to get good work from a temp agency than it is to get permanent employment. So if you've been downsized, signing on with a temp agency should be one of the first steps in getting back on the job market.

And with some hard work, it's still very possible to find a good temp job, or to make use of a temp agency that's willing to hire you. If you find temp agencies hiring new workers, sign on even if there aren't any jobs open right away. And if you find an agency that offers training programs either online or on-site, sign up immediately. Even if you don't get a great job right away, you've got the opportunity to hone your existing skills and develop new ones.

Your primary rule should be this: Stay positive. Things might look good now, but economic downturns are always followed by recovery. It may be a matter of a few months or a few years, but things will get better. And if you've lost your job, an employment agency is still your best and fastest bet for a new job, even when the market is sour.

Tempstar Staffing is the star of the central Pennsylvania job market. With offices from Hanover to York and from Harrisburg to Lancaster, we've got the whole region covered. Check out our job listings today.