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Temp staffing companies report business on upswing

Managers of temporary staffing companies in Mississippi say the improving economy has led to an increase in the demand for their services.

Scott Bass, city manager for Kelly Services in Jackson, said 2004 has been one of the best years in the staffing industry for at least the past four to five years.

“The primary reason is the overall strengthening of the economy,” Bass said. “Companies have been reluctant to hire staff in the past couple of years because of concerns about the war and the economy. As far as Kelly Services, all during this past year every quarter has been a better quarter in sales volume. Sales volume for the staffing industry in general has been way up compared to the past several years. What I’m hearing is that it varies depending on what part of the country you are in. The Southeast may not be as strong as the Northeast and the West. The recovery may be stronger and quicker in those regions.”

Bass said there are two primary reasons a business will use a temporary staffing company. One is to meet demands for seasonable employment during one particular time of the year. The other big demand is for what is known as “try before you hire,” or “temp to perm.”

“They hire a person through a temporary staffing company on a trial basis,” Bass said. “The company gives them work on a trial basis that can range from 30 days to six months, depending on their needs. At the end of the trial period, if everything is satisfactory, the person has the option of becoming a permanent employee.”

There are advantages on both sides of the equation. The company can see if the employee turns out to be productive and responsible. And employees can find out if this is a company where they would like to work long term.

Mississippi is continuing to lose jobs in manufacturing, migrating more to a base of jobs in the service industry. Bass said workers need to adjust and retrain.

“Prospective employees need to realize they need more skills than 10 or 20 years ago,” Bass said. “Employees need phone, computer, communication and customer service skills, more so than traditional manufacturing skills.”

While temporary employment firms don’t usually provide training, they can provide a way to transition into a new job.

“We have software to evaluate their skill level to let them know what jobs they would quality for,” Bass said.

Agnes Davis, owner of AAA Employment in Tupelo, said in temp to perm job placements, often the employees are required to sign a contract agreement to stay a certain period of time. If they quit or are terminated during that period for their own fault, they are responsible for repaying the temporary employment agency’s fee.

With that arrangement, companies have less risk investing a lot in training a new employee who doesn’t stick. If an employee is just a regular hire, Davis said that person can quit after 11 weeks of being trained, and the company has no recourse.

Davis said another advantage of companies dealing with temp agencies such as hers is that she does the leg work checking references, skills and qualifications.

Another Tupelo company that provides both permanent and temporary employment assistance is Snelling Personnel Services. General manager Rhonda Chrestman said business is starting to pick up as the economy gathers speed.

“The economy is trying to pull out,” Chrestman said. “It has been in a survival mode. For companies who are unsure exactly what their orders are going to be, hiring temporary employees is a great way to meet commitments without having to hire their own people. It is also a great way to hire people for permanent placement. If they work out, great. Try before you buy.”

Chrestman said it is also important for people to be able to evaluate the working environment at a company before making a decision on permanent employment.

“It allows people to see if they like the company before committing to working full time there,” she said. “Once you get inside, you find out things you wouldn’t know otherwise. It doesn’t really go against them if they decide not to stay there. It is just a temporary thing. And lots of things can come up with family that causes people to change their work commitment. If the company hired you and you quit after a short period of time, it goes on your permanent record. With a staffing company, it doesn’t.”

Jo Pigott, owner/manager of Meridian Temporaries in Meridian, agrees that temp to perm has advantages.

“The applicant gets to work, try it out, and so does the company,” Pigott said. “We do a lot of temp to perm employment. A lot of people end up getting full-time jobs after they’ve proven their worth. It gives them an inside edge to temp it. I think temporary staffing is here to stay. It provides a service that is needed. There are always peak times when companies need a temp. And they also need one when people go on maternity or surgical leave.”

Pigott said in Meridian a lot of the temporaries have spouses who are stationed at the local military base.

“They may only be here three or four months,” Pigott said. “We have seen they bring terrific job skills, but they can’t take a permanent job. I also have some temps who temp just for extra money. I have teachers who work just for the summer. And I have students who will work full-time during school breaks.”

On the Coast, demand for temporary construction labor is up because of the large number of new projects, such as the Hard Rock Café and Casino.

“We expect it to pick up even more after the New Year,” said Darla Kempson, assistant manager, Labor Finders, Biloxi, which specializes in providing construction labor. “Business is up for this time of the year. Anybody you need to do something, we will try to find them. We offer workers who you may just want to use temporarily, even if that is a six-month period of time, because you don’t want to pay unemployment or workers’ comp.”

Kempson said another advantage is that Labor Finders cuts down on the time it takes to screen new employees.

“We have a lot of people who have worked for us for years,” Kempson said. “From the workers’ standpoint, they don’t waste a lot of time looking for another job when finishing a job that lasted only a week or two. Also, workmens’ comp covers them. If they just go out and work for someone else, they might not be covered. We also pay the same day, so their pay is readily available for their needs.”

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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