impermanenceThe way that people are employed is going to radically change over the next few years. This change will have far reaching impacts for career expectations and the sense of stability for both entry level and more experienced workers.

Research from Manpower shows that between 2010 and 2012, the use of contingency workers (temporary, part-time etc…) increased from 1.47% of the US workforce to 1.88% this year. Sound small? That’s still over 625,000 workers that have moved from perm to contingent, which tells me that many of you may have been affected by this. But, that’s only part of the picture, as the research also indicates that 58% of companies plan to use more temporary employees – at all levels – over the next five years. (For some more stats, see Temp Trends around the World.)

Its not hard to see why this is happening. Temporary labor brings clear benefits to employers. For example, firms can up-size quickly for projects and downsize at project completion with consummate ease. Cautious businesses can bring in staff in anticipation of growth or to suit fluctuating demand and easily lay off the workers at the end.


But, for many of us there is a stigma associated with temporary working, which is typically based around ideas of low wages and financial instability. This is true in many cases, but this stigma should not be allowed to define temporary working as many people secure good wages, build stable and fulfilling careers and engage in flexible life styles that they might not be able to achieve with a more traditional, permanent role.

As well as this, a 2011 survey of interim professionals (mid to high end temps, e.g. managers, accountants, IT consulting etc.) showed that 80% of those workers, (45% of whom were ‘forced’ into temping), were satisfied with their situation.

Aim for Super Temp Status

While there is plenty of support for interim working in the workforce, most of the research I have read seems to indicate that the best temporary experience is in the professional and managerial arena, as opposed to the secretarial and administrative areas, the traditional mainstay of the temporary sector.

But, where does that leave temping at the lower levels?  I still think that this can be part of a preparative journey of developing your skills so you can develop into a high powered, permanent ‘super temp‘ or simply take up a permanent role.

For example, many workers choose to accept a range of temporary assignments, enabling them to develop new skills, learn about new fields in their industry and to simply gain experience to help them in a future role. The benefit of this approach is that you can explore different career paths and then determine the kind of career you want to have.

So, to achieve the highly rewarding permanent ‘super-temp’ status, I think you should focus on achieving degree and master level qualifications along with a 5 to 15 year career building your skills through temporary or permanent engagements, until you become come a specialist within your sector, ideally in areas of finance, management consultancy and IT consultancy. You are then ideally placed to build a permanent career as a ‘Super-Temp’.

However, the truth is many super-temps are brought into to troubleshoot issues or need to be effective in distressed environments, (that’s why the pay is good), so I think that are six key skills and qualities that you must develop/possess to become a highly sought after super-temp. These are:

  1. Ability to hit the ground running
  2. Ability to quickly build relationships
  3. Can effect change
  4. Hunter (Spot opportunities for permanent or better assignments or extensions)
  5. Negotiating and Influencing Skills
  6. Mind Management skills, (Emotional Quotient)

So, while it may be a little strong to say temporary is the new permanent, there is definitely going to be a strong move in this direction. This need not be problematic and could be seen as an opportunity for many recruiting and staffing firms – and even for the workers themselves. Because  if you focus and leverage temporary experience well at the start of your career you can develop both a specialist and diverse skill set and progress into a traditionally permanent role or into the highly rewarding permanent ‘super-temp’ consulting role.

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