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Temp work on rise in Chicago area

Sarah Beatty who is midst working six-month temporary secretary assignment JMC Steel Chicago June 7 2012.  Chicago aretemporary hiring

Sarah Beatty, who is in the midst of working a six-month temporary secretary assignment at JMC Steel in Chicago on June 7, 2012. Chicago area temporary hiring firms are enjoying a jump in business. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: July 10, 2012 6:09AM

If you’ve had trouble finding work, temping could be your ticket to landing a job.

Chicago area temporary staffing companies say they’ve seen big jumps in business this year despite last week’s May national unemployment report showing disappointingly weak overall job growth.

Chicago-based The LaSalle Network says it saw a 55 percent spike in revenues in May from a year earlier, and business is up 47 percent for the first five months of this year, compared to the same time in 2011. That’s according to Chief Executive Officer Tom Gimbel.

“We are extremely busy,” said Anne Edmunds, regional director of Manpower in Chicago. “We’re up about 25 percent over [the] prior year in staffing requirements. We had a big bounce in January, February, slowed down a little bit in April, and then we saw a huge increase at the beginning of May. It seems to be continuing at the start of June.

“Most of these temp positions that we’re seeing are six months in length or better. It’s not like it’s short-term one week, a few days.”

The American Staffing Association’s employment index shows temporary and contract staffing employment rose 24 percent through May.

Local temp companies said demand is high in manufacturing, healthcare, IT and finance. Hot jobs include maintenance mechanics, forklift drivers, accountants, administrative assistants, engineers, nurses and designers of aps for Ipads and phones as well as other software programmers and skilled manufacturing workers.

Forklift drivers are garnering temp pay of about $38,000 to $40,000 a year, and manufacturing and health care workers are getting $50,000, $60,000, Edmunds said, adding, “a good nurse, $80,000.”

Besides a paycheck, some temp firms also offer benefits, including healthcare, 401(k) plans and vacation time.

Temps Matt Fuller, Sarah Beatty and Ken Beaver said they opted to explore temporary work after being unable to land full-time jobs.

Fuller, a temp from Kelly Services Oak Brook office, has been assigned for the past two and a half months to work as a die designer at Lake Zurich-based Termax Corp., a manufacturing and engineering company specializing in metal and plastic fasteners. Fuller said he began taking on temp assignments in 2009 after the two companies he previously worked for, including one founded by his dad, went out of business.

He would have preferred to land a full-time job, but “there weren’t a lot of direct hire jobs in my field,” he said.

Beatty has been working as a temp at the LaSalle Group assigned as a receptionist and administrative assistant at JMC Steel since December, and Beaver is assigned by City Staffing as a web editor and copywriter at the American Medical Association.

“Initially, it was going to be from October to December, but I’ve been extended a couple of times,” Beaver said.

“The temping business is definitely in a growth spurt because people are scared to hire people full-time, so they’re using us,” said City Staffing Managing Partner Daphne Dolan of the temp industry. “Our business, we’re way ahead of last year, about 40 percent in this first five months.”

Gimbel says worries about the impact of Europe’s debt crisis have caused employers to keep the brakes on wide-scale permanent hiring.

“(They) don’t know how their clients or their suppliers are going to be affected by the European crisis,” he said. “So they are much more open to bringing people in on a temporary or contract basis for the next three to six months and seeing how things play out vs. committing to people and then having to go through a downsizing.”

Bill Smith, owner and president of Termax, employs 273 full-time permanent employees and has roughly 15 temps working at the company.

He said the company has turned to temps because there’s a shortage of skilled manufacturing workers and also because he’s hesitant to add permanent workers and risk being in the position of having to cut staff again.

During the recession, he said the company, which relies on the automotive sector for business, went from 212 workers down to 67. Sales dropped nearly 70 percent during the worst of the industry downturn. But amid the auto industry recovery, he said the company is up about 60 employees from a year ago, and sales are running about 20 percent ahead of last year. He added temp positions have turned into permanent positions for workers.

David Van de Voort, principal consultant at human resources consulting firm Buck Consultants in Chicago, said he’s found clients are using temp agencies “on a rent to own basis, rather than just biting the bullet and putting in a fulltime employee. They’re “waiting to see whether financial results will justify converting the person to an employee.”

Kelly Services Brad Beckner, vice president Chicago, said the company is seeing a higher rate of conversion of temporary contract workers to fulltime employment among engineers and IT workers.

“I’m hoping this will turn into a permanent position,” Fuller said of his temp job.

Smith said that opportunity is there.

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