The Temporary Career : Many of Today's 'Temp' Jobs Can Lead to Permanent Positions

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cindy Scalafani, a college-educated woman with 23 years of secretarial experience, wanted a full-time job, but after several months of searching, she came up empty. So Scalafani went to a personnel supply firm. She took a temporary position at T.J. Maxx in Irvine and then turned it into a permanent job.

"When I came in as a temporary, I put my best foot forward and tried to really show them what I could do," Scalafani said. After 90 days, her work status was converted and she received a $3-an-hour raise. "It really worked out very well," she said.

As the boom in temporary office employment continues, more people like Scalafani are taking such jobs as paths to full-time work. And increasingly, employers are creating what industry executives call "temp-to-perm" openings--temporary jobs that can lead to full-time employment.

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"We're getting more orders for temp-to-perm positions," said Kim Megonigal, owner of Kimco Staffing Solutions, a temporary-help agency with nine offices in Southern California. As a result, 45% of Kimco's employees now obtain full-time jobs by first working on a temporary basis.

Nationwide, about 38% of workers who start out with a temporary-help firm are offered full-time jobs, according to the latest survey of the National Assn. of Temporary and Staffing Services in Alexandria, Va. The survey, completed early last year, marked the first time the trade association had asked that question.

It means about 620,000 workers went from temp to perm in 1993, given that 1.64 million people were employed through temporary-help agencies that year, according to the association. Through the third quarter of 1994, the latest period for which data are available, about 1.9 million people were employed with temporary services on any given day. (About 640,000 of them worked for Manpower Inc. of Milwaukee, which last year surpassed General Motors Corp. as the nation's largest private employer.)

The temporary-help industry, long supported by companies wanting to cut labor and administrative costs, has been boosted in California as businesses coming out of the recession eased into the growth by first adding temporary help. In 1993, about 160,000 people in the state held temporary assignments, according to the trade association.

"They're not sure about the individual and they're not sure of the economy," Audrey Freedman, a New York labor economist and a director of Manpower, said of the employers. "Two not-sures make for a temporary hire. That's the arithmetic of this situation."

Also, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act that took effect in mid-1993 has forced companies to hire more temporary secretaries and office workers to replace those out on leave. The law allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption or serious illness in the family.

Demand for temporary help is increasing across the board. In addition to technical and light industrial work such as assembly tasks and packaging, experts say the biggest surge is in secretarial and clerical fields--where many have taken the temp-to-perm route.

Hiring executives say that to land a temporary secretarial job, which typically pays between $10 and $14 an hour in Southern California, an applicant needs to know WordPerfect or Microsoft Word--two popular data-processing software programs--as well as a spreadsheet program such as Lotus 1-2-3 or Microsoft Excel.

To turn a temporary job into a permanent one, the experts say, there's another, subjective element involved: "For temp jobs, customers are interested in skills," said Megonigal of Kimco. "For full-time jobs, they're more interested in the fit and personality of the worker."

And the industry is growing because employers are increasingly using temporary jobs as a way to screen workers for regular staffing. One big reason is that it's more difficult to check job references because employers are worried they might get sued by a former employee if they give out information that hurts an applicant's chances.

Freedman says it's always been known that temporary jobs can lead to regular positions. But she says more companies now are asking for long-term temporary assignments, such as two years. And some of these companies, she says, aren't telling these contract workers whether these jobs will last beyond that period.

Still, Freedman says, temping "is the best way to find a permanent job."

Marie Rupsa, president of Champagne Temporary Help in Newport Beach, said 30% of her employees last year were hired on a permanent basis, up from 20% two years earlier.

And in most temp-to-perm arrangements, a successful worker will be hired on a regular basis within 90 days.

These days, Rupsa said, people looking for secretarial work--if they have the right skills--can walk into her office today and be at work tomorrow.

Rupsa says the temp-to-perm path isn't for everybody. For some, the arrangement can cause excessive stress during the trial period, and at some companies, temporary assignments are left open and can be extended indefinitely.

But others see this arrangement as an opportunity.

Stephanie Richardson, 28, signed up with Kimco's office, and last October she was placed as temporary receptionist at AFSA Data Corp., a financial services firm in Long Beach.

After three weeks on the job, AFSA offered Richardson a permanent part-time job, which she gladly accepted. "I knew that if I did a good job they would keep me," said Richardson, who is a full-time graduate student at Cal State Long Beach.

"It gave me a chance to prove myself," she said. "Knowing that they converted me to permanent, it just tells me they really wanted me here."

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Boom for Temps

The temporary-help industry has been boosted recently in California and nationwide, in part as businesses coming out of the recession eased into growth by first adding temporary help. Average daily employment of temporary workers, in thousands:

United States

1994*: 1,905

California

1993: 166

* Through Sept. 30 Source: National Assn. of Temporary and Staffing Services

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